[permaculture] [Fwd: [SANET-MG] book review Genetic Glass Ceiling]

Toby Hemenway toby at patternliteracy.com
Tue Dec 1 14:24:12 EST 2009

> As the world's population rises to an expected ten billion in the next
> few generations, the challenges of feeding humanity and maintaining an
> ecological balance will dramatically increase.

There's that old, tired paradigm again, stuck in circular logic (and 
since when have we been "maintaining an ecological balance?"). We are 
using oil to produce food far beyond what a solar budget could, to feed 
more people than can live within the Earth's carrying capacity, so the 
answer is . . . ta-da! find ways to produce yet more food. Gotta feed 
those billions, no matter what. Problem is, those billions, when fed, 
will just breed additional billions. Do you think that's going to end 
well? Or do we just put off facing that music till our watch is over? It 
is limits to resources that sets normal limits to population, but we 
just can't stand the idea that there are limits, so we'll use any 
technology we can find to get around them. If "the main crops have 
topped off in their ability to increase" then maybe it's time to back 
away from "more, more, more" as the paradigm.

I'm a former geneticist, and all the evidence I've seen shows that 
genetically engineered products (called transgenic now to get around 
GE's bad associations) use more energy to grow. You can't get around the 
laws of physics: if you pack more genes into an organism, it takes more 
energy to make them work. So just how are transgenic crops supposed to 
produce more food? I suppose by using more fertilizer. Uh . . . see the 
problem? And so far, the industry has a lousy track record, as all the 
products created so far are just ways of getting proprietary control 
over crops, not of feeding the hungry. (I once heard a Cargill scientist 
refer to a strain of Indian rice as "raw germ plasm," as though the 
breeding work of 400 generations of farmers meant nothing, but changing 
one gene meant that Cargill owned it now. But then, Cargill had lawyers, 
and the farmers didn't)

So lemme get this straight: the same people who destroyed crop diversity 
with a "one seed fits all" approach are now going to sell diversity back 
to us, with traits of their choosing and varieties that they own? Yeah, 
I trust them to do a good job with that.

At some point we're going to have to accept that the Earth's human 
population has to come down. And could GE have "ecological benefits?" I 
am sure that genetic manipulation could do all sorts of things to 
domesticated plants, but if it's being done with the same old 
mindset--and GE can't be done any other way--we'll continue to create 
the same kind of ecological problems that industrial civ always has.

Rant, off.


Lawrence F. London, Jr. wrote:
> -------- Original Message --------
> Subject: [SANET-MG] book review  Genetic Glass Ceiling
> Date: Mon, 30 Nov 2009 16:45:55 -0500
> From: jcummins <jcummins at UWO.CA>
> I have known Johnny  Gressel for over 50 years. We were graduate
> students at the same time at the University of Wisconsin , Johnny in
> plant physiology and I in Cell Biology where  we worked in labs on the
> same floor and often shared coffee and gossip.  Johnny's book  is  a
> long public relations effort on behalf of the biotechnology industry.
> He put together a notion that transgenes are essential to improve crops
> because the main crops have topped off  in their ability to increase.
> The book did not really tackle the quantitative trait loci  (QTL) that
> are the  native genes that govern size, disease resistance , etc.  There
> was no evidence provided to show that such important traits had topped
> off and cannot be improved by selection. Indeed there is growing
> emphasis on QTL  to provide lasting disease resistance and  mass.
> Transgenes have not contributed to improving QTL in crops and the
> transgenes do not provide much hope , outside of industry boardrooms ,
> for improvements in yield and long lasting disease resistance. It is
> clear that the glass ceiling  has not been proven to exist. That proof
> should be brought forward  in genetic analysis not in dopey public
> relations efforts.
> http://www.flipkart.com/genetic-glass-ceilings-jonathan-gressel/0801887194-76w3fagqeb
> Genetic Glass Ceilings: Transgenics For Crop Biodiversity
> (Hardcover - 2008/02/12)
> by
> Jonathan Gressel
> (Author),
> Klaus Ammann
> (Foreword By)
> Book: Genetic Glass Ceilings: Transgenics For Crop Biodiversity
> As the world's population rises to an expected ten billion in the next
> few generations, the challenges of feeding humanity and maintaining an
> ecological balance will dramatically increase. Today we rely on just
> four crops for 80 percent of all consumed calories: wheat, rice, corn,
> and soybeans. Indeed, reliance on these four crops may also mean we are
> one global plant disease outbreak away from major famine.
> In this revolutionary and controversial book, Jonathan Gressel argues
> that alternative plant crops lack the genetic diversity necessary for
> wider domestication and that even the Big Four have reached a "genetic
> glass ceiling": no matter how much they are bred, there is simply not
> enough genetic diversity available to significantly improve their
> agricultural value. Gressel points the way through the glass ceiling by
> advocating transgenics -- a technique where genes from one species are
> transferred to another. He maintains that with simple safeguards the
> technique is a safe solution to the genetic glass ceiling conundrum.
> Analyzing alternative crops -- including palm oil, papaya, buckwheat,
> tef, and sorghum -- Gressel demonstrates how gene manipulation could
> enhance their potential for widespread domestication and reduce our
> dependency on the Big Four. He also describes a number of ecological
> benefits that could be derived with the aid of transgenics.
> A compelling synthesis of ideas from agronomy, medicine, breeding,
> physiology, population genetics, molecular biology, and biotechnology,
> Genetic Glass Ceilings presents transgenics as an inevitable and
> desperately necessary approach to securing and diversifying the world's
> food supply.
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