Can Genetic Engineering Be a Good Thing?
It’s impossible to talk about GMOs without brining up the name Monsanto. The former chemical company has been dominant in the field of transgene crops since it made the shift into the biotech field more than two decades ago. In the proceeding years, its Roundup Ready corn and soy are nearly unavoidable in commercial American agriculture.
But what does pesticide resistance have to do with the more noble goals defenders of genetic engineering are always trotting out? Disease resistance, augmented nutrition, drought tolerance, yields increases—the kinds of things that could help stave off famine or, more generally, feed a burgeoning global population. “GE technology has produced no commercial crops with multi-gene traits such as improved yield in the absence of stress (pests, drought, etc.), nitrogen-use efficiency, and water-use efficiency. These traits are essential to solving productivity challenges,” Margaret Mellon, Senior Scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote in a roundtable discussion about GMOs published by The Boston Review.
So: not all that much. Especially considering that the “resistance” is leading to more use of pesticides and new superweeds.
But when you look past Monsanto, there are some transgene crops being developed that contradict the harsh capitalism associated with the poster corporation for genetic engineering and all of the ills, real and imagined, that people assign to it. By no means do these crops have us sold on the idea that biotechnology can solve all of the world’s problems—but they may complicate the good vs. evil binary that defines the debate.