Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food

Although I have not read it, I immediately became suspicious when I saw information about the book Tomorrow's Table. Is there a way to combine genetic engineering (GMO) and ecological agriculture? According to Waldemar Ingdahl @ the swedish think tank Eudoxa the very resistance towards genetics is not good for farmers. I suspect that he means 'not good' in terms of economic aspects, however, there seems to be more to this than what I expected.

Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food by Pamela C. Ronald & R. W. Adamchak, bring forth these somewhat controversial stances, or are they really something else? One of the authors is a genetic engineer, the other one an expert in organic agriculture. These perspectives can come together if their hypothetical relation is reevaluated and together they set out on a mission exploring new potentials and perspectives on the future (potential) need for genetically modified food.

The arguments for this are that the world's population is growing at an increasing rate. The world's assets cannot be distributed equally among its habitants, which creates the need to come up with ways to produce more food and avoiding financial difficulties that has been a problem for the market dealing with ecological food. These markets are currently being targeted by stronger markets, larger corporations and conglomerates.

If we are to believe Waldemar Ingdahl, the demand for ecological food is believed to have reached its peak. This in itself seems to be strange but considering that the market shifts and governments decide whether or not farmers are to produce more ecological provisions, the idea seems plausible. At this point in time, there is a small percentage of people who buy ecologically produced provisions and objects. The masses are either hindered due to economical problems or the fact that not all regions of the world can provide their citizens with this type of western luxury.

Ingdahl points out that institutions and organisations that are promoting ecological brands are fiercly against genetic modified agriculture. Genetics has from the start been taboo, which is strange considering the fact that chemicals have been allowed as fertilizers - so why the negativity against genetics? I see the argument as very misguided, or I might perhaps just miss Ingdahl's point.

It may have something to do with the fact that many believe that we should not alter nature. This is a fundamental aspect of this issue, although it shouldn't entirely be the only concern in this matter. The authors argue that the resistance against genetics is not good for the farmers nor the consumers. They also claim that genetics could be benifitial for ecological farming once it has been approved of. This thought is actually quite new for me since I have been negative to genetically engineered food before. I have been concerned about the potentially harmful or undocumented bi products that may be created in the process of genetically altering crops. I thought that the farmers and scientists have not been able to:
justify the means as to why genetics is needed in this area, guarantee that they are not any 'side effects' to modified crops, show that the genetically engineered crops will not force 'wild crops' into extinction, and give reasonable explanations as to why the ecological market needs genetics.

Although I am glad that I have seen this new perspective, I am still concerned about the farmers' involvement in this. I prefer local markets over other types of markets and the eco markets also have to deal with the fact that they have to move around large amounts of food and objects. Another problem is that the foundation of the GMO type of research is highly centralised - big corporations' own the patens and research and are too economically driven which means that their ethical commitments are ignored or rendered obsolete. This means that genetics will be highly beneficial for the big actors on a global market rather than the farmers on a local level. Here's a description from Amazon:

By the year 2050, Earth's population will double. If we continue with current farming practices, vast amounts of wilderness will be lost, millions of birds and billions of insects will die, and the public will lose billions of dollars as a consequence of environmental degradation. Clearly, there must be a better way to meet the need for increased food production.
Written as part memoir, part instruction, and part contemplation, Tomorrow's Table argues that a judicious blend of two important strands of agriculture--genetic engineering and organic farming--is key to helping feed the world's growing population in an ecologically balanced manner. Pamela Ronald, a geneticist, and her husband, Raoul Adamchak, an organic farmer, take the reader inside their lives for roughly a year, allowing us to look over their shoulders so that we can see what geneticists and organic farmers actually do. The reader sees the problems that farmers face, trying to provide larger yields without resorting to expensive or environmentally hazardous chemicals, a problem that will loom larger and larger as the century progresses. They learn how organic farmers and geneticists address these problems.
This book is for consumers, farmers, and policy decision makers who want to make food choices and policy that will support ecologically responsible farming practices. It is also for anyone who wants accurate information about organic farming, genetic engineering, and their potential impacts on human health and the environment.

I am still not convinced, although their agenda forced me to think in new ways, which I am grateful for. I may have to read this book some time.

Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food


In the latest issue of Gaudeamus (5/2008 Stockholm University), Michael Tedengren (Professor in Systems ecology(?)) says that the European Union is planning to legalise similar substances as Paraquat. Paraquat was allowed within the European Union in 2004:

"The European Union allowed Paraquat in 2004. Sweden, supported by Denmark, Austria, and Finland, brought the European Union commission to court. On 11 July 2007 the court annulled the directive authorising Paraquat as an active plant protection substance."[]

What is Paraquat?

Paraquat is a chemical substance that can be used as a pesticide against fungus etc when growing stuff, stuff which we in the western world take for granted, such as fruit. Paraquat is highly poisonous and has been used by farmers in countries such as Costa Rica to spray banana fields.

"It is non-selective, which means it kills a wide range of annual grasses and broad-leaved weeds and the tops of established perennial weeds.

It is very fast-acting.

It is rain-fast within minutes of application.

It becomes biologically inactive upon contact with soil."[]

Paraquat has been devastating to ecosystems and especially to people wherever it has been used. According to the interview with Tedengren, since the nineties, more than 200 people have died yearly in Costa Rica from being exposed to Paraquat. The people who sell the chemicals to the farmers trick them into using more chemicals that what is needed. I mean come on, that is really greedy and stupid. It is probably unethical from every single perspective except for an economical perspective maintained by the people who deal with pesticides.

Moveover, conglomerates such as Dole and Chiquita apparently prevent farmers from shipping their ecologically cultivated bananas. They are conservatively trying to control the market and they also want to control the channels of profit.

I think that the general consumer and citizen should be more concerned about two phenomena: Lobbying & Capitalism. If we want to 'save the world' (it sounds so abstract and stoic don't you think?), we ought to try and turn the market around as well as heighten our awareness concerning what laws and restrictions our politicians are trying to sneak past us every single day. The things they try to sneak past us are often connected to money and other stuff that will benefit corporations rather than us citizens.

Let 'Capitalism' find money, capital, etc. in areas that are less hazardous for the environment. Someone ought to find a way to produce less, save more energy, consume less as well as making it all more profitable. If someone can spawn this type of revolution, it will ultimateely have a huge effect on the global economy.

(Two) Ways Of Looking At Peak Oil

Are you among those people who think about how much fossil fuel we are allowed to use or a person who thinks about how much fossil fuel we can use? Perhaps you are not into any of the views at all?

My point is that we should be concerned with all perspectives on peak oil and activism. Should we centralize or decentralize our efforts of saving the environment? Or might it be better if governments deal with these issues globally and that the citizens (consumers) deal with the problem of climate control on a local level?

There is an interesting little write up over at Copyriot where these issues are brought up. The blog is in swedish, so if you know swedish then I suggest that you read the blog post.

Other related posts are:

Ytterligare tre framtidsord (oljekrönet, transportåldern, avgrunda)
Brist och överflöd i fossilsamhället
Koldioxiden i konsten och konsten i koldioxiden