When we were in Charleston, SC last weekend, my friends from Stanford and I were lucky enough to hear the chef of McCrady’s, Sean Brock, “introduce” us to his views of good food and good agriculture. Here is a guy from rural Virginia who absolutely adores pigs, pork, and lard — not exactly the typical tree-hugging vegan activist — and yet, he’s also a staunch advocate for local food, to the extent that he tried to salvage and grow rice varieties and other grains from the colonial era. One thing was clear from his 5-minute speech: he absolutely hates GMOs.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that locally-growth food and the preservation of genetic diversity is vital for sustainable development and a healthy society. But there’s something to be said for the multitude of countries in Africa and Asia who face land degradation, desertification, droughts, and ultimately famines. It’s all preventable–one look at the articles on the recent East African famine confirms this–and starting with crops that are genetically modified to withstand high temperatures and less water is one step in the right direction.
However, there should be limits. For example, we probably shouldn’t be adding animal genes to plant genomes and vice versa. We also shouldn’t require farmers to use them, as is the case in much of the US due to the coercive powers of Monsanto and other corporations. For all the staunch anti-GMO advocates who argue that letting some be planted will lead to the demise of all wild cultivars, please consider the people who may actually have food on the table in 20 years as a result. Compromise here, as elsewhere, is key.