Reason magazine has always had rational articles on technology, including genetic engineering. Their commenters are also surprisingly lucid, understanding that technology can be used to help people live better lives while also protecting the world around us. A recent article titled “Demon Seed: How fear of life-saving technology swept through Africa” discusses an new book, “Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa” with author Robert Paarlberg.
He doesn’t say it overtly, but in his words I hear that we need a compromise. People in the US and Europe want a greater personal connection to their food, as evidenced by the organic and local food movements. This is certainly not a bad thing, but we can not reject all technology. Rejection of all technology would mean a return to a type of civilization that few Americans or Europeans would like – one where most people must spend the majority of their time producing their own food.
Genetic engineering is a solution for a lot of problems in agriculture. Of course it isn’t the solution, but there is no legitimate reason to reject it. Even if we in affluent societies can justify the rejection of technology in agriculture, we have no right to force our opinions on people in societies that we can barely understand.
In the article, Paarlberg says that corporations have no monetary incentive to develop seed for subsistence farmers, so we need to use public and philanthropic money to develop new genetically engineered crops. He ends on a positive note:
Just last week in Nairobi the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and African Agricultural Technology Foundation announced that they would be going forward with the drought-tolerant maize project that I describe in chapter 5 of my book. I’m very pleased that the Gates Foundation has seen the opportunity that this new technology provides. It would be too bad if drought tolerant corn were being grown in Iowa in 2010 and not available to the farmer who really needed it in Africa.