Let’s also remember why proceeding with caution is just plain smart: Not just because we’re talking about our food supply—kinda important, people—but also because we should learn from history. Monsanto and Dow, two of the biggest producers of GMOs, are chemical companies with long histories of failures to protect human and ecosystem health—with tragic consequences.
Consider Monsanto and Dow’s chemical 2,4-D used in an herbicide concoction called Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, which caused untold cancers, birth defects, and other serious illnesses among Vietnamese and veterans. (And the companies are now pushing the chemical again through corn and soybean seeds engineered to be resistant to, and therefore used with, 2,4-D.)
Perhaps my biggest concern about this technology—and a concern that Johnson plays right into—is that it is a grand distraction of time, money, and resources away from the kind of technologies we could be developing for truly sustainable food production. (Remember those seven things we need to do right now?) Even the fact that I’m sitting here writing, once again, about why I’m no fan of GMOs or the companies pushing them, is itself a distraction from focusing on the solutions at hand.
Over the past decade, I’ve learned a lot about the intersections of climate change, food security, and agriculture and what’s been most exciting is to learn that we have so many of the answers for feeding the future in the incredible innovations of agroecology.
Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network and a co-author on the IAASTD report, describes these solutions as practices that “blend indigenous knowledge with the latest research findings produced by farmers and scientists and offer a vibrant and sustainable way forward for the planet.”
Studies from the Global South (like the case studies in this UK-commissioned report) are showing fabulous results in yield and nutritional content from agroecological practices, without the risks and costs of the current crop of commercialized GMOs. Studies from Europe are showing that agroecological practices can yield comparable harvests, or even better, than conventional farming, while promoting biodiversity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and fossil fuel use.
All this despite agroecological practices getting just a sliver of the funding that goes toward chemical agriculture and genetic engineering, which is one reason IAASTD authors highlight the importance of governments increasing investments in and policy supports for agroecology.
Ishii-Eiteman has written extensively about the emergence of these really exciting results from agroecology. As she says, “farmers and scientists around the world are co-creating the ecologically and economically resilient farming solutions we so urgently need to meet the pressing climate, water, environmental and energy challenges of the 21st Century.