The Ecological Implications of Biotechnology

Critics contend that GM crops are likely to have deleterious environmental effects. For example, they will lead to greater pesticide resistance among weeds and insects because genetic material from GM organisms will drift into wild varieties; plant leaves and pollen that contain Bt or other insecticides will kill nontarget species; drought tolerance, salt tolerance, cold-hardiness, and other feats of genetic engineering will permit farms to expand into wild areas that formerly were not arable; and animals, particularly fish such as salmon, will hybridize with wild stocks, domesticating all of nature (Graziano). Nothing will evolve free of human influence.

Although all these concerns are credible, defenders of biotechnology respond that these objections are not specific to genetic engineering but apply to agriculture and aquaculture generally. Indeed, GM technologies may only increase slightly—or indeed decrease slightly—the relentless, total, and overwhelming impact of agriculture on the natural world. Even before the discovery of the structure of DNA, the entire midsection of the United States had been turned from prairie or savanna ecosystems to amber waves of grain. To restore the prairie, ecologists searched for native species in abandoned cemeteries and railroad rights-of-way. Modern agriculture roots out nature literally and figuratively and replaces it with monocultures that cover millions of acres. Nature is equally devastated whether those monocultures consist of conventional hybrids or GM plants.

Insecticides promote resistance whether they are sprayed on or bred into a plant. When they are sprayed from airplanes over large areas, these chemicals may kill nontarget species more extensively than they would if they were engineered into the leaves of crops. Weeds subjected to dousings of glyphosphate eventually must evolve to withstand the herbicide; the addition of herbicide resistance in crops may hasten this inevitable process somewhat. Crops that are the products of conventional breeding are no more "natural" than GM crops are; indeed, human-caused mutation and selection have just taken longer to achieve the desired properties. These conventional hybrids—both crops and animals, including fish—can intermingle their genes with wild types if and when wild types are found.

The effect of farming on nature can be seen best in Europe, where agriculture counts as "nature," with the alternative being urban or suburban development. Americans think of nature as wilderness, although the wilderness that remains is managed, designated wilderness—a kind of botanical garden maintained in national parks. To estimate the extent to which GM plants threaten nature, one must ask what "nature" is, whether it is more than the smile of the Cheshire cat. Environmental historians such as William Cronon state that agriculture and industry have transformed the landscape so thoroughly so many times over that it is hard to say what people are trying to protect. Also, the pressure of Homo sapiens on other organisms has directed their evolution for millennia; humans are the "keystone" species that structures the natural environment that people consider wild (McKibben).

Anxiety and Depression 101

Anxiety and Depression 101

Everything you ever wanted to know about. We have been discussing depression and anxiety and how different information that is out on the market only seems to target one particular cure for these two common conditions that seem to walk hand in hand.

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