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  • Unnatural Selection

    Elaine Ingham is a soil scientist that has experience with botany, microbiology, and plant pathology. She is the founder of an organization called Soil Foodweb. At Oregon State University in the 90s, Elaine was studying if engineered organisms have any impact to the “real world.” Her analysis first looked at fourteen species that were incapable of surviving outside of the lab, in real world situations. These fourteen organisms had no effect on the outside world. At this point in time, the USDA was determining policy on GMOs and “set a course that essentially said that a genetically engineered organism posed no greater risk to the environment than the parent organism does.”

    After the testing of these first fourteen organisms, a fifteenth organism was studied that did not fall to the same conclusion. Klebsiella planticola was the parent organism that exists in most soils, growing in the root systems of plants. A gene from another bacterium was taken and combined with the DNA of Klebsiella planticola, allowing it to produce alcohol. Genetic engineers assumed that this would be beneficial, allowing the alcohol to be extracted and used commercially in some countries. The problem with this idea was that the bacteria could get into the roots of the plants, causing alcohol production. Plants are sensitive to alcohol levels at one part per million, and the organism produced around seventeen parts per million. In a nutshell, it would kill the plants.

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    Elaine Ingham then became an advocate against GMOs, after seeing that two organisms considered relatively harmless, when combined, could possibly wipe out all terrestrial plant life. She goes on to say, “I have attended some of the United Nations biosafety protocol meetings. At the 1995 meeting in Madrid, the U.S. delegation was the strongest in saying, in essence, ‘Don’t worry, be happy. Trust us. We don’t need a biosafety protocol. Why would biotech companies ever do anything to harm people?’’

    Living in a world where scientists and publicists can spin the truth and sell it to the highest bidder makes me wonder if anyone really does care about the condition of the world. It is very important for people to push their governments into making the right policies, and not “messing” with nature.

  • Wes Jackson and the Land Institute

    The 10,000-year-old problem, according to Wes Jackson, is that “…agriculture in most places is based on practices that use up limited resources. The major grains, like wheat and corn, are planted afresh each year. When the fields are later plowed, they lose soil. The soil that remains in these fields loses nitrogen and carbon.”

    He continues to describe the rate of soil loss in the world due to erosion when it is unplanted, and how the soil left under the eroded soil is lacking in nutrients. His solution to this problem is simple: perennials. A perennial is a plant that puts down strong roots into the ground to hold the soil in place and survives year round. Instead of replanting every year, a farmer would plant once and let nature do the rest. In my mind, this makes incredible sense. A person has to wonder why people didn’t think of it sooner. Wes Jackson was inspired by the prairies surrounding his home in Kansas. He knew that the native grasses around his home actually improved soil quality as the years went on, instead of depleting it. The answer to his problem was to begin selectively breeding strains of different crops, including strains of wheat. The main problem he has encountered is in his attempt to change the social norm of what a farm should be. People generally see farms as involving plowing, planting, and harvesting; to begin the cycle all over the next year. People have been farming this way for a very long time. How do you explain to them that one crop can be harvested for many years?

    Wes Jackson believes that the path to a better, “greener” world begins with redesigning the way we get our food. I have to agree with him. There’s no point in reducing our CO2 emissions if we’ve lost all our soil and our nutrients.