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  • ryant's picture
    "... GM technology has the potential to actually increase crop diversity by enhancing underutilized alternative crops ..."

    I understand the rationale behind this statement, but my concern is that just because there is a the potential to increase crop diversity doesn't mean than a biotech company will step up and expand beyond its core product lineup. I would've much rather heard Ms. Newell-McGloughlin talk about what is actually taking place rather than dealing in hypotheticals. Is there a list of all of these heirloom varieties she talks about that the biotech industry has taken on? Probably not. Tackling this is so cost burdensome that I'd be surprised if much effort has been -- or will be -- put into this.

    In the broader discussion of GMO, the biodiversity argument is the only one that concerns me because I feel it is the only one that has the potential to negatively impact the Ag industry or society in general.
  • Rickinreallife's picture
    Traits added through precision genetics available through improved understanding in the biosciences do not replace the underlying genetic diversity of the varieties that they are added to. There seems to be a persistant perception that with the introduction of biotech traits that farming and seed companies threw all the old varieties in the trash, i.e. up until 1995 or so there were hundreds of varieties of corn, each a unique and diverse set of genetics, on the market, and after 1995 there is now only one or two varieties of some bioengineered replica of corn. Biotech traits did not replace the varieties and their genetic diversity we had before, biotech traits were simply and additional trait added to those same varieties. Additionally, geneticists, whether working in the private or public sectors, continue to improve the genetics of the underlying varieties by incorporating traits from the bank of genetic diversity available in the worlds germplasm.

    It is probably true that farmers likely to choose to plant more heavily the varieties with the combination of genetics that have proven to be the most successful. But even an individual farmer is likely to plant more than one variety each year, to change varieties from year to year, and the varieties on the marketplace will vary in their genetics to be appropriate for varying soils, climates, etc. Varieties of corn grown in Louisiana, for example, probably are not the same varieties planted in Minnesota.

    Perhaps that is not as idyllic nor romantic as each farm or each community of farms having their own heirloom cultivar. I suppose everything is a tradeoff. Is it better to have thousands of individual races of corn that provides a bank of genetic diversity so that if a devastating foreign disease comes through, there is a chance that at least some local races prove resistant, or widely adopted varieties that have improved yield or other desireable crop quality including incorporating disease resistant traits. There is likely widespread agreement that the susceptibility of a less genetically diverse array of commercial crops to disease is a legitimate concern, but perhaps there is more resiliency in the breeding methods and genetic flexibility available through modern genetic improvement methodology than popular perception. I think we also have to ask the question is the point of agriculture to produce food efficiently or is the end goal to maximize genetic diversity of crops growing at any time. Is a system of near subsistence agriculture that struggles to adequately feed the population better because of its genetic diversity.
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