Will Frankenfood Feed The World?

1. If you want to spark a heated debate at a dinner party, bring up the topic of genetically modified foods. For many people, the concept of genetically altered, high-tech crop production raises all kinds of environmental, health, safety and ethical questions. Particularly in countries with long agrarian traditions— and vocal green lobbies—the idea seems against nature.

2.In fact, genetically modified foods are already very much a part of our lives. A third of the corn and more than half the soybeans and cotton grown in the U.S. last year were the product of biotechnology, according to the Department of Agriculture. More than 65 million acres of genetically modified crops will be planted in the U.S. this year. The genetic genie is out of the bottle. 3. Yet there are clearly some very real issues that need to be resolved. Like any new product entering the food chain, genetically modified foods must be subjected to rigorous testing. In wealthy countries, the debate about biotech is tempered by the fact that we have a rich array of foods to choose from — and a supply that far exceeds our needs. In developing countries desperate to feed fast-growing and underfed populations, the issue is simpler and much more urgent: Do the benefits of biotech outweigh the risks?

4. The statistics on population growth and hunger are disturbing. Last year the world's population reached 6 billion. And by 2050, the U.N. estimates, it will probably near 9 billion. Almost all that growth will occur in developing countries. At the same time, the world's available cultivable land per person is declining. Arable land has declined steadily since 1960 and will decrease by half over the next 50 years, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA).

5. The U.N. estimates that nearly 800 million people around the world are undernourished. The effects are devastating. About 400 million women of childbearing age are iron deficient, which means their babies are exposed to various birth defects. As many as 100 million children suffer from vitamin A deficiency, a leading cause of blindness. Tens of millions of people suffer from other major ailments and nutritional deficiencies caused by lack of food.

6. How can biotech help? Biotechnologists have developed genetically modified rice that is fortified with beta-carotene--which the body converts into vitamin A--and additional iron, and they are working on other kinds of nutritionally improved crops. Biotech can also improve farming productivity in places where food shortages are caused by crop damage attributable to pests, drought, poor soil and crop viruses, bacteria or fungi.

7. Damage caused by pests is incredible. The European corn borer, for example, destroys 40 million tons of the world's corn crop annually, about 7% of the total. Incorporating pest-resistant genes into seeds can help restore the balance. In trials of pest-resistant cotton in Africa, yields have increased significantly. So far, fears that genetically modified, pest-resistant crops might kill good insects as well as bad appear unfounded.

8. Viruses often cause massive failure in staple crops in developing countries. Two years ago, Africa lost more than half its cassava crop--a key source of calories--to the mosaic virus. Genetically modified, virus-resistant crops can reduce that damage, as can drought-tolerant seeds in regions where water shortages limit the amount of land under cultivation. Biotech can also help solve the problem of soil that contains excess aluminum, which can damage roots and cause many staple-crop failures. A gene that helps neutralize aluminum toxicity in rice has been identified.

9. Many scientists believe biotech could raise overall crop productivity in developing countries as much as 25% and help prevent the loss of those crops after they are harvested.

10. Yet for all that promise, biotech is far from being the whole answer. In developing countries, lost crops are only one cause of hunger. Poverty plays the largest role. Today more than 1 billion people around the globe live on less than $1 a day. Making genetically modified crops available will not reduce hunger if farmers cannot afford to grow them or if the local population cannot afford to buy the food those farmers produce.

11. Nor can biotech overcome the challenge of distributing food in developing countries. Taken as a whole, the world produces enough food to feed everyone — but much of it is simply in the wrong place. Especially in countries with undeveloped transport infrastructures, geography restricts food availability as dramatically as genetics promises to improve it.

12. Biotech has its own "distribution" problems. Private-sector biotech companies in the rich countries carry out much of the leading-edge research on genetically modified crops. Their products are often too costly for poor farmers in the developing world, and many of those products won't even reach the regions where they are most needed. Biotech firms have a strong financial incentive to target rich markets first in order to help them rapidly recoup the high costs of product development. But some of these companies are responding to the needs of poor countries. A London-based company, for example, has announced that it will share with developing countries technology needed to produce vitamin-enriched "golden rice."

Call for a climate culture shift

1、In the fight against climate change, humans will need to do more than switch to energy-efficient light bulbs and buy `green' goods. As environmental scientist David Orr points out in Down to the Wire, what is needed is a radical shift in culture that alters our priorities. The question is whether that task, which seems impossible, can be made to happen. Orr's book,along with recent research and social initiatives, give hope that it can. 2、There is a growing scientific consensus that humanity is rapidly approaching a global climate catastrophe. Although we have increasing knowledge of the dangers and costs ahead there is little time to avert a disaster. Orr acknowledges these dire circumstances, but does not wallow in despair or defeatism. His book is a clear-sighted view of what we need to change now.

3、He describes three essential categories of radical change, in increasing order of difficulty. The first and most easily achievable is a redesign of the infrastructure for producing food, energy, water and other commodities so that it is powered by renewable sources.Second is an overhaul of education systems to develop ecological literacy and encourage creative, real-world problem solving. The third is to reform our political systems from the current corporate plutocracies to true democracier with real leaders.

4、We live, as Orr says, "amid the ruins of failed‘-isms"'.Both communism and capitalism have pursued policies of `growth at all costs' that has failed to account adequately for the value of natural and social capital assets, such as a stable climate, functioning ecosysterms and successful human communities. An alternative solution is needed to formulate a fundamentally different set of economic goals for society. Orr prescribes three such goals "that presently appear to be utterly impossible': First, he advocates a change in priority:instead of economic growth, we should switch to development that genuinely improves the quality of life for everyone. Second, consumer culture should be focused on needs, not wants; and third-hardest of all-we should summon "the compassion and wisdom to fairly distribute wealth, opportunity and risk.‖ 5、These goals and the policies to achieve them have long been on social and political agendas.Why have things not changed, and how can they be made to change? Orr addresses this adroitly, showing that human nature is flexible and that rapid cultural shifts have happened before. In the United States after the Second World War, for example, the culture changed to allow new social and taxation policies that created the middle class. The rapid fall of the Soviet Union resulted from the slow build一up of social problems until a tipping point was reached. It may only be a matter of time before people who share the goals of quality of life, fairness and sufficiency begin to outweigh those whose world view is locked into growth at all costs.

6、Some evidence that such attitudes are on the rise comes from the work of sociologist Paul H. Ray and psychologist Sherry Ruth Anderson,who have surveyed and categorized world views in the United States over the past four decades. Tn their book The Cultural Creatives (Crown Publishing; 2000), they break the US population into three groups: `traditionals; who include the religious right and others who hark back to the past; `moderns;who are the current dominant group and include the `growth at all costs' type; and `cultural creatives; including those with the values and goals that Orr promotes. The percentage of cultural creatives in the United States increased from almost nothing in the 1960s to 25%饰the year 2000, and is now close to 30% by some estimates. A political tipping point will occur when this percentage is large enough to begin to radically change the political dynamics of the country and, by extension, the world. 7、As Orr points out, many varied initiatives are already pressing towards a cultural shift.Examples include the `transition town' movement, spearheaded by the charity Transition Network in Tomes, UK, which aims to help communities reduce their carbon emissions; the `sustainable cities' effort based in Vancouver, Canada, which supports urban sustainability projects worldwide; and Orr's own initiative to plan and construct sustainable buildings in the city of Oberlin, Ohio.

8、Other indicators of this shift include the thousands of organizations that are devoted to restoring the environment and fostering social justice, as described by Paul Hawken in his 2007 book Blessed Unrest (Viking).And a French government commission, set up in 2008 to assess economic performance,is one of many attempts to account for the limitations of the gross domestic product as a measure of social progress. Such examples are evidence of the growing global dialogue on providing real solutions to the problem of building a sustainable and desirable future.A journal entitled Solutions (of which I am editor-in-chief, and Orr and Hawken are associate editors) is due to launch soon to add to these discussions.

9、All of this shows that a global cultural shift and transformation is indeed in progress. As Orr concludes, this transformation "has grown into a worldwide movement that rejects the idea that we are fated to end the human experiment with a bang or a whimper on a scorched and barren Earth.‖We still have a choice, but it is now or never. Orr's book will do much to help achieve the required cultural transformation, hopefully just in time. Who knows 1、There have been no shortage of insane, over ambitious ideas on the Internet. Most of them never make it further than the pub they are conceived in. Some generate hype but quickly fall flat on their face'. Others survive, but prove to be minnows rather than the giants they set out to be. However, *every so often, one sneaks through.

2、Wikipedia is one of the rare ones that made it. Even by the admission of its founder, the 38-year-old technology entrepreneur Jimmy Wales, it was a "completely insane idea‖: a free online encyclopedia that anyone can contribute to and anyone can edit.There is no editor, no army of proofreaders and fact checkers; in fact, no full-time staff at all. It is, in other words, about as far from the traditional idea of an encyclopedia as you can get.

3、There are dozens of reasons why it shouldn't work, and it is sill far form perfect, but in less than four years, it has grown to have more than 1 million entries in 100 languages from Albanian to Zulu. 4、To its fans, it is a fantastic research resource-albeit one that you should use with caution; and an incredible example of what can be achieved by collaboration and cooperation over the Internet. To its detractors-mostly those from the traditional world of encyclopedias and librarianship, it is barely worthy of the label "encyclopedia".*

5、To put Wikipedia's achievements in numerical context, at the same time it was celebrating the publishing of its one millionth entry in less than four years, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography launched its latest edition. It had taken 12 years to complete, yet contained a comparatively tiddly 55,000 biographies. It also cost some 25m to create. Wikipedia has so far been bankrolled by Wales, but the total cost so far is still around f300, 000.

6、The current Encyclopedia Britannica has 44m words of text. Wikipedia already has more than 250m words in it. Britannica's most recent edition has 65,000 entries in print and 75,000 entries online. Wikipedia's English site has some 360,000 entries and is growing every day. 7、But numbers mean nothing if the quality is no good. And this is where the arguments start.

8、"Theoretically, it's a lovely idea," says librarian and Internet consultant Philip Bradley, "but practically, I wouldn’t use it; and I’m not aware of a single librarian who would. The main problem is the lack of authority. With printed publications, the publishers have to ensure that their data is reliable, as their livelihood depends on it. But with something like this, all that goes out the window."

9、Wales responds by acknowledging that Wikipedia's model leaves it anything but error free (something they make clear on the site) but he also points to an article in a German technology magazine this month, which compares Wikipedia with two established,traditional digital encyclopedias: Brockhaus and Microsoft's Encarta. All three were tested on breadth, depth, and comprehensibility of content, ease of searching, and quality of multimedia content. Wikipedia won hands down.

10、Dan Gillmor,the Silicon Valley commentator and author of We the Media,is one of many independent fans:‖I don’t think anyone is saying Wikipedia is an absolute replacement for a traditional encyclopedia. But in the topics I know something about,I’ve found Wikipedia to be as accurate as any other source I’ve found‖ 12、The truth is that Wikipedia is continuously evolving.There are now around 3,000 new entries being added each day (about 700-800 of which are in English); and as the site has got bigger, so has the amount of editing that takes place on it. In September this year, there was an average of 11 edits per article. The entry on the Israel-Palestinian conflict has been edited more than 250 times this year alone.

13、The truth is that Wikipedia reveals what is normally hidden in an encyclopedia: the countless decisions that lie behind each entry. The only difference is that in Wikipedia, the decision-making never stops and the debates are often robust to say the least. 14、Wales says an entry in his encyclopedia is "like a sausage: you might like the taste of it, but you don't necessarily want to see how it's made".

15、It might seem like anarchy. And, given the lack of central control, it technically is. However, there are three elements that make it work.

16、The first is its ownership, and lack of commercial imperative. The site is manned" by volunteers, and now owned by a foundation, which means people willingly give their time and intellectual property to the venture. It manages to run on less than $100,000 a year.

17、The third-and perhaps most critical-has been the evolution of an incredibly intricate and democratic social order to keep this vast sprawling project in order.

18、There are hundreds of thousands of "Wikipedians" who have contributed or edited articles. But the core community, according to Wales, is about 200 people who, by now, know each other quite well. Outside this inner-inner circle is a core of about 2,000 people who make more than 100 edits each in the last month. Beyond this, you have around 10,000 people who will have made more than five edits. There are administrators, bureaucrats, stewards and developers all with different levels of technical and administrative authority.

19、This entire order is all there for everyone to see online. Policies and strategies are posted online, discussed and voted on. While the content develops automatically and anarchically, nothing happens to the social structure of Wikipedia without the consent of the core community.

20、Wales and his community of volunteers are not resting on their laurels. He is in negotiations to print part of the content, and distribute it in Africa as part of their ambition to "put a free encyclopedia in the hands of every person on the planet". Insane and overambitious? Definitely. But after everything they have achieved in the last three-and-a-half years, you would be equally insane to bet against them.