GMO agriculture 2.0?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017
by Cameron Shelley

I was interested to read in a recent Nature Genetics editorial that maybe the public could participate directly in pursuit of the genetic editing of agricultural crops.

This statement, in particular, is striking:

  • "In offering consumers the products of a new technology, we should feed their economic opportunities as well as their bellies. To do this, we should seek to preserve their agency, offer a diversity of choice, and foster participation, understanding and community. We should listen and act on their feedback."

The notion of soliciting consumer participation and feedback in the creation of GMO crops is something of a departure for an industry that has exemplified a determinedly top-down approach to business.

The old narrative remains: Soliciting participation and heeding feedback is something that "we" can do for "them", not something accomplished amongst "us".

Also, the editorial ends with an insistence on having the last word in an old argument:

  • "To reject gene-edited food as unnatural is as nonsensical as denying agriculture. It is time to reconcile ourselves to our roles in human–plant coevolution and redomesticate plant domestication in our own homes."

In other words, "our critics are still a bunch of ignorant luddites."  I presume their feedback will not be acted on.

Still, despite the patronizing tone, it is interesting to think that producers of GM crops might consider a different relationship with the public than that of merely passive recipients of products.

Is there still time to change this relationship?  Biohackers are already fiddling with the DNA of animals and plants.  Perhaps this horse has already left the barn.