It's nice to see someone in the Bush administration defending science. The New York Times is running an interview with biologist Nina Federoff, who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences member and science advisor to the secretary of state. Federoff strongly defends biotech crops from their anti-science detractors:
There's almost no food that isn't genetically modified. Genetic modification is the basis of all evolution.
Things change because our planet is subjected to a lot of radiation, which causes DNA damage, which gets repaired, but results in mutations, which create a ready mixture of plants that people can choose from to improve agriculture.
In the last century, as we learned more about genes, we were able to devise ways of accelerating evolution.
So a lot of modern plant strains were created by applying chemicals or radiation to cause mutations that improved the crop. That's how plant breeding was done in the 20th century. The paradox is that now that we've invented techniques that introduce just one gene without disturbing the rest, some people think that's terrible.
Federoff notes that organic farming is not sustainable:
If we put more land under cultivation to feed the world's growing population, we're going to pull down the remaining forests.
And if that happens, it will contribute tremendously to desertification. The more we can grow on already cultivated land, the better. Europe, North America, Australia, Japan — we've been extremely successful in applying science to agriculture and we can afford to say, "Let's go natural." But there's collateral damage.
What kind of collateral damage? How about famine?
If everybody switched to organic farming, we couldn't support the earth's current population — maybe half.
Whole interview here.