Monday, October 08, 2012

Sustainability #6: GMOs, IRRI, Responsibility and Action

My Sustainability posts spring from my forum posts in the free Sustainability Course, offered by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, which I am participating in.

The last video lecture by Jonathan Tomkin for week 6 of the Sustainability course was eye opening. We *are* already living in the age of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). Ever since the Green Revolution was introduced in the late 60s, we've already benefited from it. Specifically for my country, the Philippines, one particular example of this is the success of the IRRI (International Rice Research Institute), which has helped breed better varieties of rice and improved yield...especially in Asia where rice is a staple food. It is a cutting edge research facility which also applies its findings and helps farmers use more sustainable methods of farming. One great example is the climate-change-ready rice they are developing: rice that is submergence-tolerant, drought-tolerant and heat or cold tolerant. Both Bangladesh and the Philippines are cooperating to produce Golden Rice, a variety that includes Vitamin A.

Yes, there are risks. As stated in WHO's Q&A about GMOs, the following are what people are most concerned about: allergenicity (provoking allergic reactions), gene transfer (transfer of genes from GM food to the body or bacteria) and outcrossing (transfer of GM genes to conventional seeds). Studies have shown the low probability of these. Maybe there are unknowns in the equation the way that CFCs were regarded as harmless during the industrial revolution but were found to cause damage to our ozone layer in the future.

The point is...inaction results in as much damage as action. We are running out of agricultural land and ground water will be hard to replace at the rate that we pump it out. We need to look at this situation as a whole human race, as humanity. The time has come for human beings to take responsibility and to find solutions together.

We can't leave this to the scientists. This is an urgent human question. Will we have enough food to feed our 9 billion in 2040 or 2050? At our current rate, we cannot. We need to improve yields even further (and that's like a miracle because we've already increased our yields by a tenfold since the 70s). We need to do this together: from different fields, different countries. I like the idea of Jonathan Foley's "terraculture." We answer the question as a human race. And while we are at it...we need to see it from total responsibility for the planet. We aren't the only ones who need to eat.

Let's go for responsible GMO, let's go for more efficient use of ground water, let's go for inter-country solutions, let's go for individual actions aligning with global actions: a humanity that eats more grain, fruit and vegetation (the way our bodies were designed) and acts in harmony with the planet.

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