[Marxism] Frankenpolitics: The Left defence of GMOs,

David P Á david at miradoiro.com
Thu Jan 9 02:51:49 MST 2014

On 09/01/2014 9:32, dave x wrote:

[clipped stuff about more research needed that I mostly agree with]

> The second reason to be cautious about Monsanto style GMOs is that it is
> part of a whole model of crop production that essentially ignores
> everything we know about evolution. Basically green revolution style
> monocropping tends to be pretty destructive ecologically (lots of
> clear-cutting of natural habitat, agricultural areas are turned into
> ecological 'deserts' where only a few species can exist, patches of natural
> habitat tend to become cut-off and isolated from each other leading to
> population declines and extinctions, etc).

This is in some sense true, but I'm afraid it's unavoidable. At this
point natural selection isn't the only force out there. We practice
artificial selection all the time. We change our environment in
deliberate and planned ways. Given the population density of the world,
there's not much of a way around it, and I'm not of the Malthusian bent
that suggests the solution to this is for 95% of the people to die
(others first, of course!).

That said, there are two important aspects that make this not as much a
problem as it could otherwise be.

On one hand, yes, evolution is a powerful force; but it is a relatively
slow one. As optimisation strategies go, I wouldn't consider it
particularly strong. Planned outcomes are routinely better, hence why we
bother with engineering, and, in a sense, why we are Marxists: we think
a planned economy can work better than the anarchy of the market.

On the other hand, while it's true that monoculture is problematic, the
fact is, all agriculture is problematic. In that case, there's an
argument for reducing the land, water and energy use that we need to
dedicate to it, which entails increasing yields and this requires
monoculture among other techniques.

> Further the organization of agriculture as vast monocultures with very
> little to no genetic diversity (something that genetic engineering has made
> worse) makes them radically vulnerable to all sorts of environmental
> threats. You could think of each one as a little like a bomb sitting in the
> world's grain house waiting to go off. So of course to prevent that from
> happening and to keep yields from continuing to decline (and recent
> evidence does point to them declining) humans have to do all sorts of
> things, in particular what we have done is pesticides, new pesticides and
> more of it. But pesticides are just a temporary fix (one with heavy, heavy
> costs to human health and to the natural environment). It may slow done the
> evolutionary counter-attack but it doesn't stop it. Evolution is one of the
> most powerful optimization techniques of which we are aware. Like
> antibiotics, modern monocropped agriculture may have been (and still be)
> miraculous in its capacities, but these capacities are degrading and will
> eventually be severely degraded if not gone altogether.

That's unlikely so long as we continue doing agronomy, but again,
there's not much of an alternative. Perhaps agriculture was humanity's
original sin, but once certain gates are crossed, there is no way back.
While it is true that food distribution could and should be more
equitable and efficient, and that there's a fair amount of slack
regarding food that gets misallocated or destroyed for completely stupid
reasons like fruit that doesn't look aesthetically perfect, it's
nonetheless also true that given the resources (arable land, energy) and
number of people, a step back towards reduced yields would result in a
food catastrophe. The use and misuse of different techniques to avoid
this outcome may be a bit too much like walking on the edge of an abyss,
but what is the actual alternative? Localist low-yield solutions are
completely unviable to take up the slack for commercial agriculture.

Also, while it's true that evolution keeps finding ways around our
safeguards, these workarounds are rarely metabolically free. The
organisms (insects, etc) adapting to external threat must often spend
resources on these adaptations that render them otherwise less fit.
There may come a point when the fitness gradient we are able to create
is too sharp and they can't climb it anymore.


More information about the Marxism mailing list