Water-Efficient Maize and Alternative Models for GM Seeds

Yesterday’s blog entry (“In Praise of Industrialized Food”) pointed out that we shouldn’t discount entirely the value and potential of mass-produced food simply because so much of the mass-produced food currently available leaves much to be desired, nutritionally.

Today’s is about why we shouldn’t take all that we dislike about Monsanto and assume that it applies equally to all genetically-modified crop projects.

Case in point: this story, from the news service IPS: Could Water-Efficient Maize Boost Africa’s Food Security?

A team of scientists in the United States, Mexico, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa and Mozambique has developed water-efficient maize varieties under the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project. The high-yielding maize varieties are said to be adapted to African conditions and tolerant to various stresses, including pest and disease resistance, found on farmers’ fields in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Soon controlled field trials of 12 WEMA varieties will begin in the five African countries.

This is essentially an example of a non-profit (or partially non-profit) approach to GM crop development:

…smallholder farmers will have to pay for the seeds because Monsanto was donating advanced breeding, biotechnology, and expertise to improve the drought tolerance of maize varieties adapted to African conditions. However, they will not be charged royalties.

Skeptics, of course, remain…well, skeptical. Bob Phelps, of Gene Ethics in Australia….

is not convinced. He said nothing is free in the long run and African farmers will pay year after year for GM seed that they cannot save for replanting.

“Monsanto offers its GM seed products free at first, as it did in South America with soy and corn,” he said.

Sounds like speculation to me. But the point here is that the coalition involved in this project is just one of many possible permutations. Frankly, the involvement of Monsanto in any project worries me, but it’s important to remember that Monsanto’s (historial) approach is not the only approach, and the profit-seeking model of GM seed development is not the only model possible.

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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