On July, 14, threeGreenpeace activists dressed in hazmat suitsscaled a fence, and used weed whips to destroy a GMO wheat experiment in Canberra, Australia.
The experiment was being conducted by CSIRO (the USDA equivalent for Australia). The activists posted video of the attack on You Tube. They also posted “explanations” by activists who could be easily identified. Although this is technically a criminal activity, it was more likely about publicity.
Greenpeace has been at the forefront of theanti-GMOmovement since the late 1990s, and it hasclaimed victoryfor stopping the development of GMO wheat varieties. Those heady days are fading for Greenpeace. 15 years and billions of acres into the GMO revolution, Greenpeace may just be attempting to defend conquered ground.
The Future of GMO Wheat
There is now afarmer agreement to simulataneously commercialize GMO wheat in Australia, Canada and the US. That would prevent more trade black-mail 10 to 15 years from now when the renewed GMO research might yield commercial products. The wheat that Greenpeace destroyed was a largely academic trial of a nutritional modification, but much work continues with drought tolerant and disease resistant wheats.
It is those lines that are potentially important for keeping up with ever-rising wheat demand in the developing world. At a time whenan unprecedented new food price regimeis punishing the world’s poor, Greenpeace may be feeling pressure from the questions, “What is the statute-of-limitations on saying that the sky is falling?” or “is it ethical toslow advances in food productionwhich leads to suffering for poor people?”
Why Does This Matter?
Wheat matters because of its nutritional, historical, cultural, and philosophical importance to humanity.
Wheat Has a Significant Role in Human Nutrition
Wheat is not just any crop. It is a major source of energy and protein for populations, both where it is grown, and in highly-dependent, importing countries (e.g. Subsaharan Africa, Northern Africa, increasingly in Asia). Wheat is one of the most heavily traded of all crops, and has been since Roman times.
Related Post:Food Companies Fighting GMO Labeling
High wheat prices effect a huge proportion of the world’s population. In its various ethnic forms, bread is truly “the staff of life.” It is also strategically important. Nobel prize winner and Green Revolution leader,Norm Borlaug, put it well:“If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace.”
Wheat Has Tremendous Historical Significance
In his ground-breaking book, “Guns Germs and Steel,” Jared Diamond chronicles how some of the earliest human societies moved from a hunter-gatherer existence to a farm-based society in the Fertile Crescent or present day, Middle East. Local, large-seeded, grain crops, and animals that could be domesticated for draft work were key to that transition. Through simple selection for large seeds that stayed on the head for harvest, these ancient farmers (~10,000 years ago) created the first hybrid crop between wild spelt, emmer, andpossibly other grains, to produce a new species – wheat.
As Diamond documents, the wheat and animals were able to help feed this version of Western Civilization as it spread East and West, eventually jumping oceans to North America, and later to the temperate zone of the Southern Hemisphere. Wheat and cows could not deal with the heat, diseases and insects of the tropics, and so people groups in those regions were not soon touched by the advances of Western civilization (good and bad).
Wheat Embodies Important Cultural Symbolism
In this regard, wheat shares a co-joined symbolic significance with grapes – which have also been thetarget of anti-GMO vandalism. One of the earlier parings of wheat and wine (the natural storage form of grapes) is found in the story ofAbraham-一个被认为是犹太人和穆斯林之父的人物(约公元前4000年)。After Abraham conquers five kings of Sodom to rescue his relatives, he is met by the mysterious figure,Melchizedek, who is described in the text as the priest and king of Salem (trans. Shalom, trans. Peace).
Melchizedek brings bread and wine for the victory ceremony. Bread (unleavened) and wine are also important elements of thePassovermeal with which the Jews commemorate their liberation from slavery in Egypt. Bread and wine symbolism is also central to Christian Communion (or Eucharist) as Jesus self-identified the bread and wine of theLast Supperas representative of his body and blood. When it comes to religious symbolism, it does not get more intense than these two targets of GMO modification and anti-GMO attacks
The Battle Over Wheat Is Representative of A Broader Philosophical Struggle In Post-Modern Society
In the early 15th century, theprinting press增强了社会交流的潜力，并加速了前几个世纪已经发展的理性和前科学的趋势(伊斯兰文艺复兴、欧洲文艺复兴、启蒙运动)。有人可能会认为，互联网时代的巨大沟通潜力会进一步增强“理性时代”。不是这样的。“文艺复兴人”这个词，指的是几百年前一个聪明、受过教育的人掌握大部分人类知识和美学的真实可能性。今天，一个人很幸运能够跟上他所选择的子领域的步伐。
The Light of Knowledge drove out the darkness of Fear and Superstition that so characterized the “Dark Ages.” Today, Fear and Superstition are back with a vengeance. Knowledge is often impotent because it has become too vast to access and stave off Fear, or to help most people separate real information from disinformation. We no longer have a clear way of knowing what is true (epistemology). Until the internet age we had a workable balance between logic (rational epistemology), experience and experiment (empirical epistemology), and accepting truth from recognized experts (authoritarian epistemology). Now we seem to be moving towards simply choosing an authoritarian source of truth that is comfortable for our world view. It is a sort of “don’t tell me what I don’t want to know” epistemology. We pick the “news” channels, blogs, gurus or even comedians who tell us self-reinforcing information. To open up our minds to all the different voices is just too overwhelming.
In the particular case of GMO crops, there are many people who only listen to the complete anti-GMO voices (e.g. greenpeace, agro-ecology advocates…). I wrote a blog post titled, “Way Too Much Angst About GMO Crops,” which was intended to calm some people by explaining why very few crops will ever be GMO for a variety of reasons. The post didn’t have that effect at all, as one can see in the 500+ comment stream on theBiofortifiedre-post of the blog.
This is Just One Front of A Much More Important Battle
But this argument about GMO wheat is a mere sub-set of something bigger than even agriculture. It is really about the choice betweenrisk managementbased on sound science orrisk avoidance基于“预防原则”气候变化和疫苗/自闭症的争论也是如此，还有更多的争论。对我来说，作为一名农业科学家，我只想在农业问题上接触开明的人。绿色和平组织最近的这一噱头对失去一年工作的科学家来说只是一场灾难。真正的利害关系在于科学与预防之间更广泛的斗争。