Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food
By Daniel Charles
Perseus, 2001, 328 pp.
Seeds of Contention: World Hunger and the Global Controversy over GM Crops
By Per Pinstrup-Andersen and Ebbe Schioler
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001, 160 pp.
Two books on the controversial subject of genetically modified (gm) seeds. Charles, a science journalist, enthralls his readers with an account of the struggles to develop and market new seeds that resist pests, weed-killing herbicides, or deterioration in storage and transit. As he points out, agriculture has radically changed the environment from its beginning, and people have been eating genetically modified foods for at least 7,000 years. Furthermore, many "ordinary" foods contain toxins and could not pass government safety tests if required; yet these same foods have been eaten and enjoyed for years. Today's controversy is really about not genetic modification but its method: newly available gene splicing.
Pinstrup-Andersen and Schi+ler provide a well-informed and quietly passionate plea that more genetic engineering be directed toward products of special interest to developing countries, including subsistence products such as sweet potatoes. Increased population growth and the desire for improved diets are in a race against better and more reliable food production. Although the authors acknowledge the fine work done by the Rockefeller Foundation and other western philanthropies, they argue that much scope for improvement remains in applying new technologies that could enlarge the food supply and thus improve the diet and health of most of humankind. Rejecting gm crops is a luxury of the privileged that should not be foisted on those worse off.