Where exactly is that zeitgeist?

by Luigi Guarino on June 20, 2013

Something is up, Jeremy said a couple of days ago, by way of introduction to a pair of pieces which he suggested, tongue no doubt at least partly in cheek, showed “the zeitgeist firmly embracing the idea of agricultural biodiversity, preferably ancient agricultural biodiversity, as a suitable response to climate change.”

Well, if something was up, it is now firmly down, and as for the zeitgeist, its name is biotech. Because yesterday some of the masterminds behind GM won the World Food Prize. And, probably not coincidentally, the Rt Hon Owen Paterson, UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, gave a speech to Rothamsted Research which ended with this rousing call:

GM isn’t necessarily about making life easier for farmers or making their businesses more profitable, although I believe that there are great opportunities for the industry. It’s about finding non-chemical solutions to pests and diseases. It’s about fortifying food with vitamin A so that children in the poorest countries don’t go blind or die. It’s about making crops durable enough to survive sustained drought. It’s about developing new medicines. It’s about feeding families in some of the poorest parts of the world. We cannot expect to feed tomorrow’s population with yesterday’s agriculture. We have to use every tool at our disposal.

Meanwhile, the search for that elusive middle ground, in which every tool at our disposal is not only used, but gets an equal chance to be honed and oiled, continues.

LATER: How would you facilitate a truly constructive debate about that middle ground? Here’s how NOT to do it:

Setting up a debate that is framed around risk, rather than food politics, focused on a single subset of technology, rather than one that explores all the options, structured around science in an area where questions about outcomes are impossible to answer with certainty, about a technology that has unclear benefits to the public and the developing world but very obvious benefits to large firms that the public distrusts (partly because of their unclear relationships to politicians), seems to me at least like a waste of taxpayers’ money.

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