The environmental movement’s opposition to genetically modified foods has always struck me as rather sloppy and knee jerk. While there are certainly evil corporations involved and real harmful effects possible, the issue seems to call for pragmatic approach, concerned with technique rather than good and evil. Perhaps the problem with GMO crops is not inherent in the very notion of genetic manipulation, but rather in the way they are developed, who owns the results, and who profits. (The same might be said of any number of technologies that enviros have typically recoiled from.)

For instance, I’m a big fan of open-source biotech.

The whole corporatized system [of biotechnology], however, rests on the ability to hoard information. The information and its dissemination have to be owned through government-granted patents and licenses, if the discoverer is to make big money on it. In one way, that’s fine. The prospect of profits inspires research and our increasingly corporatized system has produced some notable medical breakthroughs and innovations….

But hoarding information clashes directly with another imperative of scientific progress: that information be shared as quickly and widely as possible to maximize the chance that other scientists can see it, improve on it, or use it in ways the original discoverer didn’t foresee.

A small but growing number of scientists, most of them funded by the National Institutes of Health, are conducting cutting-edge research into the most complex problems of biology not in highly secure labs but on the Internet, for all the world to see. Called “open-source biology,” this work is the complete antithesis of corporatized research. It’s a movement worth watching–and rooting for.

Indeed. Not only are there considerable scientific and health benefits possible, but it also opens the way for local populations to develop solutions to their unique problems, particularly in developing nations.

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Worldchanging has covered this before, and now they bring word of a concrete example: NERICA.

Developed by Dr. Monty Jones of the West Africa Rice Development Agency (WARDA), NERICA is a hybrid strain of rice, developed using biotech by West African researchers, which is on its way to bettering the health of West and Central African citizens, restoring agricultural sustainability, and improving the economics of food importation for the region.

Go check it out. This is something for future-minded enviros to keep their eyes on.

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