The Big Picture: An unlikely pair

WHAT NON-FARMERS ARE SAYING ABOUT FARMING

ORGANIC AGRICULTURE AND GENETIC ENGINEERING PARTNER UP FOR A UNIQUE LOOK AT AGRICULTURE’S FUTURE

typically pitted against one another in both philosophical and scientific debate, organic agriculture and genetic engineering find common ground in Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food, a book from Oxford University Press.

This unlikely pairing of two seemingly uncompromising production practices is fearlessly presented by a similarly improbable pair of authors. Written by husband and wife team Pamela C. Ronald and Raoul W. Adamchak, the book winds its way through detailed scientific explanation, elegant narration and ends with a surprising, yet well-thought out conclusion.

The two writers are an equally improbable pair and they are both well equipped to write on the subject. Ronald is a plant pathology professor at the University of California and specializes in molecular and cellular science. Her research is heavily centered on genetically engineering rice for disease resistance.

Adamchak also works at the University of California, but instead of spending his time in the lab like his wife, he spends his time in the field managing the university’s certified organic Market Garden and teaching students of organic agriculture.

The book claims to show how organic agricultural practices combined with the responsible use of genetic engineering can both help feed the world and limit our impact on the environment.

why you should read it
This book provides insight into two of the agricultural industry’s most hotly debated topics. The authors explain complex science with clarity in both the realm of organic agriculture and genetic engineering. Although certainly not unbiased, hot topics like seed and gene ownership and arduous regulatory requirements are presented with significant background information.

Understanding both the science and the politics behind these issues can help farmers make sense of current trends in the non-farming community.

why it will challenge you
Tomorrow’s Table is highly critical of pesticide use in agriculture. In fact, part of the concept for the book is born of the authors’ aversion to pesticide use. This can be a difficult pill for many farmers to swallow as crop protection products play an important role on their farm. The authors’ failure to recognize the training and care with which farmers utilize crop protection products is a frustrating ommission.

Although the book has a positive message providing more solutions than problems, it is easy to become discouraged by the current state of both organic agriculture and genetic engineering. Currently, the use of genetically modified crops is not allowed in certified organic agriculture in North America. The authors also present a depressing picture of the regulatory process of approving genetically engineered crops. The process, they claim, is so expensive and drawn out that it limits the ability of public researchers to work within the system.

The future that Ronald and Adamchak build in their book is certainly unique, but backed by clear logical thinking, this novel partnership sounds promising.

where to find it
Look for Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food in paperback at your local bookstore. •

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