The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Monsanto: The True Environmentalists?

While the green lobby pushes for electric cars and carbon-trading schemes, a group of scientists and agriculture experts are quietly making serious progress that could reap dividends for the environment. A group of agricultural engineers, including employees of agribusiness companies like Monsanto, are experimenting with techniques to help crops thrive with minimal water. Farmers who have struggled during one of the worst droughts in recent memory will welcome the news. The Washington Post reports:

A slew of drought-tolerant hybrids are hitting the market. In 2011, DuPont’s Pioneer released eight versions of AquaMax corn, which was found to boost yields by up to 7 percent. The company is introducing 17 varieties this year.

 Then there’s genetic engineering. Seed companies such as Monsanto have taken crop science to a new level by manipulating a plant’s genes directly or transplanting genes from unrelated organisms. DroughtGard, for instance, contains a bacterial gene that enables it to retain water. It’s the only genetically engineered crop bred for drought tolerance that has been approved by the Agriculture Department.

Research into both genetic modification and better farming techniques is beneficial in its own right, to assist farmers in poor countries and to raise crop yields more broadly. But it will become even more important if climate change comes to have a larger impact on farming and food prices.

These scientists and agriculture experts are the real environmentalists, helping humanity adapt to our changing earth.

Published on August 16, 2012 12:00 pm
  • Kenny

    Lesson for the kiddies: Never confuse environmentalism or even ‘environmental science’ with real science and technology.

  • Jim.

    Some balance needs to be found between IP protection and agricultural independence… if companies like Monsanto produce crops whose seeds cannot be planted to produce more harvests, the chance of a supply chain breakdown causing widespread calamitous famine is much too great.

    Monsanto needs to be incentivized to produce seed lines that remain fertile for generations, alongside their one-off wonder crops.

  • Steven K

    Non-farmers should understand that it has been a very long time (ca. 1920) since farmers have been able to save the seed from their crop to plant next season. Infertile hybrid seeds began a revolution in crop production with yields that have helped to reduce famine worldwide. The significant advantages over heirloom varieties has helped millions, and yet during these generations of use there has never been any reported supply chain breakdown leading to a calamitous famine.

  • John Haskell

    Jim, if you don’t like Monsanto’s seeds, don’t use them. Regular seeds are very broadly available in every country in the world.

  • Corlyss

    This will be interesting. Monsanto is Evil Incarnate to most greens, who almost universally subscribe to Rifkin’s animus against GMFs, no matter how many lives are saved by higher yields in nutritionally richer crops. Population, esp. thriving prosperous population, is their Enemy.

  • Some Sock Puppet

    John Haskell, are there import restrictions on those seeds? When I traveled abroad a lot when I was younger I notice that the agricultural aspect of customs was something that got a lot of attention.

    I’ve heard claim of Monsanto filing copyright infringement on farmers after seeds blowing from the wind took root in their land, but I have no idea if that’s urban(agricultural) myth or not.

    If that’s even remotely true than yes, IP needs to be looked at very closely, because that is very clearly absurd. Patenting life? That causes some significant morality issues to me and I’m not even remotely a green activist or supporter.

    I’ll use what’s efficient if it makes economic sense or reduces dependency on critical infrastructure, but that’s just common sense if you’re self-reliant.

    Don’t evolutionists usually agree that the most resiliant stock comes from bio-diversity?

  • DougS

    A great skeptical book on agri-biotech:
    Beyond Biotechnology: The Barren Promise of Genetic Engineering (Culture of the Land).

    The authors show how increasingly sterile and fragile environments are being engineered which have a significant likelihood of ultimately ending in catastrophich failure.

    Modern bio-engineering is wholly different than historical crossbreeding, “soft” engineering techniques.

    Hard engineering, where we move genes at will, may produce the visible results we see/expect, but they most certainly produced results we can not see, and can not, will not anticipate.

    No doubt agri-bioengineering has been a massive boon to humanity over the past several decades, but this should not blind us its inherent risks. And there are certainly many in the industry who are incentivized to promote the positives and ignore/hide the negatives.

  • Kris

    Oh no! How shall we ever thin the herd?

    [/sarc]

  • Walter Sobchak

    What is really risky is listening to “environmentalists”.

  • RAY THOR

    enetic engineering can extend the life-span of humans. It can be used for good or evil purposes, many of which we are not presently aware. It will change every aspect of our culture. In scientific research when you open one door of discovery you find many more doors across the threshold. I wrote an ebook mystery novel on the subject titled BLOODGUILTY which is available on KINDLE bookstore by RAYMOND THOR.
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