Where Would We Be Without Biotechnology? An Interview with Julie Borlaug

Another day, another petition pushing for a ban of biotechnology in a region. The latest that crossed my desk is one out of Prince Edward Island, seeking support to convert the entire island-province to organic production, banning GMOs and non-organic-approved pesticides.

There’s choosing not to consume GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or support conventional agriculture — a valid choice — and then there’s removing others right to either choose this system or choose to use this technology on their farms — which I don’t see as valid. As consumers and farmers, I think we should continue to have that choice.

But there is a third aspect to the “let’s ban GMOs!” conversation: we’re a privileged lot, for the most part, in North America. What impact does the biotechnology backlash here have on developing countries or areas of constant famine? To bring it back home — what happens if we eliminate genetic modification as an option for crop advancement here in North America?

Related: What will your agriculture legacy be? A look at Borlaug 100

To begin to find answers to those questions (there are no simple answers, you see, and this is a topic I plan to tackle from a few angles — stay tuned!), I turned to Julie Borlaug, associate director for external relations for the Norman E. Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M. In the audio interview below, Ms. Borlaug and I discuss not just the history of technological advancements in agriculture, but also the very real crop threats both here at home and in growing regions all over the world.

If you cannot see the embedded player click here to hear this interview.

 

Lyndsey Smith

Lyndsey Smith is a field editor for RealAgriculture. A self-proclaimed agnerd, Lyndsey is passionate about all things farming but is especially thrilled by agronomy and livestock production.

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2 Comments

Mischa Popoff

If Julie Borlaug really wants to defend the science of genetic engineering, why does she let President Obama get away with making shrouded, half-baked statements on the use of GMOs?

This is no time for Obama to sit on the fence. And it’s certainly no time for the daughter of the father of the Green Revolution to sit on the fence either.

It’s time for Julie to call the president out. Is he for or against the use of GMO crops in America? We need an answer.

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Rob Wallbridge

Great interview! I don’t favour bans either, but I think we do a real dis-service to the entire discussion by creating false dichotomies with regard to the use of technology in agriculture. If we want to advance the conversation, we need to make a two things very clear:

1) ALL agriculture is modern.
2) ALL agriculture uses technology.

Until someone invents a time machine, there is no such thing as “going back.” Organic agriculture is the choice to use different tools and technologies to produce food; it is NOT the rejection of technology or science. The process of genetic engineering is one application of biotechnology in agriculture that is currently not permitted for use in organic farming, but it doesn’t mean that organic agriculture rejects biotechnology, technology, or science.

In my opinion, attempting to paint such a stark contrast between organic farming and biotechnology only serves to widen the gulf of mistrust and misunderstanding between everyone involved.

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