Genetic engineering, combined with organic farming, may well be the best way to resolve the need for increased global food production, while minimizing environmental impact, suggest husband-and-wife agricultural experts at the University of California, Davis.
In their new book, "Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food," Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak assert that genetically engineered, organically grown crops offer a one-two punch for boosting food production in an environmentally conscious way. The husband and wife point out that the process of genetic engineering can contribute to the development of improved seeds that organic farmers can use.
By the year 2050, the number of people on Earth is expected to increase from the current 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion, according to a 2007 report by the United Nation's Population Division.
"Any effective approach to feeding the world in an ecologically sustainable manner will require a combination of best practices and technologies," said Adamchak, an organic farmer and manager of UC Davis' organic student farm. "Biotechnology offers the opportunity to find out how plants work at the molecular level.
"While it is important that we carefully evaluate each new genetically engineered crop on a case-by-case basis to assess nutritional, ecological or social consequences," he added, "it is equally important that we not ignore the potential that this technology offers for reducing fertilizers and pesticides in the environment."
Adamchak holds a master's degree in international agricultural development and has farmed organically for 20 years. He currently directs the Market Garden at the UC Davis Student Farm.
Ronald, a professor of plant pathology and an expert on rice genetics, maintains that today's debate about agricultural biotechnology, or genetic engineering, and organic farming need not be so polarized.
"Unnecessarily pitting GE and organic farming against each other only prevents the transformative changes needed on our farms," Ronald said. "Without the use of genetically engineered seed, the impact of ecologically oriented farming practices will likely remain small. Despite tremendous growth in the last 15 years, organic farming is still less than 3 percent of all U.S. agriculture.
"Genetic engineering enables us to introduce critically important traits into crop plants -- traits such as resistance to disease and insects or tolerance for environmental stresses like flood, droughts, cold, heat and salty water and soils," she said. "It has been very difficult to develop these traits in crops through conventional breeding."
"Tomorrow's Table" was written for consumers, farmers and policymakers who want to make food choices and policy that will support ecologically responsible farming practices. It is also for consumers who want accurate information about genetically engineered crops and their potential impacts on human health and the environment.
The 232-page book, published by Oxford University Press, chronicles one year in the lives of the Ronald-Adamchak family. The authors explore the use of GE in agriculture and the concerns expressed by consumers through dialogue with friends and family. They discuss the contents of their own largely organic pantry, what they choose to feed their children, and how over the last 10 years of their marriage, they have developed a specific criteria for the use of GE in agriculture.