Are Some GM Foods Greener?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Are Some GM Foods Greener?

The research and production of genetically modified (GM) foods has generated a great deal of intense debate. But writing about GM foods in the latest issue of Newsweek, Lee Silver suggests that, sometimes at least, the "G" could stand for green:
Farm-raised pigs are dirty, smelly animals that get no respect. They're also an environmental hazard. Their manure contains phosphorus, which, when it rains, runs off into lakes and estuaries, depleting oxygen, killing fish, stimulating algae overgrowth and emitting greenhouse gases.

... Doing away with the pig is not an option. Pigs provide more dietary protein, more cheaply, to more people than any other animal. Northern Europe still maintains the highest pig-to-human ratio in the world (2-1 in Denmark), but East Asia is catching up.

During the 1990s, pork production doubled in Vietnam and grew by 70 percent in China—along densely populated coastlines, pig density exceeds 100 animals per square kilometer. The resulting pollution is "threatening fragile coastal marine habitats including mangroves, coral reefs and sea grasses," according to a report released in February by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

As it turns out, there is a solution to the pig problem, but it requires a change of mind-set among environmentalists and the public. Two Canadian scientists have created a pig whose manure doesn't contain very much phosphorus at all. If this variety of pig were adopted widely, it could greatly reduce a major source of pollution.

But the Enviropig, as they call it, is the product of genetic modification — which is anathema to many Westerners.

The Enviropig is one of many new technologies that are putting environmentalists and organic-food proponents in a quandary: should they remain categorically opposed to genetically modified (GM) foods even at the expense of the environment?
Of course, I suspect that many vegetarians would take issue with Silver's line that eliminating pork from the human diet "is not an option."

But, speaking for myself, an out-and-proud carnivore and ex-Southerner, I'd sure miss my pulled pork barbecue.

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