Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Evolution of Food

The Evolution of Food:

Something was wrong: The plants weren’t dead.

After letting the field in eastern Oregon lay fallow for a season, the farmer sprayed the popular herbicide glyphosate to kill weeds and errant plants to make way for the coming season. Most of the plants withered and died, as expected, but scattered around there stood unscathed green stalks of wheat.

There are plants that glyphosate can’t kill, ones grown from seeds with genes deliberately modified to resist the chemical’s effects. Glyphosate-resistant corn, soybeans, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets and canola are grown from seeds developed and sold by agriculture giant Monsanto, which also sells the herbicide under the brand name Roundup.

It appeared this particular wheat was herbicide-resistant. Which wasn’t supposed to be possible: Monsanto doesn’t sell genetically modified wheat, and there’s none grown commercially anywhere in the world.
On the final day of April, the farmer sent the surviving plants to Carol Mallory-Smith, a weed expert at Oregon State University. The initial test results were surprising, so she did a more precise molecular test...

At the Moran Prairie Library on a soggy Saturday night, Howard Vlieger speaks to a captive audience. Billed as a third-generation Iowa farmer, crop nutrition advisor and GMO expert, he looks like a cowboy in his collared shirt and bolo tie, but talks with the authority of a tenured professor in his casual, gritty cadence. Name-dropping scientists he’s worked with, studies he’s read, technical nomenclature, anecdotes and data, he shifts his weight, sways and gesticulates like a preacher. You can almost hear the Iowa sweet corn rustling in the wind. He clicks his PowerPoint remote with one hand while the other underscores his augury.

“The weeds were becoming harder and harder to kill.”

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