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Lords Of The Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, And The Future Of Food

by Dan Charles (Author)



Editorial Reviews

Just as science learned to decode DNA through reverse genetics, a little bit of
reverse reading might help explain why NPR correspondent Daniel Charles set out
to write the agrobiotech equivalent of fly-on-the-wall industry epics like World
War 3.0, Liar's Poker, and Hit Men. Read the epilogue first--here's where he
most eloquently explains the dueling American myths (of both scientific progress
and the sanctity of the land as God-given gifts) that have fueled the recent
battle of biotechnology against environmentalism and consumer advocacy over
genetically modified crops. It's a necessarily stirring justification for a
story that, however well told, may lack for a general audience some of the
pathos or glamour of similar tussles within such fields as medicine or
entertainment.

This is really the story of one company--American chemical giant Monsanto,
which, some 20 years ago, pushed forward the technology of injecting different
plants such as corn and soybeans with genes that would make them able to act as
their own insecticides (insects would simply die upon eating them). From there,
Monsanto went on to orchestrate a stunning takeover of much of the seed
business, but its plans for what seemed like world agricultural domination were
trounced when first European, then U.S. activists sparked a massive backlash
against GMOs ("genetically modified organisms") pumped up with the company's
patented genes--even absent substantive scientific evidence that genetically
modified crops were any more harmful (or, for that matter, more modified) to
people or the environment than those without designer genes.

Given the recent explosion of genetic research, it's fascinating to see the
relatively primitive origins of this field in the early 1980s, and to discover
the inner workings of world agribusiness, especially (as the farm-bred Charles
rightly points out) in a society where most people have no idea where their food
comes from, or what happens to it along the way. It's just that Charles's
valiant attempt to make a bunch of nerdy, competitive scientists and soulless,
profit-grubbing Monsanto execs interesting is mostly in vain. Still, you have to
love the early '90s comedy of errors that was the grandiose launch and swift
demise of the superengineered tomato--especially when an old-school tomato
breeder tries to tell her boss, a biotech exec and agricultural illiterate, that
nature's breeding process can't be accelerated to meet production goals. His
curt response? "Think out of the box." (Or crate, as it were.)

From Library Journal
A former technology correspondent for National Public Radio and Washington
correspondent for New Scientist, Charles is also an excellent storyteller. Here
he covers the history of genetic engineering in plant crops from the early 1980s
to the present. Among the episodes covered are the surprise appearance of
Starlink genes in taco shells, the Flavr Savr tomato, and the infamous
Terminator gene that would produce crops with sterile seeds. What makes this
book particularly interesting are the author's tales of the key individuals and
groups involved in the biotechnology controversy: researchers, corporations
(especially Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred), farmers, the media, environmental and
consumer activists, and the consumers themselves. This carefully researched and
balanced account is intended to help the reader understand the how and the why
of genetic engineering rather than make an argument for or against it. Charles
saves his own ideas and opinions for the epilog. Two other thorough, recent
primers on the subject are Bill Lambrecht's Dinner at the New Gene Cafe (LJ
8/01), which evenhandedly presents the pros and cons of the debate, and Alan
McHughen's Pandora's Picnic Basket (LJ 8/00), which focuses more on
biotechnology. Recommended for public and academic libraries.


Product Details

Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Basic Books (December 17, 2002)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 073820773X

 

 

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