Heirloom tomatoes and Brandywines have become such a staple—even a symbol—of organic farming. Would you grow genetically engineered Brandywines if they existed?
Raoul: Well, I couldn't grow it as an organic farmer. I'd have to grow it as a nonorganic crop, but I would. Heirlooms are extremely susceptible to nematodes. You basically can't grow them organically if you have nematodes. What about the concern that corporations can own the patent rights to genetically engineered seeds, so farmers can't save them and have to buy from the same company year after year?
Raoul: Actually, it's the same for many hybrid varieties that are popular among organic growers. Pamela: And many people don't realize that in less developed countries, the seed industry is very different. In the past, most of these countries have had national breeding programs that distribute the seed for free. It's a completely different model than what we have in the United States, where virtually all of the seed is privatized.
What's the take-home message of this book, especially for people who aren't particularly interested in agriculture?
Pamela : We haven't really talked about nutrition and land use, and that's often of interest to people who aren't interested in farming. If we hadn't genetically modified our crops by conventional methods over the last 50 years, we would be using twice as much of the Earth's surface to grow the same amount of food. In the future, if we don't increase yields, we'll need to use double the amount of land to produce the same amount of food. In terms of nutrition, vitamin A-enriched GE rice has the potential to save the lives of thousands of children who currently suffer from vitamin A deficiency. Do you seem to be winning friends with the book?
Pamela: It's a little early to say, but we're getting some comments back. I think there have been a lot of people thinking about this but not publishing widely on this. This situation sort of reminds me of that children's story about the emperor's new clothes. Everybody was afraid to point out the obvious. Once you have a few people calling and saying the emperor has no clothes, I think it will help change things. I think more and more people are starting to speak out.