Nowadays, people are putting crazy DNA into things to make them ‘better’. When someone says ‘genetic engineering’, that is typically what you think of. But really, we’ve been engineering DNA for quite some time, just ask Darwin.
It has always been that the strongest traits within a species would be passed on so that species self-select to become stronger. It really makes sense. And since the beginning of animal husbandry, our participation in ‘genetic engineering’ has picked up.
As an example, let’s look at sheep. When I went to sheep school last week, I learned that some sheep are born with a goofy eyelid thing where their eyelashes rub against their eye until they go blind. That is, unless you fix it, which was one of the procedures I would call a vet for because I’m not going to make an injection just under a lamb’s eye. Folks that have spent a lot of time fixing this problem have generally noticed that these eye problems tend to come from lambs from the same genetic line.
If you send that genetic line to the butcher, you no longer have to deal with the eye problem. In deciding which animals to keep and reproduce, you decide which traits you want in our animals in the future. This is much better than injecting animal DNA into plants, but we have been manipulating DNA for a very long time.
Now I’m getting to what I really want to talk about. It makes a lot of sense for me to plan my flock to have the traits that I want so that it is strong and vibrant and gives me the products I want while being hardy enough to resist the pests of this area. Unfortunately, as a country (or even world civilization), we have taken to selectively breeding pests.
As an example, sheep often have problems with worms. If you systematically provide all of your sheep a dewormer regularly, you will kill many of the worms that harm sheep. BUT, you are selectively breeding for those worms that are not killed by the dewormer. Give this a few years and you have successfully produced a new ‘herd’ of worms that are not phased by the dewormer that you use. So you have to find a stronger dewormer that will make your worm crop even stronger. This doesn’t seem like the right solution. It would seem like breeding sheep that can tolerate and even resist parasitic worms would be better than breeding super worms that can infect any livestock no matter what you try to do to prevent it.
We are doing this with our produce as well. When we use a roundup-ready crop and then spray the field with a chemical that kills all of the weeds and insects, it doesn’t kill ALL of the weeds and insects, only the weak ones. So we are again selectively breeding for super weeds and super insects that can survive anything. Wouldn’t we be better off breeding crops that naturally are the strongest and most resistant to insects and weed competition?
Instead, we have injected new DNA into our crops that contains herbicides or insecticides so that the plants themselves can help in the breeding of new super-pests. It’s time to take a step out of the pest-breeding industry and return to growing diverse foods that are chosen for being the strongest and best plants for what we want to do.