The Perfect Vegetable
The February issue of Wired Magazine features an article that tells us about one of our most favorite topics, Food, specifically, the quest for the perfect vegetable. In particular the article discusses engineered or scientifically selected vegetables. Whatever you think you know about this topic; this article will likely stand that on its head. First the reference, I hope you find it necessary to read it, because my little synopsis will not do it justice. Here is the link:
So to start at the beginning food, has been tinkered with for thousands of years. Farmer A notices his tomatoes are red, but Farmer B’s tomatoes taste better. What if the two farmers could somehow combine redness and taste to produce tomatoes that are nice and red and still taste better? A deal is struck and the two framers enter into a pseudo partnership. They work at it for years and eventually the partnership collapses. Why? Well they recognize that unless they are extremely lucky they will not hit the right chords. In fact according to the article it might take a millennium for the two farmers to get a lasting crop that is just what each want.
I suppose that makes sense. Have you ever heard or noticed that some year’s tomatoes are spectacular from yours or your neighbor’s garden? But other years, they taste flat? Now grow that beyond tomatoes and think of lettuce, beets, cucumbers, cantaloupe (in Indiana muskmelon), watermelon, or carrots? It might take 50 millennium and Billions of trails to get that worked out.
Now sitting on the sidelines are large companies who see the annual sale of vegetables as on heck of a market. Think if only they could somehow make the best, consistent vegetables. Why who would ever be against that? Better vegetables mean more vegetables eaten, less waste, more profit. Among these companies is Monsanto. In the states you might think of Monsanto as “All” or maybe more dangerously as Agent Orange or if you are in Europe maybe as the company who does genetically altered seed, like first round up, then corn to withstand the use of round up. You may know then as the company who sues with a vengeance to run formers out of business who collect their own seed and replant it. In short these guys, this company may not have the highest standing in your eyes. Oh and you likely do not know but they own Cargil one of the two largest providers of corn.
But before you jump to that conclusion, read the article, because their process here is not about how to manipulate this gene or that, though they certainly could do that. It is about getting to hyper speed, the natural processes that farmer A and B might have agreed upon right after there were the first farms.
Here is why it is being done. Monsanto feels some backlash. Those who protested and picketed made a mark. Ok, likely a small mark on the company. So this time they have said look let’s use our labs, and scientists to simply do what farmers have been doing for generations, except we don’t have time to wait. So the technology will be in more than the end result, it will be the process.
So this time they developed and patented ways to speed things up. How? For one they will peer inside seed before it is planted and model its outcome even before it goes into the ground. I mean why not churn through a thousand years of growth and reseed to see which traits survive and which fall away. Why not, instead of using random choice or human judgment, they use their scientific judgment to do what farmers have been doing for thousands of years. Taking the better of two plants and making a new tomato? It is a stunning idea. Let’s take the lowly Cantaloupe for example. What do we want in a Cantaloupe? Well if you are a farmer you want it to last longer. If you are a consumer you want it to be yellow and sweet whenever you cut into it. So they combine those three traits and start producing possible seed combinations at a rate that no farmer could possibly accomplish. Sometimes grown in hot houses, sometimes fields, but always tested, to see which traits are present and which are falling away before the next batch is planted.
Let’s for instance know that consumers want crisp lettuce. So let’s breed for crispness and flavor and color and on and on. But we will not modify a single seed or plant. Instead what we will do is what has been done for centuries we will use our judgment to select the variants we like and exclude the variants we do not like. In short let’s do in 10 years what the two farmers might have done in a thousand. Hit the right combination. Except instead of using chance, Monsanto will use models.
After we have that plant we will then not call it broccoli, for this is no mere broccoli, this is Beneforté, the improved plant that Monsanto can patent. Therefore it will control the process but also the final product and people will love it so much, regular ho hum broccoli will seem, well ho hum.
The article alludes to Monsanto being able to produce watermelon based on local culture. How about the stripped melons we in the states are used too? But also the solid green usually found in the areas like Indonesia and Australia or how about the tiger stripped version which people in Spain might be familiar with? It is an amazing idea, and remember not a single plant gene has been externally altered. So all those protests over genetically modified food, this time it really is hog wash. It didn’t happen.
Has Monsanto turned a corner? Are they the new vegetable producers of tomorrow? Well Beneforté is on the store shelves. Look for Cantaloupe and Watermelon soon. Lettuce is being sold in Holland. The fact you have not heard word one about it is a testament to their strategy. Remember to protest and demand this practice be stopped means to protest your local farmer, because it is the same thing but so much faster.