Biotechnology has
supporters, detractors


By Scott Myrick

Environmentalists converged on Elon University Friday for workshops and discussions on environmental sustainability.

"The term [sustainability] really is a buzzword, isn't it?" said Stuart Hart, a professor of management at Cornell University, during a keynote speech.

He said that as it stands now, sustainability has such a broad definition that it is hard to give it a concrete operative meaning. During the panel "Food by Design," experts discussed how the concept of sustainability specifically applies to local agriculture. The panelists showed how sustainability is not just the capability of an industry, such as agriculture, to survive, but also not to damage other systems in the process.

Three forum sessions in the afternoon addressed the idea of planning for sustainability by design. One of them addressed issues surrounding the production of food. Among the panelists, opinions polarized over the topic of biotechnology - the use of genetic manipulation to make useful agricultural products.

"Sustainable agriculture must be environmentally sound," said Tony Kleese, director of the North Carolina Farm Stewardship Organization. Kleese said the risks to the stability of the environment posed by biotechnology are too great. He and his organization promote organic farming.

"Biotechnology itself is only a tool. It has a potential for benefit and there are risks also associated with it," said Linda Niedziela, professor of biology at Elon University. Niedziela said that there have been no widespread harmful consequences of biotech foods. Up to 75 percent of the processed foods on the markets already contain genetically engineered products, she said.

Brendan Greene, an organizer for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, says it's not enough for farmers to be able to make a decent living. Farm workers need to be taken care of as well, he says. "I've been really amazed at the conditions that local farm workers live in," he said. The ideas of fair wages and livable conditions for workers lend themselves to the ideas behind sustainability. "What form workers want isn't charity or handouts," Greene said. "We can either bring third-world countries to our back yard, or we can raise conditions."

David Orr, a professor at Oberlin College and another keynote speaker, said that specific techniques and methods are not the most important ideas of sustainability. "It's how we live on this planet," said Orr. "We need to be students of how our world works."

Organized by Elon's Center for Environmental studies, "Roadmap to the Future: Tomorrow by Design" is the fourth annual environmental forum hosted by Elon University. Events were held all day Oct. 8 and included an alternative-fuel automotive show, organic lunch menu and sessions on sustainable community and business designs.



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Last Modified:  10/08/04
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