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Lords Of The Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, And The Future Of Food Paperback – December 17, 2002
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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.) --Timothy Murphy --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The scientists who invented and nurtured the industry tend to get much better treatment from Charles than either the businesspeople or the environmentalists. As a former science reporter for NPR, Charles seems most comfortable painting psychological portraits of the researchers at Monsanto and elsewhere. Charles lovingly details the innovative and pioneering work that these scientists undertook and the intriguing problems they solved. Charles shows how these early projects gave shape to the modern biotech industry, and his writing in these sections is vivid and interesting. And in the chapter "Infinite Horizons", Charles enthuses about the potential of biotechnology to help solve the world's problems. Throughout, Charles' enthusiasm for science and biotechnology is unmistakable.
On the other hand, the businesspeople of biotech get beat up pretty badly in the book. You get the feeling that Charles seems slightly upset that big business can't figure out how to bring the benefits of painstaking scientific discovery to the people.Read more ›
I tend to be on the liberal end of the spectrum myself, and believe there's much to be concerned about in agribusiness. But I think the good solid arguments are often lost in the clamor of people who haven't taken the time to understand an issue. Whether you already have an opinion, or, more importantly, if you've heard a lot of rhetoric and are looking to understand how and why biotech foods have come to be, this is a good place to start.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I attend the same church as Dan. But I think this is an unbiased review, and would urge you to read (buy!) the book.
On the other hand, Daniel Charles is himself a great storyteller.
I appreciated the way Daniel Charles helped me to think about both these kinds of stories, and what they have to do with food and science, religious faith and moral values in the 21st century. Mostly, Charles stays very close to the "everyday stories of ordinary people," end of the spectrum. How he managed to get so close to the lives of these people is something I wonder about! People on both sides of this issue obviously trust him a great deal, or he would never have been able to write this book.
The "grand myths" he talks about in the epilogue, this was a very nice way to wrap it all up. Part of the difficulty of these issues is that there is no overarching spiritual/ ethical framework that can encompass this conversation. Just competing ideologies, and very little common ground. (Where common ground does exist, Charles is good at finding it.)
It irritates me when scientists who write about agribusiness and genetic engineering castigate others who don't have their scientific credentials for being "sentimental" or ignorant. They do this in a way that intimidates ordinary people who do not have Ph.Ds, as if you have to have a particular diploma to discuss these issues. We need to fight this kind of arrogance and parochialism. Science may be an elite field, but food belongs to everyone.
Daniel Charles makes the discussion accessible to everyday people who want to know what is happening to our food, and who are trying to understand why it is happening.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Not being really in to the seed business, I had difficulty staying focused on the story. I know that those more interest in the seed industry and farming would be more... Read morePublished 8 months ago by MBF
A fascinating, and thoroughly readable look at the early days of the GMO debate.Published 19 months ago by Marc Gunther
This review was written as part of a reading assignment for an Honors class at Lake Superior State University entitled “DNA: The Secret of Life”. Read morePublished 22 months ago by Brandon Yanni
Very interesting hearing the history of how genetically modified plants came about. VEry good at presenting the oppositions side, even though they really don't have much... Read morePublished on March 15, 2013 by GreggB
This one was not what I was looking for, but I was fascinated nevertheless. I was looking for something on agricultural policy, dealing particularly with tarrifs and trade. Read morePublished on May 7, 2010 by David May
Lords of the Harvest by Daniel Charles, published in 2001 is a very good overview of the history, science and politics of the early development of biotechnology. Read morePublished on March 16, 2010 by J. Canestrino
While being somewhat outdated now, LORDS OF THE HARVEST remains the most informative book that I've read covering the heated debate over agricultural biotech. Read morePublished on July 28, 2009 by Chip Hunter