Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ug99 and your loaf of bread

As wheat prices soar, another danger is lurking just around the corner (or across the ocean, to be more precise) -- actual wheat shortages. A fungus called Ug99 has wiped out 70% of Africa's wheat crops, and it's expected that in some areas there, crops will be a total loss. First discovered in 1999 in Uganda, the fungus has already spread to Asia thanks to its wind-borne spores. Scientists are concerned that it will inevitably make its way to Europe and North America.

In a New York Times piece from this past Saturday, Norman E. Borlaug, the Nobel Prize winning and biotech / genetic engineering promoting ''Father of the Green Revolution'', calls for the development of a stem-rust-resistant (no doubt genetically modified) form of wheat and for it to be used to replace ''almost all of the commercial wheat grown in the world today'', for the sake and safety of the global wheat supply.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently handed Cornell University a $26.8 million dollar grant to initiate a three year study to develop (primarily and mostly through genetic modification), a stem-rust-resistant variety. Details of the project are available here in its executive summary.

I'm wondering what all of this will mean for organic wheat farmers.

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