To Feed Hungry Africans, Firms Plant Seeds Of Science

from the for-good-or-for-profit? dept

I’m surprised this story hasn’t received more coverage (or perhaps I’ve just missed it), but a number of large agricultural companies, including Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow, have joined up with a new foundation to provide “patent rights, seed varieties, laboratory know-how and other aid” to African agricultural scientists, to help that continent fight hunger. Considering the number of news stories accusing many of those same companies of doing eveything to protect their intellectual property, this is a bit of a surprise. I don’t know enough about the Foundation and its efforts to know if this is really something that might bring about massive change, or a window-dressing PR move by these companies. From the article, though, it certainly sounds like an impressive effort.

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Comments on “To Feed Hungry Africans, Firms Plant Seeds Of Science”

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dorpus says:

Good deeds are good business

There is a mostly irrational backlash against genetically modified crops. It should be pointed out that no crop on Earth today is natural anyway; humans have been selectively breeding crops for thousands of years to enhance their value as food.

Contrary to popular myth, wild crops are generally quite bad for you. Glucosinolates are chemicals that can inhibit the function of the thyroid gland. Various components of the chemicals can be detrimental to both humans and livestock. Goitrin inhibits thyroid function. Thiocynates and isothiocyanates inhibit iodine uptake by the thyroid gland. Nitriles can be formed from glucosinolates and these chemicals are toxic, affecting the liver and kidneys (Cheeke and Schull 1985). SMCO (S-methyl-L-cysteine sulfoxide) is an alpha-amino acid that causes hemolytic anemia in livestock. This chemical is restricted to various members of the family Cruciferae in the genera Brassica and Raphanus as well as the family Liliaceae in the genus Allium (onions). Additional notes on this chemical can be found under members of these genera. The concentration of SMCO in kale plants may double as the plants mature. The quantity of SMCO is increased with the addition of nitrogen to high-sulfate soils. SMCO can be greatly reduced in low-sulfate soils. The variation of SMCO varies greatly amongst different varieties of plants in the genus Brassica, suggesting that concentrations of SMCO may be heritable (Benevenga et al. 1989).

One of the great, under-publicized achievements of the 20th century was identifying these chemicals and their toxic effects. When scientists created new strains of crops with the toxins removed, people became taller and healthier. Goiter, once a common, disfiguring ailment caused by iodine-depriving vegetables, became a rarity. There is no reason why Africans cannot enjoy healthier modern crops like the rest of us.

dorpus says:

Re: Good deeds are good business

A few years ago, the “Rat children” of Pakistan made the news:

It turned out the children were suffering from iodine deficiency. Although iodized salt was available locally, there was an urban legend that the CIA is putting iodine in table salt to make Muslim men sterile. This was an example of how anti-GM fear mongering can be taken too far.

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