Cover image for Shattering : food, politics, and the loss of genetic diversity
Title:
Shattering : food, politics, and the loss of genetic diversity
Author:
Fowler, Cary.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Tucson : University of Arizona Press, [1990]

©1990
Physical Description:
xvi, 278 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780816511549

9780816511815
Format :
Book

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Central Library SB175 .F68 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

It was through control of the shattering of wild seeds that humans first domesticated plants. Now control over those very plants threatens to shatter the world's food supply, as loss of genetic diversity sets the stage for widespread hunger.Large-scale agriculture has come to favor uniformity in food crops. More than 7,000 U.S. apple varieties once grew in American orchards; 6,000 of them are no longer available. Every broccoli variety offered through seed catalogs in 1900 has now disappeared. As the international genetics supply industry absorbs seed companies--with nearly one thousand takeovers since 1970--this trend toward uniformity seems likely to continue; and as third world agriculture is brought in line with international business interests, the gene pools of humanity's most basic foods are threatened.The consequences are more than culinary. Without the genetic diversity from which farmers traditionally breed for resistance to diseases, crops are more susceptible to the spread of pestilence. Tragedies like the Irish Potato Famine may be thought of today as ancient history; yet the U.S. corn blight of 1970 shows that technologically based agribusiness is a breeding ground for disaster. Shattering reviews the development of genetic diversity over 10,000 years of human agriculture, then exposes its loss in our lifetime at the hands of political and economic forces. The possibility of crisis is real; this book shows that it may not be too late to avert it.


Summary

It was through control of the shattering of wild seeds that humans first domesticated plants. Now control over those very plants threatens to shatter the world's food supply, as loss of genetic diversity sets the stage for widespread hunger.

Large-scale agriculture has come to favor uniformity in food crops. More than 7,000 U.S. apple varieties once grew in American orchards; 6,000 of them are no longer available. Every broccoli variety offered through seed catalogs in 1900 has now disappeared. As the international genetics supply industry absorbs seed companies--with nearly one thousand takeovers since 1970--this trend toward uniformity seems likely to continue; and as third world agriculture is brought in line with international business interests, the gene pools of humanity's most basic foods are threatened.

The consequences are more than culinary. Without the genetic diversity from which farmers traditionally breed for resistance to diseases, crops are more susceptible to the spread of pestilence. Tragedies like the Irish Potato Famine may be thought of today as ancient history; yet the U.S. corn blight of 1970 shows that technologically based agribusiness is a breeding ground for disaster.

Shattering reviews the development of genetic diversity over 10,000 years of human agriculture, then exposes its loss in our lifetime at the hands of political and economic forces. The possibility of crisis is real; this book shows that it may not be too late to avert it.


Author Notes

Environmentalists Cary Fowler and Patrick Mooney work for the Rural Advancement Fund International, a non-profit organization supporting family farm agriculture and the conservation of genetic diversity. In recognition of their work in this area, they received in 1985 the Right Livelihood Foundation's "Alternative Nobel Prize."


Reviews 2

Choice Review

Fowler and Mooney are employed by Environmentalists for the Rural Advancement Fund International, a nonprofit organization supporting family farm agriculture and the conservation of genetic diversity. The authors' philosophy is that modern plant breeding, which led to the "green revolution" and a large increase in yields has, by encouraging uniformity, also eroded the genetic base for future breeding. Encouraging uniformity discourages varability; extinct is forever. A classical example of this problem was the southern corn leaf blight in 1961 that occurred when virtually all commercial varieties of corn were genetically identical in at least one respect. The solution to the problem proved to be a Mayorbala maize from Africa that provided the diversity of genes. The book is divided into ten chapters; "Origin of Agriculture," "Development of Diversity," "Value of Diversity," "Genetic Erosion," "Tropical Forests," "Rise of the Genetic Supply Industry," "Biotechnology," "Global Conservation," "Politics of Genetic Control," and "Responsibility and Committment." To emphasize the importance of genetics, the US seed industry estimates that one useful gene is worth a billion dollars in the agricultural economy. The book is well referenced, but not all the references are strictly from the scientific literature. Good reading for anyone interested in conservation; should be required reading for policymakers who control political decisions in agriculture. H. W. Ockerman The Ohio State University


Choice Review

Fowler and Mooney are employed by Environmentalists for the Rural Advancement Fund International, a nonprofit organization supporting family farm agriculture and the conservation of genetic diversity. The authors' philosophy is that modern plant breeding, which led to the "green revolution" and a large increase in yields has, by encouraging uniformity, also eroded the genetic base for future breeding. Encouraging uniformity discourages varability; extinct is forever. A classical example of this problem was the southern corn leaf blight in 1961 that occurred when virtually all commercial varieties of corn were genetically identical in at least one respect. The solution to the problem proved to be a Mayorbala maize from Africa that provided the diversity of genes. The book is divided into ten chapters; "Origin of Agriculture," "Development of Diversity," "Value of Diversity," "Genetic Erosion," "Tropical Forests," "Rise of the Genetic Supply Industry," "Biotechnology," "Global Conservation," "Politics of Genetic Control," and "Responsibility and Committment." To emphasize the importance of genetics, the US seed industry estimates that one useful gene is worth a billion dollars in the agricultural economy. The book is well referenced, but not all the references are strictly from the scientific literature. Good reading for anyone interested in conservation; should be required reading for policymakers who control political decisions in agriculture. H. W. Ockerman The Ohio State University


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