S41 CHRONICLESncal researchers.nOr consider these two examples. Anleading researcher at a major Midwesternnagricultural college, recruited fromnthe National Institute of Health, wherenshe learned to extract very small bits ofngenetic material, is today isolating thenset of genes in swine which collectivelynmake the animal disease-free, strong,nand large. She explained to me that shenis creating new things in the lab settingnalmost daily: new genetic strains, newnspecies, all of them close but not quitenwhat they are after. For the time beingnher team documents the discoveries andnsaves them. Her telling remark: theynhave outstripped their ability to understandnand analyze what they canncreate.nNowhere is that weakness in thensystem more evident than with thenrecent release of a synthetic bovinengrowth hormone. This naturallyoccurringnmaterial, usually found innsmall quantities, can be produced innhuge quantities by using bio-engineeringntechniques. When injectedninto cattle it speeds up the metabolism.nBeef cattle reach their market weight innhalf the time. Dairy cattle find thatntheir milk production can be increasednby up to 50 percent. The discovery ofnsynthetic bovine growth hormonencame on the scene at precisely the timenwhen we were awash in surplus milk.nBy allowing it to be commerciallynproduced, the USDA has really destroyedntens of thousands of small dairynfarmers who cannot compete withnlarge operations, which will use thisnproduct to boost their own productionnand drive down milk prices—a case ofna wonderful creation whose timenshould not have been allowed to come.nIt is this dualism that has manynagricultural observers worried: infinitencreativity on the one hand, a lack ofnthorough analysis of the impact on thenother. All we know at the moment isnthat biotechnology could take farmingnin a number of different directions. Innearly 1986, the Office of TechnologynAssessment (OTA) published Technology,nPublic Policy and the ChangingnStructure of American Agriculture,nproduced with the help of the best andnthe brightest in the various agriculturalnfields. It is here, perhaps for the firstntime, that this concern over farming’snfuture has been voiced. OTA emphasizednthat agriculture faces many possi­nble futures. Some are very good for allnconcerned. Others are moderately acceptable,nwith some trade-offs —nusually meaning the dislocation of ansignificant portion of the farm population.nSome of the possible future scenariosnare not positive for either farmersnor the country.nWhat is striking in reading the reportnis the mutability of that future. Innother words, things which will be happeningnfive, ten, or 20 years from nownmay be irrevocably affected by thensequence of events and introductionsnwhich take place today.nMost people are aware of the pressurenthat has been exerted on agrichemicalncompanies to minimize contaminationnof our groundwater fromnpesticides and fertilizers, and to restrictnthe use of pesticides on our foods. For anvariety of reasons, the use of pesticidesnhas been declining in the 1980’s. Atnthe same time, these giant agrichemicalncompanies have been acquiringnover 100 seed corn companies.nThey have seen the obvious trend andnare getting directly involved with thendevelopment of crops that move usnaway from our chemical dependency.nSo far that sounds good. But be advisednthat this is not a totally humanitarianngesture.nA 1980 Supreme Court ruling determinednthat new living organismsn(bioengineered) could be patented.nSince that decision, thousands ofnpatents have been filed on key geneticnmaterial. Many agricultural experts believenthat the introduction of supernhybrids will push everything else offnthe market. The gene pool will essentiallynbe held captive, just as in today’sndairy industry a very small pool ofnbreeding stock accounts for nearly allnof the cows being milked. This genenpool industry in crops will be an estimatedn$12 billion-a-year business. Notnonly will it crush competition and putnall the seeds into the hands of a few,nbut it will dictate what kind of cropsnwill be planted and who will get them.nTo show how complex this issue is,nremember that it is agrichemical companiesnacquiring the genetic material.nNow consider that 28 seed companiesn(owned by agrichemical companies)nare currently working on “herbicideresistant”ncrops. That means we take ancrop that wilts on exposure to a popularnherbicide, and we breed into the cropnnnproperties that have allowed otherncrops to withstand exposure to it. Innshort, the chemical companies havendiscovered that it is easier to change thenplant to accept an established productnthan to go through the long and expensivenprocess of developing a new pesticide.nAt face value that seems fair andnsensible. The problem is that the pesticidesnto which crops are being madenresistant are very suspect compoundsnindeed. They are old chemicals whichncame on the market before the EPAndeveloped its most recent testingnprocedures. In the case of atrazine, onenof the most popular pesticides, thenEPA has been within an eyelash ofnbanning it altogether, because of a verynlarge body of data that links the pesticidento cancer, and its widespread contaminationnof groundwater. Of coursenthe new herbicide-resistant varieties,nbecause they are tailored to work withnthese old compounds, throw a doublenwhammy into the EPA’s plans. First,nthere will be great pressure to allow thencontinued use of atrazine (and thenother pesticides having crops made fornthem). Second, these compounds willnprobably get relicensed because ofnsome recent changes in the law, whichnwill extend the life expectancy of thenproduct.nBut here we also have one of thosendivergent paths alluded to earlier. Atnthe present point in the research process,nit would be just as easy to perfectnweed-resistant crops as herbicide-resistantnones. The difference is obvious. Anweed-resistant plant does not need tonbe sprayed with pesticide. Thus it reducesnthe farmer’s need for pesticide.nSo progress is not being made fornfarmers. It is being made for thenagrichemical companies. It is predictednthat when these herbicide-resistantnplant varieties hit the market, it willnquickly reduce the number of chemicalncompanies now making pesticides fromnabout 50 to three to five. It will alsonmean that agri-giants control all inputs:nseed to be planted, chemicals to benapplied, expertise to show how to farmnit. If Frank Norris were still writing, henwould have a perfect sequel to his ThenOctopus.nWhich brings us to the fate of thenfarmer. That OTA report also predictsnthat by the year 2000 we will have lostnover one million of the 2.1 millionn