From monoculture to biodiversity

by David Muirhead 2 September 2002
Dear David, I was interested to read your thoughts on GM foods. I confess almost total ignorance on this very emotive subject. But I also nurture scepticism as to the actual importance/relevance in environmental terms of GM foods. Unlike you I am relatively unconcerned re risks to human health as a direct consequence of ingestion of GM foods-after all, we have been able to over-populate Earth largely because of remarkably similar developments in monoculture food production. This is where I see the real problem: GM crops only serve to widen the gulf between current food production practices and sustainability, by perpetuating the myth that monoculture of any kind on a broad scale can ever be truly sustainable.
I, perhaps simplistically to a fault, believe fervently that any 'crop' must coexist locally (even within the one small paddock, so to speak) with as near as practicable as many species of lifeforms across all phyla as originally occurred there. Many would say this is a ridiculous extension of the 'minimal tillage' concept: but looking at the big picture surely this is where we are just beginning to head?
I reckon that in another few decades we will have moved right away from monoculture. Instead our 'farms' will be almost indistinguishable from virgin scrub, but with this important difference: from each block we will sustainably harvest biodiverse foods of bewildering variety, e.g qandongs and other fruits, nuts and berries, greens, tubers, grains, wattle seeds, legumes, honey, eggs and animal protein from insects, molluscs, fish, birds, mammals and so on! Well, that's my little fantasy anyway.
When I say 'looking at the big picture' I'm referring to changing attitudes and priorities within the majority of citizens towards sustainability, and NOT the immediately obvious broad-acre land clearance and monoculture practices currently rampant and usually greed-driven that we see all around us. I think that the rate of increase in popularity of organically grown foods, bush tucker and the like is so fast that it must soon influence the currently non-sustainable practices of our major food producing barons and multi-national companies, i.e. consumer preference and demand will eventually prevail. I know one could argue that the fast-food and obesity trend in western societies seems to contradict my impression, and obviously I don't have a crystal ball and my forecast above may just be wishful thinking-but you never know, stranger things have happened!