With genetically modified crops we have entered uncharted territory—where visions of the triumph of biotechnology in agriculture vie with dire views of medical and environmental disaster. For two years Mark L. Winston traveled this fraught territory at home and abroad, listening to farmers, industry spokespeople, regulators, and researchers, canvassing high-security laboratories, environmentalist enclaves, and cyberspace, making a thorough survey of the facts, opinions, and practices deployed by opponents and proponents of transgenic crops.
Through his sympathetic portrayal of the passions on all sides, Winston brings a clear, unbiased perspective to this bewildering landscape. Traveling with Winston, we see the excitement and curiosity that pervade laboratories developing genetically modified crops, as well as the panic and outrage among dedicated opponents of agricultural biotechnology; the desperation of conventional farmers as they look to science for solutions to the problems driving them from their farms, as well as the deeply held values of organic farmers who dread the incursion of genetically modified crops into their expanding enterprise. And, Winston shows us, these contrasting attitudes transcend national borders, with troubling counterparts and consequences in the developing world.
As he seeks a middle ground where concerns about genetic engineering can be rationally discussed and resolved, Winston gives us, at long last, a full and balanced view of the forces at play in the chaotic debate over agricultural biotechnology.
Professor Mark Winston’s lucid new book…[is] both timely and valuable, not least because it is easy to read and understand, even for the non-scientist. As the issue confronts the whole of the planet, this book deserves to be as big a seller as any Harry Potter adventure.
Winston strains for balance. He admits that as a scientist he was ‘enthralled’ by science’s newfound ability to take a gene from one species and insert it into the DNA of another living thing. But then he does confess he is concerned about our general inability to manage this and other scientific advances… Winston writes fluidly, in a style accessible to the general reader. He opts for simplicity rather than…obfuscation… His description of how genetic engineering works—like the cut-and-paste functions of a computer program—is both basic and elegant.
The concerns over GM have led to one of the most heated debates in the history of science. The interested parties have entrenched themselves so deeply that the public has become very confused… [Winston] has spent a lot of time talking to those closely involved with GM research and development, on both sides of the debate… This is an excellent account of where GM stands both in the developed and developing world. Mark Winston has managed to clear a lot of the mystery and confusion so that readers will be able to debate the issues involved in a much more informed way.
Traveling where Winston has for this book can be dangerous because there are fanatical elements at its fringes… Winston bases this broad-ranging book solidly on the literature but also on interviews with farmers, activists, industrial workers, and publicists… The facets of genetic modification he takes into account include research, industrial processes, growing modified crops, protecting nearby crops, the safety of consumers, and the profits of agribusiness. He is especially instructive on the use of patents, the control of seeds, and the technical-use agreements that companies force farmers to sign. The book isn’t just reportorial, though, for Winston also fields practical ideas for solving the major problems involved in the rapidly-growing field of genetically modified crops. Throughout, however, he maintains a moderate stance on his controversial subject.
Genetic material, once considered the Rosetta stone of life, is not a mystery anymore. Extensive genomic investigations and precise strategies for DNA manipulation are permitting scientists to create new organisms that most likely would not have been possible by evolution alone. Winston uses his knowledge as a professional biologist to review and critique the emerging art of producing genetically modified crops. He takes a balanced approach, avoiding the polarized emotion-laced arguments of commercial biotechnology companies and their genetic engineering opponents… Winston advocates that the public can easily understand enough about biotechnology to make rational decisions concerning the acceptance or rejection of these novel crops… Highly recommended as general reading on the social impact of genetically modified foods.
[A] balanced report of the facts and myths about genetically modified organisms, from seed production to consumption, and the strong feelings that emerge from all players in this debate. Winston describes the sense of excitement and scientific curiosity in the research community, the fears and anger of opponents, and the desperation of farmers who are caught in the middle trying to gain the public trust and save their farms.
Writing with wit and wisdom, Winston invites us along on a personal journey to resolve his own questions about the impacts, good and bad, of genetically engineered crops. We meet a dazzling array of personalities, not stock character stereotypes, but real scientists, environmental advocates, government regulators, industrial magnates, and prairie farmers, each with sincere beliefs and distinctive viewpoints. Winston’s objectivity and clarity cut through the rhetoric to illuminate a scientific revolution that affects the lives of everyone—and has been, until now, a mystery to all but those on the front lines.
Travels in the Genetically Modified Zone is a magnificent guide to one of the great issues of our day. Clear-headed and always to the point, Mark Winston demystifies his subject in lucid, well-written chapters that tell you exactly what you need to know. A top-notch book.
In the heated debate about biotechnology thus is the most balanced, readable, and fair-minded overview yet written. Professor Winston has a superb talent for representing sympathetically the various contending positions while at the same time being intellectually rigorous in his analysis of the technical issues. His approach could serve as a model for how to write about the increasing number of contentious debates we have where science and public policy intersect.
- 288 pages
- 0-3/4 x 5-1/16 x 8 inches
- Harvard University Press
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