Thursday, June 17, 2010

Of GE and GE

Over at Dread Times, Nandor Tanczos makes a general equilibrium argument against Lincoln University's development of a genetically engineered form of clover that reduces bovine methane emissions. After giving lukewarm support for the rather mild form of GE used in this case - switching on a gene in the plant that has it produce less methane in the cow's digestive tract - Nandor then worries:
AgResearch's solution to methane emissions run the risk, like the cats in the Dr Seuss story, of creating even bigger problems than what we started with. Just as importantly, though, it falls prey to the problem of reductionist thinking that is a significant cause of the ecological crisis we are in and I don't just mean climate change.

By attempting to fix methane emissions by genetically engineering pasture AgResearch is likely to exacerbate the many other environmental problems associated with dairy farming in this country.

The unwillingness to accept any limits to dairy expansion has become a national psychosis and has already led to a government sponsored coup against Environment Canterbury.

It is time to accept that the best all round solution to the problem of unsustainable dairy farming is to de-intensify, and even better, to go organic.
So, without the modified clover, dairy would be more subject to constraint under the emissions trading scheme, reducing both greenhouse gas output and other byproducts of dairying; with the modified clover, we get the reduced greenhouse gas emission but we don't get the reduction in other byproducts. We wind up with more dairying as compared to the world without the modified clover and more of the associated problems.

Sure, the theory of the second best shows that improvements on one margin if we're away from efficiency don't necessarily move us towards overall efficiency. But wouldn't the more appropriate remedy be market-based water pricing and an effluent tax to handle the remaining problems? Unless it's the "intensity" that's the real thing giving offense.

Public Address also comments here.

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