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When Scott Kirsner wrote his article in the Boston Globe last week (“Who’s Hurting the Worst? Evaluating Biotech, High Tech”, 2003-03-10), at first I was slightly amused. He states:

I couldn’t help but overhear the exchange between a biotech CEO and a software company founder at a recent cocktail party. Their conversation centered on who has it worse in the current economic freeze-out: the biotech sector or high-tech companies that make things like software…

Then I got to thinking about it. The two industries are similar in that they might both be having economic trouble, but that’s were they depart ways. Their troubles are due to very different in the root causes. The key difference is in the impact each has upon our environment. Software is a distillation of ideas, codified into processes and data. While use of computers has a very tangible environmental impact, software is predominantly abstract and separate from the ecosystem. It is a so-called “clean industry”. Biotech, on the other hand, is inherently part of the ecosystem. Its basic building blocks are from nature; its applications are upon biological organisms; and its effects are potentially global. That’s why anyone working with biotech must observe strict regulations to keep “experiments” from inadvertently escaping. While also technically classified for zoning purposes as clean industry, I sure would think twice about living next door.

Some biotech firms are working hard to find solutions to health problems, and I have limited criticism there. But, there is another key development area that I do have real concern about, genetically modified organisms, or GMO’s. Just before the economic bubble burst, taking these two industries and many others down the financial slopes, there was a mounting grassroots movement forming against the introduction of GMO’s into our food supply. This “ingredient shifting” is being done without any human testing whatsoever, let alone understanding the full impact upon the wider environment. It’s no wonder people are protesting, and it’s no wonder that this industry is having trouble getting its finances in order.

That Massachusetts bases so much of its economy on this dangerous and experimental genetically modified food technology is just plain dumb. If we really want to see our economy recover, we should be focusing our efforts on organic food farming techniques. These are proven approaches that have excellent economic returns and don’t have any of the dangers of GMO’s.

No, Mr. Kirsner, these two groups are not the same. There are ways out of the state’s budget problems, but they won’t come from putting our hopes on technologies that endanger the very environment in which we live.

– Charles Behrens


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