Thursday, April 16, 2015

Biotech Eating Jobs

Jeremy Rifkin, 1995

Scientists are just beginning to explore the great potential of tissue-culture production in the laboratory. Researchers have successfully grown orange and lemon vesicles from tissue culture, and some industry analysts believe that the day is not far off when orange juice will be grown in vats, eliminating the need for planting orange groves.

Recently, researchers at the Department of Agriculture "tricked" loose cotton cells into growing by immersing them in a vat of nutrients. Because the cotton is grown under sterile conditions, free of microbial contamination, scientists say it could be used to make sterile gauze. Although the production of cotton in vitro did not use gene-splicing technology, it provides still another example of the potential of reducing agricultural commodities to their component parts and then mass-producing them.

Tissue culture is seen by many as the inevitable next stage of a process that has continued to reduce the market share of farming in the food-production system. For the better part of the twentieth century, farming has declined in importance as an increasing number of its activities have been expropriated by the input sector on the one end and the marketing sector on the other. For example, chemical fertilizers have replaced animal manuring on the farm. Commercial pesticides have replaced crop rotation, mechanical tillage, and hand weeding. Tractors have replaced horses and manual labor. Today only a handful of farmers package their own produce or transport it to retail markets. These functions have been increasingly taken over by agri-business companies.

Now, chemical and pharmaceutical companies hope to use genetic-engineering technologies to eliminate the farmer altogether. The goal is to convert food production into a wholly industrial process by bypassing both the organism and the outdoors, and "farming" at the molecular level in the factory. Martin H. Rogoff and Stephen L. Rawlins, biologists and research administrators with the Department of Agriculture, envision a food-production system in which fields would be planted only with perennial biomass crops. The crops would be harvested and converted to sugar solution by the use of enzymes. The solution would then be piped to urban factories and used as a nutrient source to produce large quantities of pulp from tissue cultures. The pulp would then be reconstituted and fabricated into different shapes and textures to mimic the traditional forms associated with "soil-grown" crops. Rawlins says that the new factories would be highly automated and require few workers.