Agronomy Fail


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 From an interview with Dr. William Davis (of Heartscan blog fame)

Q: What extreme techniques are you talking about?

A: New strains have been generated using what the wheat industry proudly insists are “traditional breeding techniques,” though they involve processes like gamma irradiation and toxins such as sodium azide. The poison control people will tell you that if someone accidentally ingests sodium azide, you shouldn’t try to resuscitate the person because you could die, too, giving CPR. This is a highly toxic chemical.

But the plants generated from this technique (it's not just used for wheat) don't contain sodium azide...these techniques are used to accelerate mutation rate, so selective breeding projects that once took hundreds of years now that ten years: "The process leaves no residual radiation or other obvious marks of human intervention. It simply creates offspring that exhibit new characteristics." I guess your view on this depends on your intrinsic conservatism. But it's one of the techniques that has produced sustainable yield increases in the developing world without GE, expensive hybrid seeds, pesticides, or synthetic fertilizer. 

I hope nobody told Dr. Davis that we used NPK fertilizer or animal poo to make plants grow faster. If you eat that stuff you could die too.

Don't get me wrong. I don't eat wheat. Even the good old fashioned Weston A Price fermented breads make my stomach malfunction, and yes even the most ancient wheat varieties do this to me. I also lost a good amount of weight removing it from my diet. But I prefer the paleo approach because it emphasis that wide variety of foods someone can be sensitive to, as well as the importance of good foods like fish roe, liver, and grass-fed beef. Paleo isn't just about demonizing wheat and frankly I know some serious Crossfitters who drink real beer with real wheat often and are very lean and have excellent blood lipids. 

I'll get around to reviewing this book eventually, but from an agriculturalist's perspective I remain skeptical of it. In the past I've taken his blog less and less seriously because of his rather conventional views on meat:

Atkins Diet Common Errors: Excessive consumption of animal products–Non-restriction of fat often leads to over-reliance on animal products. Higher intakes of red meats (heme proteins?) have been strongly associated with increased risk for colon and other gastrointestinal tract cancers. It is not a fat issue; it is an animal product issue. We should consume less meat, more vegetables and other plant-sourced foods.