Thursday, November 08, 2007
British Prospect Magazine has a cover story, "The Real GM Food Scandal" (via Arts and Letters Daily) that reminds me of the millions of malaria deaths in the Third World that can be traced to the anti-pesticide hysteria of the environmentalist movement.
Seven years ago, Time magazine featured the Swiss biologist Ingo Potrykus on its cover. As the principal creator of genetically modified rice -- or "golden rice" -- he was hailed as potentially one of mankind's great benefactors. Golden rice was to be the start of a new green revolution to improve the lives of millions of the poorest people in the world. It would help remedy vitamin A deficiency, the cause of 1-2m deaths a year, and could save up to 500,000 children a year from going blind. It was the flagship of plant biotechnology. No other scientific development in agriculture in recent times held out greater promise.What went wrong is that another "green revolution" is cashing in on the fact that in the West, facts and reason have slowly been disappearing from the public debate for some time. It's long, but read the whole thing.
Seven years later, the most optimistic forecast is that it will take another five or six years before golden rice is grown commercially. The realisation of Potrykus's dream keeps receding. The promised benefits from other GM crops that should reduce hunger and disease have been equally elusive. GM crops should now be growing in areas where no crops can grow: drought-resistant crops in arid soil and salt-resistant crops in soil of high salinity. Plant-based oral vaccines should now be saving millions of deaths from diarrhoea and hepatitis B; they can be ingested in orange juice, bananas or tomatoes, avoiding the need for injection and for trained staff to administer them and refrigeration to store them.
None of these crops is yet on the market. What has gone wrong? [bold added]
One point later on echoes something I discussed here some time ago:
The alleged risk to health from GM crops is still the main reason for public disquiet—something nurtured by statements by environmental NGOs, who in 2002 even persuaded the Zambian government to reject food aid from the US at a time of famine because some of it was derived from GM crops. This allegation of harm has been so soundly and frequently refuted that when it is repeated, the temptation is to despair. But unless the charge is confronted, contradicted and disproved whenever it is made, its credibility will persist. The fact is that there is not a shred of any evidence of risk to human health from GM crops. [bold added]There will always be those who doubt the safety of new technology, but until the standards of credibility in the cultural debate improve, travesties like this will keep on happening. The burden of proof that genetically modified food is "unsafe" -- or that the drive for corporate profits is an inherently sinister motive -- lie with those who make the assertion.