Have the Greens finally trapped biotech crops?

CHURCHVILLE, VA—When our new knowledge of DNA permitted genetically modified crops, the environmental movement “flipped out.” Here was a new technology that promised to raise crop yields, protect our food supply from pests, and create a second Green Revolution for “over-populated” places such as Africa and India. The activists believed viscerally that more food would mean more people—and they were apparently terrified that more little brown and yellow people would “use up” such resources as copper and antelope.

The Green Movement and others, who firmly believed in the power of “The Population Bomb” to destroy society, wanted to believe that population growth would be stopped by famine—by the implacable limits to food production. The activists have never admitted, even to themselves, that the first Green Revolution not only saved millions of human lives, but also has been humanity’s greatest conservation triumph by preventing the plow-down of additional wild-lands equal to the land area of South America. Additionally, the increased global food security led to lower birth rates over most of the world.

Today, in Europe, green activists have gotten biotech plantings virtually barred. Europe has been blessed with a food surplus and their public feels no need to feed the rest of the world. Now the Green Movement has finally hit on a winning biotech strategy for America. The Greens tell a federal judge that pollen from biotech crops will “pollute” nearby organic fields with genetically modified DNA. The judge says, “We can’t have that,” and issues a court order. Both biotech alfalfa and sugar beets have recently run afoul of these court decisions.

Note to judges: the organic standards say nothing about biotech pollen being a pollutant. They regulate the process, not the outcome. If the farmer doesn’t use industrial fertilizer or “synthetic chemicals”—and doesn’t plant biotech seeds himself—the organic standard says his produce is “organic.”

Nor do traces of GM pollen significantly affect the crops. The National Academy of Sciences has repeatedly published their conclusion that there’s no basis for regulating gene-spliced crops any differently than any other crops. Ditto the America Medical Association, the British Royal Society, and the UN’s Food and Agriculture and World Health Organizations.

Experience is showing that selectively modified seeds, using the new DNA mapping tools, are actually safer than the older plant breeding techniques of bombarding seeds with harsh chemicals or radiation—to induce unknown new DNA mutations.  

A few of the advances already achieved by biotech:

  • A new potato that’s resistant to the dreaded late blight. Another new potato with 60 percent more protein.
  • Nitrogen-efficient crops that yield a full crop with half the normal dose of nitrogen, making them cheaper to grow and providing protection to streams from runoff.
  • Bananas resistant to the Black Sigatoka disease that threatens the food supply of millions in Africa.
  • Cotton plants that have their pesticide bred in, so the fields aren’t sprayed and Third World farmers aren’t walking through their own spray patterns.    
  • Seeds with stacked pest-killing traits to eliminate crop spraying and prevent the development of resistant weeds and insects. 

These innovations are already making a difference. China’s higher-yielding pest-protected cotton seeds have freed another 600,000 hectares of land for food crops. Millions of tons of chemicals have not been sprayed. A huge amount of soil erosion has not occurred.

In America, organic farms produce only 1 percent of our food. Should that tiny minority threaten the whole world’s food production future? How do the green movements of Europe and America influence the governments of the third world? Easy! The EU threatens to boycott their exports.

Solid prediction:  The world in 2040 will have perhaps 8 billion people demanding twice as much food and lots of high-quality protein. Either we produce that extra food on the land we already farm, or we watch the most massive loss of wild-lands in all history.

How come the Green Movement isn’t worried about that?

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About the Author: Dennis Avery

Dennis Avery

Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., is an environmental economist. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of "Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years." Readers may write to him at PO Box 202 Churchville, VA 24421; email to [email protected]