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Genetic Improvement: A Review

In recognition of the month when America celebrates its freedom, we are devoting the first two weeks of July to a review of the ongoing battle for consumer freedom — the threats and the promise. Today, a review of recent biotechnology issues.

TRAMPLING THE TRUTH: Anti-biotech activists trampled a field of genetically improved crops in Scotland in June, while in Rome, Jose Bove, who led attacks on a field of genetically improved rice and who rallied radical activists to rip apart a restaurant in 1999, led a mob in calling for “food sovereignty” and an end to “globalization.” But according to former senators George McGovern and Rudy Boschwitz, “our only hope of staving off a global pandemic of starvation and chronic hunger in the first half of this new century is to revive the Green Revolution that saved an estimated 1 billion lives in Asia, Africa and Latin America in the ’60s and ’70s. Thanks to breathtaking advances in high-yield farming, soil conservation and genetically enhanced seeds, the world has the right weapons in its humanitarian arsenal… Bio-food is the most efficient way of delivering daily doses of key nutrients and vitamins not found in the diets of millions of malnourished children and adults… The question is not whether we can afford to make this investment — the real question should be whether we can afford not to?”

THE ALTERNATIVE?: Organic crops, on the other hand, will not feed the world, according to environmental consultant Jim Wells in The Los Angeles Times: “Organic agriculture is not capable of supplying our country’s food needs while protecting the environment… The myths of better nutrition and eating quality pale in comparison to assertions that organic production techniques are a viable means of protecting the environment and supplying the nation’s food supply… Society will need to depend on modern farming practices to produce the additional food needed without plowing billions of acres of wildlife habitat. Only high-yield production agriculture can accomplish that. When it comes to a healthy, plentiful food supply, modern farming technology, not organic trendiness, offers the more realistic solution to feeding a growing world population.”

SPEAKING FOR THE STARVING: Kenyan plant pathologist Florence Wambugu blames starvation in part on “protestors [who] have fanned the flames of mistrust of genetically modified foods through a campaign of misinformation,” noting: “They can buy their food in supermarkets… They can choose the more expensive organic foods, or even imported foods. They can eat fresh, frozen or canned produce. Then, from their world of plenty, they tell us what we can and cannot feed our children… These people and organizations have become adept at playing on the media’s appetite for controversy to draw attention to their cause. But the real victim in this controversy is the truth.”

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