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Biotech Backtracking

As the threat of mass starvation in sub-Saharan Africa grows more and more undeniable, some of the most strident opponents of genetically improved foods are reconsidering their positions. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that representatives of both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have started to hedge their bets on the question of whether or not Africa’s malnourished poor should have access to biotech grain.

“When it comes to famine,” said Greenpeace’s Annette Cotter, “telling anybody not to eat GM food is this situation is a position we absolutely can’t take.” Juan Lopez, who runs a multi-national anti-biotech campaign for Friends of the Earth, admitted that his group is “not saying no to GM foods in the middle of the famine.”

This is a good start, although neither organization has yet to officially change course of biotech food. Friends of the Earth, for example, released a statement on Sunday claiming that African leaders who turn away free biotech food are “right to be cautious.” On Friday, the same organization imperiously told Great Britain’s Guardian newspaper that “Africans should choose what they eat, not have someone else decide for them.”

Almost 13 million people in six African countries will face starvation or food shortages in the next six months. The case of Zambia is typical in this regard. Zambia’s president, the generally iron-fisted Levy Mwanawasa, has decreed that biotech food is “poison” and “intrinsically dangerous,” positions that ignore the wealth of science to the contrary, to say nothing of the fact that Americans have eaten such food daily for over 6 years without suffering so much as a sniffle.

USAID administrator Andrew Natsios told the Washington Times on Friday that Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth “are using big-time, very well-organized propaganda the likes of which I have never seen before.” U.S. Agriculture Secretary seconded the sentiment on Monday, saying that environmental groups are “embarking on an irresponsible campaign to spread misinformation and create an atmosphere of fear.”

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