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Ignorance: An Anti-Biotech Crusader’s Best Friend

It's been a difficult month for science-phobic activists opposed to the widespread acceptance of genetically engineered (GE) food, but Americans have been fed enough misinformation by activists that anti-biotech campaigns will keep moving forward with vigor. First, the good news: last month California voters defeated a majority of local ballot measures that would have banned the cultivation of GE crops. A landmark British study found that biotech crops are just as environmentally benign as conventional plant varieties. And newly-minted U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has promoted the importance of crop technology in the past. Unfortunately, when the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology polled Americans in the fall, we were still split down the middle on the question of whether GE foods were "basically safe" to eat. Commenting on Pew's findings, Des Moines Register columnist Phil Brasher wrote on Sunday: "It could be ignorance, not familiarity, that breeds contempt." On the heels of a major Catholic conference that called crop biotechnology "a moral imperative" U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson addressed the ignorance issue in the Rocky Mountain News. Opposition to GE foods, he said, is due to "misinformation sown by ideologically motivated groups" who:

[C]ontinue to claim that biotech foods are unsafe despite the fact that millions of Americans, Canadians, Australians, Argentines and other people have been eating genetically modified food for nearly a decade — without one proven case of an illness, allergic reaction or even the hiccups. Activists even convinced African governments facing drought-induced famine in late 2002 to return tons of World Food Program corn because it was produced in America using biotechnology. Better to die than eat the food that Americans eat every day.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug offers his own advice about how to address the false claims of anti-technology radicals. "With available information and research," Borlaug said last month at an Iowa conference, "we can feed 10 billion people. But if we are going to be able to use the technology, we must first end the debate. You can't win by being nice guys."

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