Today would have been Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug’s 100th birthday. Never heard of him? Dr. Borlaug is widely credited with catalyzing humanity’s incredible progress against hunger in the 20th century – giving him the nickname “The Man Who Saved a Billion Lives.” In celebration, we are running a full-page ad in The Hill that focuses on protecting his legacy against radical activists who want to reverse advances in crop science that employ genetically improved foods (GIFs).
Dr. Borlaug, the father of the “Green Revolution,” a series of advances in agronomy between the 1940s and 1960s that vastly increased crop productivity and quality while reducing price, was a backer of GIFs. He recognized their potential in bringing healthier, heartier, and bigger crops to billions who face food insecurity and malnutrition daily. And as for the safety of GIFs, Borlaug backed an overwhelming scientific consensus, noting, “I think the activists have blown the health risks of biotech [the scientific name for GIF technology] all out of proportion.”
Our ad attacks the dangerous hypocrisy of those who use fear and misinformation to stem the lifesaving progress of food science. The headline reads, “Anti-GMO [GIF] Protesters Have Never Been Hungry” – illustrating how easy it is for wealthy activists in developed countries to claim that crop technology is bad; they’re not the ones facing starvation and malnourishment. This message is also highlighted by Borlaug’s quote: “These people are telling the world that they want the poor people of the world who are living in misery, who have no potable water to drink, who have terrible lives, that they should stay that way.”
Beyond just being hypocritical, those who oppose GIFs also pose a great danger to the billions of people in the developing world that Borlaug was referencing. Take just one example: Golden Rice. Experts believe that this GIF, which infuses rice with vitamin A, could save many of the 2 million children who die and 500,000 who go blind annually from vitamin A deficiencies. Yet these protesters, through unscientific and fearmongering campaigns, deny the scientific consensus that these foods are safe. By doing so, they are quite literally contributing to the needless death and disability of millions every year – and they couldn’t seem to care less.
Dr. Borlaug summarized the potential of GIFs in a 2000 publication, Ending World Hunger: The Promise of Biotechnology and the Threat of Antiscience Zealotry. His contributions to the world food supply earned him the Nobel Peace Prize (1970), Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977), and Congressional Gold Medal (2006), one of only seven people in history to win these three prizes. Today, his legacy is also being commemorated with the dedication of a statue in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.
The ragtag groups of fear-mongering, anti-science zealots are nothing but a distraction from award-winning science like Borlaug’s – unfortunately it’s a distraction that is causing needless death and suffering. We hope more come to know Dr. Borlaug’s contributions, and fewer people join the science-denying radicals.