The global conflict over high-yield farming became even uglier last week when armed activists “for the landless” invaded a Brazilian biotech research farm. One activist and a security guard were killed and eight other people injured.
Unfortunately, the clash over modern farming technology has already had victims by the millions. New technologies that would save millions of lives every year are being held back by activist-scared regulators, using the excuse of “more testing.”
During the severe southern African drought of 2002, eco-activists told local governments that American food aid was “poison” because it contained genetically modified seeds. In at least one country, Zambia, the government locked up the U.S. food aid—despite the starvation of thousands in outlying villages. The food aid was later liberated by a mob that overwhelmed its armed guards.
Golden rice could provide enough Vitamin A to prevent millions of cases of childhood blindness and death from rice-dominated diets per year, but it is not yet available to farmers even though it was announced by the journal Science nearly eight years ago. Its developer, Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, says his rice can save millions of lives among the poor, with no threat to the environment, no cost to the poor farmers who will raise it, and no benefit to corporations. Nevertheless, Greenpeace and other eco-groups ardently oppose this and all other genetically modified seeds. Potrykus says they’d rather have people die than be saved by high-tech seeds.
African countries refused to allow the import of biotech corn seeds that could have helped overcome the parasitic witchweed, which infests 40 million hectares of African farmland. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center had to spend an extra 10 years conventionally breeding a natural tolerance for the herbicide imazapyr into African corn farmers’ varieties. The new seeds reliably yield four times as much corn, providing food security for farmers too used to facing starvation because the witchweed stole their grain.
The Irish government has refused to accept test plantings of a new biotech potato variety resistant to the deadly potato late blight. This is the same blight that caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s when more than a million Irish starved and more than a million more were forced to flee the country. Researchers found resistance to late blight nearly 50 years ago in a wild relative of the potato, but it had never been successfully bred into a domestic potato. Now, three major universities have each bred blight-resistant tubers—and the country which suffered the potato famine won’t allow them to be grown. Nor will such African countries as Burundi, which are increasingly dependent on potatoes. An outbreak of a more virulent late blight virus continues unchecked in Britain.
How many people have to die before this travesty of Luddite worship runs its course?How many helpless children will have to go blind before the endless testing of Golden Rice allows it to be distributed to the families who so critically need it?
When will the world realize that Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, for all their preaching about the rain forests, are trying to roll back modern civilization and its long life spans with thickets of overpriced solar panels and windmills? They willingly fail to see that without the high yields from the Green Revolution and biotechnology, hungry people will quickly clear the world’s remaining forests for low-yield crops.
Dennis T. Avery is a senior fellow for Hudson Institute in Washington, DC and the Director for Global Food Issues. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. Readers may write him at Post Office Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421.