A founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says the global food crisis could be more readily averted — if only bureaucrats in the United Nations (UN) stopped tying farmers’ hands with red tape. Farmers, biotechnology expert Henry Miller says, need access to a tool that’s proven itself safe and effective time and again. He’s talking about genetically modified food crops.

Miller wrote in London’s Sunday Guardian that overregulation and painfully long approval periods are unnecessarily preventing the world’s poorest from being readily nourished by high-yielding biotech crops:

Genetic engineering offers plant breeders the tools to make crops do spectacular new things. In more than two dozen countries, farmers are using genetically engineered crop varieties to produce higher yields, with lower inputs and reduced impact on the environment.

But exploiting this advanced technology has been a tough row to hoe. Regulation commonly discriminates specifically against the use of the newest, most precise genetic engineering techniques, subjecting field trials to redundant case by case reviews and markedly inflating R&D costs. A veritable alphabet soup of United Nations' agencies and programmes are prime offenders, perpetuating a regulatory approach that is both unscientific and obstructionist. These public policy failures, in turn, inhibit the adoption and diffusion of new plants that boast a broad spectrum of new high value-added input and output traits.

The bureaucratic red tape doesn’t stop there, Miller warns. Further complicating farmers’ ability to alleviate hunger in the most vulnerable parts of the world is a UN-brokered international agreement on “Liability and Redress” that could discourage investors from pumping money into science-assisted farming.

Miller notes that the legal agreement holds would-be biotech farmers (and their investors) responsible for damages, “real or imaginary,” that their crops might cause to non-biotech plants. It doesn’t take a legal eagle to understand that when “imaginary” damage is presented in a courtroom, it could still generate enough real legal liability to put a typical modern farmer in the poorhouse.

As it stands, UN bureaucrats and anti-biotech scaremongers are actively working to discourage research, development, and introduction of biotech crops in the global fight to end hunger. Miller implores world leaders to express a “willingness to correct past mistakes,”because in “more than two dozen countries,” biotech crops are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do: increase per-acre crop yields, decrease resource inputs, and help feed billions of people.