In a sternly worded editorial this morning, USA Today argues that genetically modified foods represent “minimal risk,” and therefore “denying the food to starving people defies reason and conscience.” Biotech crops “could significantly improve the lives of billions,” the paper adds. “Groundless fears shouldn’t be allowed to stand in the way.” We couldn’t agree more. Yet an op-ed by Brent Blackwelder — president of the rabidly anti-biotech Friends of the Earth — appears on the same page arguing those very groundless fears. Blackwelder breathlessly claims that the potential “harm” from genetically modified foods “is difficult to determine” — immediately after quoting a new United Nations report that found “no verifiable reports of significant health or environmental harm.” This, sadly, is par for the course.
That same United Nations report, published by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), leads off with the unambiguous conclusion that “agricultural biotechnology has real potential as a new tool in the war on hunger.” And the FAO’s chief lingering question about biotech has nothing to do with the environmental doom-and-gloom and overall futility forecast by Blackwelder and his ilk. “How,” asks the FAO, “can more farmers in more countries gain access to the technologies that are emerging from the Gene Revolution?” After all, biotech “golden rice” alone could prevent 500,000 cases of blindness and 2 million children’s deaths each year by combating vitamin A deficiency.
While no one should expect Friends of the Earth to place human well-being over the imagined needs of the planet, next month’s planned photo-ops, or next year’s fundraising push. Still, it would be nice if reckless green groups (including Greenpeace, the Organic Consumers Association, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy) would step aside and let modern plant biologists make their much-needed humanitarian contribution. Hungry people in developing nations don’t concern themselves with political squabbles over genetic science. They just want to be fed.