Today, the United States Congress bestows the country’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, on agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug. But the life-saving work Borlaug champions has long been denounced by environmental groups.
With baseless rants, activists have brought the clamor over genetically modified food to a fevered pitch. During the past year, the misleadingly named anti-biotech Center for Food Safety has worked to spread anxiety among consumers about scientific advancements that strengthen crops and ensure food safety. And last month, the authoritatively named Irish Doctors Environmental Association published a scathing condemnation of biotech crops in the Irish Medical Journal. But an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal worked to quell the unfounded paranoia spread by these neo-luddite campaigners:
Greenpeace and other pessimists were scandalized at Dr. Borlaug’s Green Revolution; it disproved their admonitions and, worst of all, led to industrial development … History has its share of tragedy, but Dr. Borlaug’s life demonstrates that environmental doomsayers are almost always wrong because they overlook one variable: human ingenuity.
The Journal editorial outlines Borlaug’s work over the last half century. His innovations — which are credited with saving a billion people from starvation — have brought biotechnology to impoverished countries. As a result, he has received many humanitarian awards, including a Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and, today, the Congressional Gold Medal. These accolades indirectly discredit the naysayerswho work to drive a wedge between foor and biotechnology.
As anti-development environmentalists preach the gospel of limits and state coercion, here is a question worth asking: How many millions of people might have perished had Norman Borlaug heeded their teachings?
Luckily, Borlaug defied his critics and continues to denounce their propaganda. In 2004, he told the Atlantic Monthly that Western environmental activists are "elitists." He continued:
They’ve never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.