The debate over genetically modified (GM) foods is starting to get downright ugly. British environment minister Phil Woolas infuriated the eco-activists at Greenpeace and Friends of the Earthdared to publicly acknowledge that GM foods may bring something to the table in efforts to alleviate the global food crisis. Their reaction to Woolas’ open-mindedness about the potential of their favorite pariah to help the world’s starving masses isn’t surprising. And it reveals the dark side of some green activism.
Given the failure of the recent UN summit in Rome to make any real progress on the food inflation front, the minister’s call for Britain to abandon its political rigidity on the GM issue should be seen as a step forward. As The Telegraph reports:

[Woolas] said: "There is a growing question of whether GM crops can help the developing world out of the current food price crisis. It is a question that we as a nation need to ask ourselves. The debate is already under way. Many people concerned about poverty in the developing world and the environment are wrestling with this issue."

He stressed that the "very robust" procedures for ensuring the safety of experiments would continue, with scientists looking at each application on its merits.

Trying to make progress in feeding the world’s hungry by considering every application for GM crop research on its merits—the horror!

Friends of the Earth said the Government had been seriously misled if it thought GM crops were going to stop the food crisis, as they did not increase yield or tackle hunger or poverty.

And Greenpeace accused the biotech industry of "abusing the misery of millions of hungry people" by trying to promote its products as a solution to rising food prices.

Let’s set aside the fact that GM crops do increase yields (click here for the latest of many examples). As actual experts on this subject have argued convincingly, this is precisely the kind of stubbornness that has made the food crisis worse. And a glimpse into the philosophical roots of today’s environmental movement suggests that there may be more to the eco-extremism above than intense hatred for biotech companies and farm technology.
As crazy as it may seem, it’s A-OK with some environmentalists to advocate mass starvation in order to "save" the planet and avoid the potential disruption of the "natural" order of things. In fact, it’s a major tenet of “Deep ecology,” an influential doctrine of “biospheric egalitarianism” founded by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess.  The fourth commandment of this odd religion states:

The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.

Sound nutty? Greenpeace embraces it fully. Here’s item number 9 in its "dozen points of ecological light":

Decrease Human population: A human civilisation that understands nature will limit its interference by reducing its numbers. A positive step would be a target (perhaps over two centuries) of reducing human population to, say, a billion people, roughly the 1800 population … Who has the right to tell other humans not to reproduce? The answer is that the living Earth has the right and will impose that right if we don’t.

There’s always been a tension between opposing food biotechnology and saving human lives, since squeezing more production from each acre of land is the most logical way to feed an ever-growing population. But even if Greenpeace and its fellow travelers are comfortable playing God, we’re not going there. We’re staying put in the try-to-alleviate-world-hunger camp. Even if it’s not “natural.”