Thursday, May 20, 2004

Food for Thought: The European Union has finally decided to allow some genetically modified corn to enter its organic-only borders. Europeans are terrified of modified plants and animals -- what they refer to as Frankenfood. That's fine, they can eat what they want. But their phobia has prevented life-saving food from helping starving people in Africa and in other developing countries.

I once had the pleasure of talking to Norman Borlaug. He is from Iowa but spent much of his life in developing countries helping the poor. In the 1960s, he developed a genetically modified strain of wheat that increased production many times over in India and Pakistan without heavy use of fertilizer and pesticides, and with minimal use of new land.

His contributions stopped mass starvation on the Indian subcontinent. The agricultural remedies worked so well that Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1970. He didn't win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry or any other science. The invention was so overwhelming, he won the Peace prize. (And this was before the award became so political and before goons like Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat were deemed winners.)

When Mr. Borlaug turned his attention to the widespread starvation in Africa, environmentalists interfered, arguing that genetically modified plants and animals are too dangerous. Mr. Borlaug told me the fear of genetically modified foods is ridiculous. For one, there has never been any scientific evidence to show that modified foods are any more dangerous than organic.

Also, plants and animals have been getting genetically modified for thousands of years. The modifications weren't done under a microscope, but through selective breeding. That's why you don't see the corn you buy at the grocery store growing among the wildflowers on the side of the road. For centuries, mankind has been modifying the vegetable to make it more hardy, more nutritious, and easier to grow.

Now breeding is made to be more precise in a lab. This will bring better results, not worse.


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