Fbae Logo
Home | | Support Us | Contact Us
Goals & Objectives Our Position False Propaganda Important Publications Important Links Events News Biosafety
Fbae Header Home




Genetic Engineering and Food Security Targets
Prof. C Kameswara Rao
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education,
Bangalore, India
krao@vsnl.com, www.fbae.org, www.fbaeblog.org

Norman Borlaug and Jimmy Carter, two Nobel Laureates, lauded the past 50-year phase of Green Revolution as the most productive period in global agricultural history, which kept more than one billion people from hunger, starvation and death (Wallstreet J.).    This achievement would have eluded us without the ingenious innovations in science and technology that were needed to a) double the area under irrigation, b) develop high yielding, pest and disease resistant varieties, c) restore soil fertility, d) develop chemicals to control pests and diseases, and e) improve farm machinery.  
By the year 2050, the world needs to double agricultural production to nine billion gross tons to feed an anticipated population of nine billion, without increasing the land base and produce it within the consuming countries.   As the conventional technologies cannot achieve anything near these targets, we need new innovative strategies in agricultural science and technology, where modern agricultural biotechnology holds a great promise.  

Despite the recent harvest from the one-billionth acre under genetically engineered (GE) crops, political compulsions of anti-tech lobby groups and appeasing policies some Governments have hindered the pace of acceptance of the new technology.   Acceptance of GE crops by the farmers and the consumers in the developing world is crucial for achieving the targets for 2050.   If one rejects GE crop technology, a viable alternative should be suggested.   From all present indications in the face of vehement opposition to new technology from the anti-tech lobby, the only alternative is starvation and death of millions of the poor.

The staunchest opposition to GE technology comes from the developed countries.   Worse, this part of the world also fans and feeds most opposition to agricultural biotechnology in the developing countries.   The major cause is not a genuine apprehension of the public on the safety of GE products, but the pesticide and conventional seed industry that is under threat from innovative technology.   The sacrosanct organic foods lobby contributes the soprano.   Though capitalist in philosophy, these western corporate groups have successfully used the 'eco-imperialists', who have rejected consensus politics and sustainable development in favor of continued confrontation and heightened extremism of the left-wing politics.   For the anti-tech lobbies in the developing world this is a godsend of two advantages, a left wing tag with right wing money, to pursue their largely defunct political philosophies. 
With a generally well-educated public, and an industrial production line that ensures continued potential to meet with import costs of anything and everything, food security of the developed world is not at any risk.  They comfortably call the shots that endanger the livelihoods and food security of the developing world, cutting their competitors at the roots.

Most objections to GE crops are raised in the context of biosecurity (more particularly, toxicity and allergenicity),biodiversity and comparative economic considerations.   The questions raised and arguments put forward against GE are mostly related to science.   Science has reasonably satisfactory answers to these questions.   But the anti-tech lobbies prefer junk science, science misinterpreted and/or taken out of context, to mislead and confuse the Media and the public.   For them, when inconvenient, science is not important.   Then economic, societal concerns and/or ethics come to the fore.
The neo-Luddite activists often add the pungent spice of violence and vandalism to their obstructionism to attract the attention of the Media that cares only for newsworthiness.   Two of several instances: a) the labs and test crops of virus-resistant sweet potato of Florence Wambugu in Kenya, destroyed by the Earth Liberation Front, and b) the bombing of a plant genomics center under construction at the University of Minnesota.  

Starting in the year 2000, nearly 4,000 scientists, including 25 Nobel Prize winners, 12 of whom won the prize in Physiology and Medicine, have signed a ‘Declaration of Support of Agricultural Biotechnology’.  On January 20, 2004, more than 150 scientists across the world, including the Nobel Laureate James Watson, signed a letter delivered to the  British Prime Minister Tony Blair, drawing attention to ‘the positive impact that biotechnology is contributing to conventional agricultural practices in many parts of the world.’

Patrick Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace, left the organization on the issue of biotechnology, more particularly GE, for which he was called a sell out and traitor.   In March 2004 Patrick Moore wrote that, ‘the biotechnology sector needs to ramp up its communications program, and to get a lot more aggressive in explaining the issues to the public through the media’.     He considers that the main reason for the failure of the pro-GE debate is the failure of supporters of the technology to act decisively.   Moore regards that opposition to biotechnology in general, and GE in particular, ‘has clearly exposed the intellectual and moral bankruptcy’ of the critics.   

Both food security and health security can be achieved only through new technology and without education this would not be possible.    Sound science, as it has been doing all along, will better our lives.   One should listen to the sane voices like those of Norman Borlaug, Jimmy Carter and others, and promote deployment of appropriate and safe agricultural technologies.    Opposition to such technology, when it is the only viable option available, and where there are still over 800 million hungry mouths left to feed, is highly deplorable.

The key to a wider acceptability of GE technology, both in the developed and developing world, is public awareness.   Agricultural biotechnologists, product developers and others who share the platform, should make renewed efforts to reach the public.   This is a tough job as the Media, who cannot care less to find the truth, need to be actively involved.  

October 19, 2005