F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
January 30, 2000
Famine or Abundance? Take Your Pick?

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

Europeans may call them "Frankenfoods," but these genetically altered grains and livestock could be the answer to world hunger.

"Europe's consumers are in a state of panic over food-related dangers, both biotech and otherwise," observes Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute. "Now, Europe is attempting to export that consumer food panic to the world for shabby political reasons," Avery reports. That could mean "a huge setback for the agricultural science that is vital to saving people and wildlife in the 21st century."

In a recent issue of Global Food Quarterly, published by the Hudson Institute, Avery charges that "Europe's governments have been telling its consumers for 30 years that modern farming inputs are dangerous." They've done this to discourage European farmers from introducing high-tech improvements, which would increase crop yields and lead to added demand for export subsidies. "This European food fear campaign started in the 1970s with pesticide residues and national subsidies for organic farming," he recalls. "Never mind that our non-smoker's cancer risks have been declining since at least 1970, or that we've added eight years to our life spans since we started spraying modern pesticides broadly."

Avery cites growth hormones as the next target of the orchestrated food phobia in Europe, followed by biotechnology. He notes, however, that biotechnology is already proving to be "the most powerful tool for good that agricultural researchers have ever had." Avery points to the success of the Rockefeller Foundation's "golden rice" project, which, he contends, "will prevent severe malnutrition for billions of people in rice-eating cultures. The new rice," Avery explains, "is genetically modified to contain beta-carotene, which the human body readily converts to vitamin A. Some 400 million people currently suffer from Vitamin A deficiency," he reports, "including millions of young children who go blind every year."

But wait, there's more! Beta-carotene is just one of the added benefits of this new and improved rice. "The 'golden rice' also includes new genes to overcome the chronic iron deficiency suffered by two billion women in rice cultures," Avery boasts. "Factory-fortified foods could not have solved these problems quickly," he claims, "because of a lack of infrastructure and capital."

That's just one of numerous success stories in the relatively short history of biotechnology. Avery credits biotechnologists for developing "rice that resists the tungro disease virus, bananas which resist the epidemic sigatoka disease, and sweet potatoes which resist the feathery mottle virus -- and thus will provide 20 to 80 percent more food per acre for millions of African families."

Avery offers a clear-headed, candid assessment of mankind's prospects for the new millennium. "Human society has only three real choices," he contends. "We can take direct action to eliminate about four billion people; we can sit quietly and accept the destruction of most of the world's forests and wild creatures to create more farmland; or we can triple the yields on the world's existing farmlands to abundantly feed a peak population of 8.5 billion affluent humans -- and their pets." Avery recommends the third option, using "well-regulated biotechnology to raise the yields per acre on the world's existing farms."

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