|Be Not Afraid, Use Genetics to Feed the World's Hungry Agriculture:
If we don't use science to farm more intelligently, we put people and ecosystems at risk.
By Jack Kemp
December 3, 1999 | Los Angeles Times
The fast-waning 20th century has brought tremendous improvement in the human condition. People live longer, healthier lives than they did 100 years ago, largely because of stunning advances in medicine and agriculture.
These advances include products of genetic engineering. Former President Carter, whose Carter Center is doing outstanding work on agricultural production in the developing world, says that by increasing crop yields, genetic engineering reduces "the constant need to clear more land for growing food. Seeds designed to resist drought and pests are especially useful in tropical countries, where crop losses are often severe." Carter makes clear that the poorest, hungriest people of the world have the most to lose in the public relations assault on new bioengineered foods.
Science deserves most of the credit for advances in food production and nutrition, but so do education, the economics of wealth-creation, philanthropy and enlightened political leadership. Together these have put to rest the old Malthusian fear that population would outstrip our capacity to feed the world and that there was nothing we could do about it. There was something, and we did it: Today we feed 6 billion people much better than we fed 4 billion 20 years ago.
Yet this is no time to rest on our laurels. The 1996 U.N. World Food Summit reported that 800 million people are chronically undernourished, and the International Food Policy Research Institute projects that we will have to increase grain production 40% by 2020 just to keep up with population growth. We can do that; but to bring better nutrition and more food to the neediest people of the world, we have to use every resource at our disposal.
Superstition and sheer misunderstanding, however, are being used to browbeat the public--particularly in Europe, but increasingly in the U.S.--into opposing agricultural biotechnology, which the world needs to feed its growing population, improve nutrition and head off famine.
Despite numerous studies, there are no known hazards associated with bioengineered foods, which sound science shows to be as safe as--or safer than--the foods that have been on supermarket shelves for a generation. Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work to attack world hunger with better food crops and who now heads the Carter Center's effort to improve crop yields in Africa, points out that what some in Europe are calling genetically modified foods are just advances in conventional plant breeding, which has been used for years to increase yields, nutritional value and pest and disease resistance.
Some critical studies of genetically engineered crops merit further investigation, while others can't meet the basic standards of scientific peer review. Surely we can agree on sound science standards for bioengineered crops, as we should for all scientific breakthroughs with commercial applications.
The extremist opposition may be satisfied with nothing less than halting the agricultural advances altogether. Already, Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. has asked farmers planting its genetically engineered soybeans to segregate those crops, and Monsanto is apologizing for bringing more disease-resistant crops to market."Solid scientific evidence" has been all too lacking in this debate--a war of words and slogans, not ideas and initiatives. Let us suggest some facts that must not be forgotten: Without dramatic improvements in crop yields, people will starve; they will suffer disease and death from malnutrition. The world's wildlife, habitats, endangered species and entire ecosystems will be put at risk as we are forced to draw more agricultural land into production. Pest-resistance, which we now know can be bred precisely into plants, will be supplanted by wider use of chemical pesticides. The promise of improving the nutritional value of indigenous crops in the developing world may be lost for a generation.
Is this what the radicals want? Surely not. Those of us in affluent societies have the luxury of pondering such questions. In doing so, we have an obligation to give the benefit of the doubt to innovations in science and technology that will most aid those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
Britain's Prince Charles, in his multi-pronged attack on the entire bioengineered foods industry, asserts that "where people are starving, lack of food is rarely the underlying cause." Let the prince eat cake. The people of the Sahel region, south of the Sahara, have no such luxury. It is our moral duty to help them with the most promising means available to us, and that must include applying advanced biotechnology to agricultural production.
Jack Kemp, the 1996 Republican nominee for vice president, is a distinguished fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington
A Leader in Revitalizing Plant Science
November 1999 | R&D Magazine
Beachy Speaks About the Safety of Transgenic Foods (excerpt) The following remarks are taken from Roger Beachy's testimony before the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on Oct. 6, 1999.
"As a scientist I have listened with interest to the proclamations and speeches given by members of organizations that fight against the use of modern techniques that are used in agriculture, including, ironically, organizations interested in protecting the environment. One of the first things we did in my lab after we developed the first virus-resistant tomato plants was to conduct experiments related to the safety of the food and the safety of the gene in the environment, and the potential impact of the gene on the pathogen. . .
". . .The vast majority of plant and agricultural scientists who are truly familiar with how crops have been developed through the years and the processes through which those foods have been evaluated are amazed by the response of those that seemingly do not want the technology to be adapted.
Some of these groups are established to promote protection of the environment but are opposed to crops that require less chemical insecticide or reduce tillage and soil erosion. Other groups are truly concerned about the safety of the foods produced by new techniques they do not understand, but they have full confidence in foods produced by classical methods that they also do not understand or processes that purport to produce vegetables and fruits by organic methods that use questionable materials and whose safety is not guaranteed. . .
"The most that we can ask is that all foods produced by whatever method receive the same level of evaluation both with regard to impact on the environment and safety to the consumer."
ILTAB Combats Third World Hunger With Biotech Harvest of cassava roots in Ghana. Cassava feeds 500 million people worldwide.
The International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology (ILTAB) is dedicated to helping developing countries improve their agricultural production in a sustainable manner by transferring modern technologies in plant biology and biotechnology and by training young scientists from these countries in the use of these technologies. More than 130 students, scientists, and technicians from 21 countries have benefited from ILTAB.
Roger Beachy is named R&D Magazine's Scientist of the Year for his innovative research and his efforts to bring the latest transgenic technologies to the Third World.
Full transcript: http://danforthcenter.org/news13.htm
Full Story: http://www.rdmag.com/features/11soy.htm
Without Biotechnology, We'll Starve
Agriculture: Genetic engineering is subject to
more safeguards than many unaltered foods we eat.
By Martina McGloughlin
November 1, 1999 | Los Angeles Times
I agree with Greenpeace that we need to feed and clothe the world's people while minimizing the impact of agriculture on the environment. But the human population continues to grow, while arable land is a finite quantity. So unless we will accept starvation or placing parks and the Amazon Basin under the plow, there really is no alternative to applying biotechnology to agriculture.
Today's biotechnology differs significantly from previous agricultural technologies. Using genetic engineering, scientists can enhance the nutritional content, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, texture, color, flavor, growing season, yield, disease resistance and other properties of production crops. Engineered microbes and enzymes produced using recombinant DNA methods are used in many aspects of food production. The cheese and bread you eat and the detergent you use to clean your clothes all have used engineered enzymes since the early part of this decade.
By reducing dependency on chemicals and tillage through the development of natural fertilizers and of pest-resistant plants, biotechnology has the potential to conserve natural resources, prevent soil erosion and improve environmental quality. Strains of microorganisms could increase the efficiency, capacity and variety of waste treatment. Bioprocessing using engineered microbes offers new ways to use renewable resources for materials and fuel.
Biotechnology is, in fact, the low-risk alternative to current practices. Take pest control. The economic and environmental costs of using existing methods are well known. But many of us are not aware of the potential costs of not controlling pests. Not controlling fungal disease in plants, for example, allows them to generate deadly toxins such as aflatoxin and fumonisin, which have been found, among other things, to cause brain tumors in horses and liver cancer in children.
The most cost-effective and environmentally sound general method for controlling pests and disease is the use of DNA. This approach already has led to a reduction in the use of sprayed chemical insecticides. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2 million fewer pounds of insecticide were used in 1998 to control bollworm and budworm than were used in 1995, before "Bt" cotton was introduced. And the Bt gene--introduced into the crop plant, not sprayed into the atmosphere--is present in minute amounts and spares beneficial insects.
There is no evidence that recombinant DNA techniques or rDNA-modified organisms pose any unique or unforeseen environmental or health hazards. In fact, a National Research Council study found that "as the molecular methods are more specific, users of these methods will be more certain about the traits they introduce into plants." Greater certainty means greater precision and safety. The subtly altered products on our plates have been put through more thorough testing than any conventional food ever has been subjected to. Many of our daily staples would be banned if subjected to the same rigorous standards. Potatoes and tomatoes contain toxic glycoalkaloids, which have been linked to spina bifida. Kidney beans contain phytohaemagglutinin and are poisonous if undercooked. Dozens of people die each year from cynaogenic glycosides from peach seeds. Yet none of those are labeled as potentially dangerous.
Millions of people have eaten the products of genetic engineering and no adverse effects have been demonstrated. The proper balance of safety testing between companies and the government is a legitimate area for further debate. So are environmental safeguards. But the purpose of such debate should be to improve biotech research and enhance its benefits to society, not stop it in its tracks.