SEED Magazine turned to a panel of experts to explore why “[m]ost Europeans don’t consider themselves to be anti-science…but shrink in horror at the scientist who offers up a Bt corn plant (even though numerous studies indicate that Bt crops—by dramatically curbing pesticide use—conserve biodiversity on farms and reduce chemical-related sickness among farmers).”
So why the disconnect? Why do many environmentalists trust science when it comes to climate change but not when it comes to genetic engineering? Is the fear really about the technology itself or is it a mistrust of big agribusiness?
The panelists included three proponents of ag biotech crops: Pamela Ronald, a plant geneticist and professor; Nina Federoff, science and technology adviser to the US Secretary of State; and Noel Kingsbury, a horticulturalist and writer. They argue that ag biotech crops are a safe solution for meeting a growing world’s food needs.
Pamela Ronald writes:
“With 300,000 people dying each year globally from pesticide poisoning and a predicted 9.2 billion people to feed by 2050, you would think Europeans would be hungering for safe strategies to transform our agriculture into productive, biologically-based systems.
That they are not suggests that they have forgotten the broader goals of a sustainable agriculture: to maximize the health of the environment, the farmer, and the consumer. Legislating against a benign genetic process will not create the transformative changes we need on our farms.”
Nina Federoff debunks common misconceptions about GM crops and their benefits:
“The disconnect between what people worry about and what’s true about GM crops is deep and wide—a chasm, really. Is it about the technology itself or is it about all kinds of other things? With a computer and bit of effort, almost anyone can extract the facts from the gloom and catastrophism. Fact: Modern genetic modification of crops is responsible for most of the crop yield increases of recent years. This means, of course, that the farmers who’ve adopted GM crops have benefited the most. These already number more than 13 million, 90 percent of whom are resource-poor, small-holder farmers in relatively poor countries.”
And Kingsbury challenges traditional views on farming:
“We need every technology possible to increase yields, reduce toxic pesticide use, improve nutritional value, and feed the world. The European and Indian opposition to GM is rooted in a hopelessly romantic view of farming. Farming is not a romantic business—it is about feeding the human race, and we must listen to the overwhelming consensus of plant science—that GM is safe and desirable.”
Karl Haro von Mogel on his Biofortified blog provides an analyis of the articles. He writes:
“The important distinction being made here is that there is a consensus within plant science, but not necessarily one between disciplines. The key difference between how these two kinds of genetic changes are being treated politically and socially have more to do with the political and social climates in different hemispheres and less to do with the science that has been conducted around the world. In some cases, science is being ignored in the interest of societal issues, and in other cases, bad science is being wielded as a weapon to draw attention away from the good science that exists.”