Don’t be fooled by the scruffy beards and embroidered Guatemalan vests of typical anti-biotech protesters. Those who battle “Frankenfoods” may resemble homespun, grassroots demonstrators. In fact, they usually belong to an under-scrutinized network of generously funded activist groups, well-endowed charities, and self-interested organic food producers which collectively hog-ties companies that make genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Nearly invisible amid all this are people in developing nations who would gain from these advances if only these Luddites would let them.
St. Louis-based communications strategist Jay Byrne pays close attention to the men and women behind this curtain. As he told the free-market American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. on June 12, these organiks — among the fiercest agitators at global summits from Seattle to Evian, France — do not exactly scrape by on the sales of veggie-burritos.
In 2001, the 30 leading anti-biotech groups Byrne analyzed spent $341.4 million, including Greenpeace USA’s expenditure of $23,748,737, Environmental Defense’s $38,794,150 and the Natural Resources Defense Council’s $41,625,882. Between 1996 and 2001, this crusade’s lavish underwriters included the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ($11,906,500), the Ford Foundation ($39,978,020) and the Pew Charitable Trusts ($130,996,900).
Granted, these organizations — as tax filings, annual reports, and other documents show — address numerous issues. But they spend plenty to trumpet the alleged dangers of genetically modified grains, produce and packaged goods. The Sierra Club wants “a moratorium on the planting of genetically engineered crops.” Greenpeace demands the “complete elimination” of this “genetic pollution.” Foundation on Economic Trends president Jeremy Rifkin calls the proliferation of GMOs “a form of annihilation every bit as deadly as nuclear holocaust.”
Frightened? Don’t be. Agricultural cross-breeding began about 8,000 B.C. Today — my Atlas Economic Research Foundation colleague, Paul Driessen, observes — more than 34 percent of American corn is genetically modified, as are 78 percent of U.S. soybeans and much of your grocer’s produce. Some 3,500 international scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, have signed the AgBio World Foundation’s Declaration of Support for Agricultural Biotechnology.
“Both scientific theory and two decades of experience with gene-spliced crops and foods derived from them demonstrate the safety and usefulness of these products,” says Dr. Henry Miller, M.D, a Hoover Institution scholar and former director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Biotechnology. “In all of this vast experience, there has not been any injury to a single individual or damage to a single eco-system, while the benefits have been abundant.”
Some anti-GMO donors, meanwhile, are remarkably self-serving.
“A considerable part of the anti-biotech-activist bankroll comes from organic and other ‘natural’ food marketers who relish the thought of injuring their conventional competitors by supporting unscientific scaremongers,” says David Martosko, research director at the Center for Consumer Freedom in Washington.
Indeed, GMO-phobic sponsors include the Organic Trade Association, Wild Oats Markets and Whole Foods Markets, which calls itself “the world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods.” WFM, its website states, “believes in a virtuous circle entwining the food chain, human beings and Mother Earth: Each is reliant upon the others through a beautiful and delicate symbiosis.”
These organic companies are reputed paragons of “corporate social responsibility.” And yet, by subsidizing these superstitions, they perpetuate the suffering of poor Asians, Latins and Africans.
According to the World Health Organization, some 500,000 children go blind annually due to Vitamin A deficiency. “Golden Rice,” bio-fortified with Vitamin A-enhancing beta-carotene, fights blindness, diarrhea, measles, and more.
Golden, shmolden, Greenpeace responds. It dismissed this innovation as “Fool’s Gold” in a February 9, 2001 communiqué from Manila. Greenpeace helpfully added: “The only long-term solution is to work on the root causes of poverty and to ensure access to a diverse and healthy diet.” Why didn’t the Filipinos think of that?
This attitude has hobbled Golden Rice’s development, even as the future for thousands of Earth’s poorest kids fades to black.
Brazilian farmers want “Roundup Ready” herbicide-resistant soybeans whose cultivation reduces soil erosion. This should thrill the rain forests, too. Alas, Greenpeace’s lobbying and local officials’ wishes to export produce to GMO-wary Europe have kept this Monsanto product from taking root in Brazil.
Kenyan agronomist Dr. Florence Wambugu and Monsanto spent three years producing a virus-resistant sweet potato that, as she said in the December 23, 2002 Forbes magazine, “holds the promise of feeding some of the 800 million chronically undernourished people in the world.” Unimpressed, eco-terrorists with the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) destroyed her lab and test crops.
“If they don’t want it, they don’t have to have it,” Wambugu said. “We’re dying, so can we eat first?”
Like ELF, Greenpeace militants have killed GM crops. Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia and media mogul Ted Turner have financed the Ruckus Society, a group that trains eco-extremists such as those behind the January 2002 bombing of a plant genomics center under construction at the University of Minnesota at St. Paul.
Ironically, genetically modified seeds often require less pesticides and boost crop yields, thus limiting the acreage needed for farming. This liberates land for flora, fauna, and homo sapiens on early-summer strolls. Even better, impoverished yellow, brown, and black children can reach adulthood. Rather than celebrate these dreams come true, extravagantly funded eco-freaks sabotage these breakthroughs. Where’s the social responsibility in that?
— Mr. Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.