Reviving the Invisible Hand
In 1995, there were 4 million acres of biotech crops planted, which had risen to 100 million in 1999. In the United States, 50 percent of the soybean crop and more than one-third of the corn crop were transgenic in 1999. These GM crops provide major economic benefits as they have reduced pesticide applications, and brought higher yields and lower consumer prices. They have been readily adopted where they have been introduced. Yet, particularly in Europe, the Greens—again led by Greenpeace—have created mass hysteria about these crops, calling them Frankenstein foods.
But if GM crops are the creation of a Frankenstein, so is virtually everything we eat. Any method that uses life-forms to make or modify a product is technology: brewing beer or making leavened bread is a 'traditional' technology application. As Borlaug states:
The fact is that genetic modification started long before humankind started altering crops by artificial selection. Mother Nature did it, often in a big way. For example, the wheat groups we rely on for much of our food supply are the result of unusual (but natural) crosses between different species of grasses. Today's bread wheat is the result of the hybridization of three different plant genomes, each containing a set of seven chromosomes, and thus could easily be classified as transgenic. Maize is another crop that is the product of transgenic hybridization. Neolithic humans domesticated virtually all of our food and livestock species over a relatively short period 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. Several hundred generations of farmer descendants were subsequently responsible for making enormous genetic modifications in all of our major crop and animal species. To see how far the evolutionary changes have come, one only needs to look at the 5,000-year-old fossilized corn cobs found in the caves of Tehuacan in Mexico, which are one-tenth the size of modem maize varieties. Thanks to the development of science over the past 150 years, we now have the insights into plant genetics and plant breeding to do what Mother Nature did herself in the past by chance. Genetic modification of crops is not some kind of witchcraft; rather it is the progressive harnessing of the forces of nature to the benefit of feeding the human race. (Borlaug 2000)For what biotechnology merely does is to isolate individual genes from organisms and transfer them into others without the usual sexual crosses necessary to combine the genes of two parents.
Nor is there any danger to health or the environment from GM food, as has been repeatedly noted: by a 2,100-signatory declaration in support of biotechnology by scientists worldwide, by the U.S. National Academy of Science, by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, and by a Nuffield Foundation study in the United Kingdom. Since 1994, more than 300 million North Americans have been eating several dozen GM foods grown on more than 100 million acres, but not one problem with health or the environment has been noted. Yet the hysteria continues. To see the misanthropy at its heart, there is no better example than that of the miracle 'golden rice.'
Scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Zurich) and the International Rice Research Institute (Philippines) have successfully transferred genes producing beta-carotene—a precursor of vitamin A—into rice to increase the quantities of vitamin A, iron, and other micronutrients. As the GM rice produces beta-carotene it has a bronze-orange appearance, hence its name 'Golden Rice.' It promises to have a profound effect on the lives of millions suffering from vitamin A and iron deficiencies which lead respectively to blindness and anemia. It has been estimated that more than 180 million children, mostly in developing countries, suffer from vitamin A deficiency, of whom 2 million die from it each year. About a billion people suffer anemia from iron deficiency. The new golden rice is being distributed free of charge to public rice breeding institutions around the world. Millions will be able to reduce their risks of these disabling diseases at little or no cost.
Yet, as the inventor of 'golden rice' Professor Portykus has noted, though it satisfies all the demands of the Greens, they still oppose it. The new rice has not been developed by or for industry; benefits the poor and disadvantaged; provides a sustainable, cost-free solution, not requiring other resources; is given free of charge and restrictions to subsistence farmers; can be re-sown each year from the saved harvest; does not reduce agricultural biodiversity; does not affect natural biodiversity; has no negative effect on the environment; has no conceivable risk to consumer health; and could not have been developed with traditional methods.