Wednesday, August 31, 2005

EU starving the developing world

Activists usually blame the inaction of rich countries for killing people in poor countries.

According to Ronald Baily, it could instead be a case of too much action:

Anti-biotech European regulations are spooking the governments of poor countries into preventing their farmers from growing the new genetically enhanced crops. And that’s a shame, because researchers in laboratories and plant breeding stations around the world are endowing new biotech crop varieties with traits like disease resistance and improved nutritional value.

For example, researchers are trying to save bananas and plantains from commercial extinction in the coming decade. Bananas and plantains rank fourth as a staple crops after rice, wheat, and maize, providing food for nearly 400 million poor people. Unfortunately, bananas and plantains, are rapidly succumbing to global plagues like black sigatoka and a new variety of Panama disease. As a result, yields have dropped by half in many poor countries.

Then there is golden rice. Golden rice was the first crop developed specifically as a nutritional enhancement for hundreds of millions of vitamin A–deficient poor people whose main staple is rice. In the developing world some 500,000 people per year go blind due to vitamin A deficiency.

A new version released this year, containing genes from corn (maize) has boosted the amount of beta-carotene per serving to 50 percent of the RDA.

Finally, there is the case of disease resistant cassava. Researchers at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center near St. Louis, MO, has developed a cassava plant that resists the devastating effects of cassava mosaic virus. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out that African subsistence farmers produced 108 million tons of cassava in 2004, more than two-and-a-half times the amount of corn they produced. But African farmers could produce a lot more if it weren’t for the cassava mosaic virus.

The Danforth Center’s genetically improved cassava is now ready for field testing, but because of concerns about the reaction of the European Union and anti-biotech activists, no African nation has had the nerve to approve such tests yet.

Not surprisingly, the constituency of anti-biotech environmental groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth is not poor African and Asian farmers and their families, but affluent and easily frightened European consumers. In response to ferocious pressure ginned up by the misleading campaigns of ideological environmentalists, EU politicians and bureaucrats have built an all but impenetrable wall of anti-biotech regulations around themselves. Wielding these onerous crop biotechnology regulations, the EU, on specious safety grounds, has essentially banned the importation of most biotech crops and foods. But these regulations do not only have consequences for European farmer and consumers.

Even more tragically, some developing countries are so afraid of the EU’s anti-biotech wrath that they are willing to risk the lives of millions of their hungry by rejecting food aid that contains genetically enhanced crops.

Sadly, everything has become a political issue and it is now impossible to trust reports on biotech, ecology, global warming. Numbers are manipulated to score political points, not to describe facts. The various activists seem to have played a self-defeating game here, since no one believes their alarmism anymore. The problem is that we all lose if we play this game instead of seriously looking for solutions.


1 comment:

Fausta said...

The GMO situation goes hand-in-hand with the DDT situation. See