By Roberto A. Peiretti – Cruz Alta, Cordoba Province, Argentina
I tried to keep my cool. But when the enemies of biotechnology attacked me at a forum a few years ago, I couldn’t help myself. I believe strongly in the value of genetically modified crops and I wasn’t going to sit back and take their abuse.
So I blurted out a statement so provocative that it surprised even me: “You’re guilty of gene-ocide!”
It was a play on words, of course, a punning reference to “genocide.” I’ll confess to a bit of crudeness. I don’t normally talk this way in public.
Genocide--the systematic extermination of a whole race or culture--must rank as one of humanity’s greatest sins. As words go, this is not one to use lightly.
But I am totally serious about the meaning behind the allegation--and I am fed up with the foes of GM crops. While they exhibit a sense of moral superiority, they are showing their scientific illiteracy. They know next to nothing about farming or genetics.
Even worse than their ignorance are the deadly consequences of their hysteria: The opponents of GM food are condemning untold numbers of people to lives of poverty and malnutrition. The results of their actions are especially severe in developing countries, where the difference between thriving and starving may hang on the quality of a single harvest.
Access to biotechnology is not just about business -It is about lives.
I became familiar with GM crops in the 1990s. I grow soybeans, corn, wheat, and sunflowers in the Pampas region of Argentina--a fertile but also intensely competitive area.
I had the honor of managing one of the first test plots of GM soybeans in my country. Right away, I saw that these amazing plants were incredibly effective at controlling weeds. I applauded their approval as a commercial product and knew that farming never would be the same.
Even before this, my family was committed to no-till agriculture because it made so much environmental sense. We wanted to fight soil degradation through enlightened farming practices--but this can be difficult when you’re also trying to defeat weeds and pests that are difficult to control without a significant amount of crop protection products. Planting Bt corn helped us deal with the weeds and pests while protecting the soil.
Biotechnology gave us a tool that turned no-till agriculture, weed and pest control into allies rather than adversaries. We didn’t have to choose between the two. We could have both.
Consumers may not see this benefit directly, even as it conserves the environment and helps keep food prices in check. What they want to see are the ways in which biotechnology can improve their lives directly.
Consider the case of Golden Rice--a product of genetic modification that provides one of the world’s staple crops with the ability to address vitamin A deficiency, a problem that causes blindness in millions of children.
This is an entirely preventable affliction--a kind of slow-motion genocide that we must end. We have to allow biotechnology to supply a solution through the widespread adoption of Golden Rice. Only ignorance--a commitment to gene-ocide--stands in the way.
The United Nations estimates that about a billion hungry people currently go hungry. We have to figure out a way to feed them--and to feed billions more who will share our planet by 2050.
Biotechnology and its synergy with no till agriculture have the potential to improve nutrition and feed a growing world by boosting agricultural productivity and profitability in a sustainable fashion. This is a synergy we need if we are going to succeed in doubling global agricultural production during the next thirty to fifty years.
Simply put, we must develop the capacity to provide food for all of humanity in a sustainable way.
Biotechnology is an essential part of the solution because it allows us to produce more food on existing agricultural land. I’ve witnessed the results in my own fields. The experience has convinced me that farmers everywhere need to enjoy the ability to plant GM crops within a no till environment..
The time for pretending that agricultural biotechnology is a subject over which reasonable people can disagree is over.
When you get right down to it, access to biotechnology isn’t really about economics, science, or the semantics of “gene-ocide” and “genocide.”
It’s about something else entirely: It’s about human rights and the possibility of eradicating hunger from the face of the earth..
Mr. Roberto Peiretti produces corn, soybeans, sorghum, wheat and sunflowers near Cruz Alta, Cordoba Province, in the Central Pampas region of Argentina. Trained as an agronomy engineer and holding a Masters in Science degree from Oklahoma State University, Mr. Peiretti was one of the developers of the No-till system that is widely used in Argentina today. Mr. Peiretti is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network. www.truthaboutrade.org