Sometimes when I think about the past, I fear for the future.
The Chinese were once the world’s greatest seafarers. A few people even think they reached the west coast of North America before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. But then the emperor banned foreign travel. They were never heard from again.
The Islamic people once led the world in math and science. Did you know that the word “algebra” comes from Arabic? But then their culture embraced fundamentalism. They were never heard from again.
Today in Europe, our own civilization threatens to turn back the clock on progress. While much of the rest of the planet adopts agricultural biotechnology--an absolutely essential tool if we’re to achieve food security in the 21st century--the foolish antics of Green party activists would lead us toward a future of poverty and hunger.
Before that happens, you’ll be hearing from me. This is one of the most important battles of our time. We cannot stay silent.
I farm on three continents. In my native Ireland, I work 1,100 acres, growing wheat for pigs and poultry. In Argentina, I’m managing director of a 31,000-acre operation that harvests corn, soybeans, and wheat. In the United States, in southwest Missouri, I’m an investor in a dairy farm.
So my experience as a farmer is global. I’ve observed best practices in very different environments. Unfortunately, I’ve also witnessed worst practices. A bullheaded refusal to take advantage of biotechnology is probably the very worst practice around.
In Ireland, the situation is so bad that we aren’t even allowed to research genetic modification in crops. Forget about planting them for commercial benefit, the way farmers do all the time in North and South America, where GM crops are now a form of conventional agriculture. Here at home, it’s illegal for researchers to conduct experiments.
Do you realize what this means? They’ve outlawed scientific inquiry!
Ireland tries to take pride in building what it calls a “knowledge-based economy.” When it comes to biotech crops, however, Ireland is in a headlong retreat from knowledge. Our government prefers ignorance.
Argentina is the exact opposite. Farmers in that country--including me, when I’m working there--are allowed to grow genetically modified crops. This gives us a big boost in yield and soil protection.
Ironically, Ireland has the better business reputation. Each year, the World Bank calculates the ease of doing business in the countries of the world, using quantitative measurements on start-ups, regulations, taxes, and so forth.
This year, Ireland ranks #7. Argentina is #118, which is a little better than Bangladesh and a little worse than Bosnia. (The United States, by the way, is #4.)
Yet I much prefer the business of farming in Argentina. It’s a dream place for agriculture. I’m not just referring to the climate. I’m thinking about how hard farming has become in Ireland, or just about anywhere else in Europe. The Argentine government doesn’t try to tell me what I can and cannot grow based upon deliberate ignorance. It lets me make my own decisions.
If I was a younger man, I’d be tempted to move permanently to Argentina. But Ireland is home. I’m not going anywhere. It nevertheless saddens me to see a vocal minority of Green party activists throttle the future of farming here.
There are about as many people in Ireland as there are in Oregon--a bit less than four million. The world adds roughly this number of people to its total population every three weeks or so. The demand for food never has been higher--and if current trends continue, it will continue to set new records every year for the rest of my life.
It will take Irish farmland--and existing farmland everywhere--to meet this need. Europe must do its part to produce more and use its influence, especially in Africa, to encourage biotechnology. The policy of refusing to take GM crops seriously sets us up for an awful tragedy.
Maybe there's some good news ahead: This week, the Royal Society, the United Kingdom's National Academy of Science, has released a report that calls for the acceptance of genetic modification on the farm.
Let’s hope for a better future, so our present doesn’t become a past we come to regret.
Jim McCarthy, a first generation farmer based in Kildare, Ireland, farms in three continents – Europe, South America and North America - growing wheat, soybeans, corn, canola, peas, oats and dairy. Mr. McCarthy is the 2009 Kleckner Trade and Technology Advancement Award recipient and a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network. www.truthabouttrade.org