Perhaps more troubling than the long-standing biotech crop debate is the one currently shaping up between fossil fuels, food production, and biofuels.
September 9, 2008
Being in the habit of reading plenty of stories on a daily basis, it takes something truly special to get my anger up and cause me to shake my head in disbelief. Yet, one Sunday morning, I happened upon an item that did both.
Recently, Britain’s UKTV Gold surveyed 3,000 people regarding which characters from history were mythical and which were real. Shockingly, 47% of those surveyed thought Richard the Lionheart, a real 12th century king, was a myth. Likewise, 23% believed former English Prime Minister Winston Churchill was made up. However, 58% believed mythical detective Sherlock Holmes actually existed.
Naturally, this clash of fact vs. fiction got me to thinking about all the myths and realities I’ve heard about since I started covering the ag retail marketplace eight years ago. The first of these was the debate regarding biotech crops stemming from the accidental mixing of StarLink corn (which was approved for animal consumption only) into the human food supply back in 2000.
At the time, the myth makers said that all biotech crops were dangerous for human consumption, but that StarLink was potentially deadly since a main component of its genetic make-up could cause an allergic reaction.
Back to reality: Despite being consumed since 1996, there have been NO documented deaths during the past 12-year period. Furthermore, the few calls received by government officials regarding reactions to StarLink-tainted food proved to be unfounded. Still, there are many consumers around of the globe, particularly those in Europe, that cling to the myth of the dangers of biotech crops.
Perhaps more troubling than the long-standing biotech crop debate is the one currently shaping up between fossil fuels, food production, and biofuels. When biofuels and ethanol were first offered as a viable alternative to fossil fuels, the public and industry seemed eager to embrace them. Who couldn’t get behind an energy source that was renewable and home-grown?
Then, the myth makers started to appear. First, there were groups that said biofuels were a bad idea because their production would take food away from the world’s growing population. Once the reality of which crops most of the world eats set in (wheat and rice, not corn or soybeans), other myth makers began saying more planted acres for biofuels would mean more forests being leveled in the process. One Newsweek columnist even called for opening currently protected areas where fossil fuel reserves exist instead of supporting biofuels.
But a reality check: More acres aren’t coming into use each year across the U.S. to accommodate all that extra corn and soybean; the existing acreage just shifts from one crop to another. And protected areas are protected for a reason. To advocate the mining of more of the world’s finite supply of fossil fuels seems very short-sighted. Won’t this just delay the inevitable energy crunch for another generation at best?
In reality, corn- and soybean-derived biofuels cannot be the only alternative products being produced to solve our world’s future energy demands. But they certainly will be part of the solution. To those that think we can ignore the problem and continue to function the way we always have, I have only four words: That’s truly a myth.
Sfiligoj is the Editor for both CropLife and CropLife IRON magazines. He travels regularly to cover industry events and has been dedicated to the ag retail industry since he joined the staff in 2000.