For those in the know, agriculture is much like the tide. There is a definite ebb and flow in terms of market drivers, overall trends and technology adoption — an endless cycle of ups and downs.
For decades, however, there has seemed to be one major exception to this rule — biotech crops. Since their introduction to the market, biotech crops have been at a consistent low tide in terms of opposition to their use/consumption. Numerous special interest groups have sued, protested and posted “information” on the Internet decrying “Frankenfoods.” And all this has taken place while a host of scientific research conducted over years have cleared biotech crops.
But I’m happy to report that 2012 may have been the year when the biotech crop tide finally came in to a degree. For those that follow the marketplace, there were three very high profile, encouraging signs that biotech development may finally be getting some measure of respect in the public eye. The first of these took place in November, when California voters soundly defected Proposition 37. This would have required food companies to label any of their products that were made using biotech crops.
Then, in December, Discover magazine in its annual “The Top 100 Science Stories Of The Year” edition named transgenic cotton’s ability to reduce pesticide use while boosting ecosystems the No. 24 scientific development of 2012. This pointed to research done on Chinese biotech cotton that found not only did pesticide use drop an average of 60% in fields growing these varieties, but that beneficial insect populations increased as well.
While nice accolades to have in their corner, biotech crops would still seem to be a low tide in terms of overall public love. After all, food manufacturers and researchers have long accepted biotech crops as beneficial. What’s needed now is some love from activists.
And now, biotech crops have this as well. In January, outspoken biotech critic/environmentalist Mark Lynas essentially backtracked on his long-standing anti-biotech stance. “For the record, I apologize for having spent several years ripping up biotech crops,” said Lynas, speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference. “We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life, hence the Frankenstein food tag. What we didn’t realize at the time was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not biotechnology, but our reaction against it.”
Over the years, Lynas added, the ongoing scientific research being conducted on a regular basis has convinced him of the safety of biotech crops.
I know that for many, many years, biotech companies have consistently pointed to research and scientific facts to prove that biotech crops are safe. It’s nice to finally see this factual message getting some more widespread acceptance. Maybe now, agriculture can go back to doing what it does best — feeding a growing world population instead of consistent fighting irrational fears.