During the 19th Century, American abolitionist Wendell Phillips, in one of his most famous speeches, said that “revolutions never go backwards.” The implication of this quote is clear: Once a revolution (or revolutionary idea) begins to take hold with the masses, it can’t be reversed. Of course, Phillips didn’t live long enough to see the biotech revolution. Had he, he might have been tempted to alter his quote somewhat to account for the anti-biotech forces active around the globe.
Biotech crops have been around since the mid-1990s. They are particularly popular in places such as Brazil, Argentina, and the U.S., where upwards of 80% of the corn, soybean, and cotton crops fall under this definition. In theses countries and a handful of others around the world, biotech crops are credited with helping growers steadily increase their crop yields without destroying natural forest or grasslands to do so. This, in turn, has kept hunger from becoming an issue in these parts of the globe, despite the ever-increasing population of consumers being born every minute.
In terms of safety, biotech crops have been a non-factor. Even with their bioengineered nature, I’m not aware of any scientifically documented case of someone dying (or even getting seriously ill) from consuming a biotech variety, some 15 years following their introduction to the marketplace.
Yet, despite this positive track record, biotech crops continue to be vilified in many corners of the world and their revolutionary approach to agriculture downplayed. In India, opponents recently held a candlelight vigil protecting the approval of biotech eggplant, saying that this represented “a large threat to health, agriculture, and environment.” Likewise in Bulgaria, protesters objected to the approval of biotech crops by their nation with the slogan “clean food, a healthy Earth.” In both cases, the biotech critics want all decisions on these crops to be put on hold until “a wider public debate on the topic has been held.” Unfortunately, this public angle favors the opponents. According to a recent report by Farmers Guardian, only 7% of consumers in the United Kingdom understand biotech technology and its benefits.
The biotech revolution holds great promise for providing the growing world population with enough to eat. It’s a shame that this potentially life-giving technology should be called into question by a small, but vocal minority that is using fear rather than fact to spread its message. True scientists and biotech supporters need to be just as loud pointing out the revolution in solving world hunger that biotech crops offer. At stake are billions of more mouths in the years ahead that will need this information – and the food it provides – to survive.