EDITORIAL: The legacy of genius

Iowa unveils statue of native son Norman Borlaug, who fed the billions

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The Capitol’s Statuary Hall pays tribute to some of America’s most accomplished men and women. Each state selects two native sons or daughters who made a lasting contribution to the nation in arts, sciences or statesmanship. On Tuesday, the state of Iowa will unveil a new statute of Norman Borlaug to stand with George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Sacagawea, Samuel Adams, Helen Keller, Ronald Reagan and other giants. It was an inspired choice. No other American saved more lives than he.

Borlaug, an Iowa-born biologist, was the driving force behind the Green Revolution. His agricultural techniques allowed impoverished developing countries to feed themselves for the first time, ultimately saving more than a billion people from starvation. His technique had three primary components. To increase crop yields, Borlaug determined that farmers needed to plant hearty, disease resistant, genetically modified crops, use fertilizers to help crops grow large in poor soil, and to protect crops from destructive insects with modern pesticides. The combination is powerful and effective.

This proven method is under attack now from left-wing environmentalists who blindly follow the goofy liberal fad of the day, no matter what it costs. Many of today’s well-fed “progressives,” who aren’t progressive at all, would rather see the millions go hungry than allow Borlaug’s life-saving recipe of genetically modified crops, fertilizers and pesticides to feed the world.

The European Union, for example, imposed stringent regulations on genetically modified crops, despite the European Academies Science Advisory Council repeatedly explaining to European legislators that there is no rational scientific basis for the regulations. The left-leaning lawmakers were interested only in making a political statement of solidarity with the environmentalists.

Greenpeace launched an all-out assault on genetically modified crops, though crops have been genetically modified with no ill effects long before Gregor Mendel began experimenting with his peas in the 19th century. Nevertheless, Greenpeace wants to ban the life-saving crop techniques and demands that governments harass agricultural producers by implementing ridiculous and cumbersome genetically modified food labeling requirements, meant to drive them out of business. Labeling scheme proposals have also spread to a number of states, including California, Florida, Maryland and Massachusetts.

Green zealots have tried to blame fertilizer for every bad thing that happens — from cancer to global warming — with little support from science. Borlaug reckoned some value in reducing the use of fertilizer, but he recognized that reduction was possible only through genetically engineering crops to produce a higher yield without fertilizers. That puts environmentalists in a quandary. To eliminate one “bad” thing, they must increase another — or let the world starve.

The well-fed left chooses starvation for others. Scientists from McGill University in Montreal and the University of Minnesota found that using pesticides increased yields in many crops by more than 25 percent, yet the delusional EarthShare and Sierra Club want to eliminate most pesticides. In 2013, Denmark enacted an enormous tax on bug-killing sprays that did little more than feed crops to insects. Activists and politicians have the luxury of attacking genetically modified crops, fertilizers and pesticides because they eat well themselves as beneficiaries of Borlaug’s innovation.

When Norman Borlaug died in 2009 at age 95, he was one of just six people to win the trifecta, the Nobel Peace Prize, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. When the sculpture of Dr. Norman Borlaug is unveiled in Statuary Hall on Tuesday, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, perhaps his image should remind Washington politicians, many of whom are eager to follow the fads, that the cost of following the whims of junk science is measured in the billions.

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