- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 10, 2001

Recently, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease has broken out in Britain. It is caused by a perfectly natural virus which is extremely contagious, and can be spread by practically any means, ranging from direct contact with an infected animal to indirect contact with almost anything that that animal has touched, including ground that it walked across. While human lives are not directly threatened by the virus, it is causing vast damage in many other ways.

Export controls and cattle quarantines of British livestock have dropped into place across Europe and the rest of the world. Australia has set up a special screening program for recent arrivals from Britain, and Argentina has decided to spend $22 million on a vaccination program. In Britain, meat shelves are empty, farmers are losing their livelihoods, and all national parks, forests and wild bird reserves have been closed. The government has even asked hikers, hunters and bird-watchers to avoid traveling in the country, for fear that they might spread the disease. Even horse races and traveling circuses are being canceled or postponed.

While this has been going on, importers in Britain and elsewhere have told U.S. exporters that they will not accept genetically modified wheat recently developed by Monsanto. Immune to a powerful pesticide produced by the company, the strain is expected to raise crop yields $6 to $11 per acre by allowing farmers better weed control.

Yet thanks to the public relations jihad being waged against such foods by extremist environmental groups all across Europe, grocers rarely dare to put such foods on their shelves. In Britain, test crops of genetically modified foods have been publicly vandalized, and the vandals acquitted. This week, the British government was excoriated by Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace for being "reckless" in trials of genetically modified crops.

"Reckless" is better applied to the protesters, because there is not a shred of evidence that genetically modified foods pose a threat to either humans or the environment. Nor do genetically modified foods kill birds or hurt butterflies. They may not even harm cattle, a trait which should seemingly make them the most desirable foods in Britain.

Genetically modified foods will not bring back cattle struck down by natural diseases, but their use might help Britain's economy, and possibly the diet of her citizens. The only question is whether Britain has the stomach for it.

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