- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006

A commission of the World Trade Organization has held the European Union’s 1998-2004 moratorium on planting and importing genetically-modified food and cotton was not based on science. Hooray.

Or “duh,” as my kids would say. The U.S. has utilized GM crops since 1996, with millions of acres planted and millions of tons of GM crops harvested and consumed since then — with no adverse effect seen on health or the environment.

But while that seems pretty powerful evidence of safety, it hasn’t been enough for those intrepid devotees of the precautionary principle across the pond. This principle states that unless a product or chemical is shown “safe” (by often scientifically baseless definitions), it should be banned or restricted until such evidence of its safety has been obtained.

The WTO panel found the EU ban was based on old-fashioned trade competition and politics, not science. Score one point for the forces of agro-science, and score several more points for the malnourished people of Asia and Africa.

The real victims of environmental activists and prosperous European farmers, fattened on subsidies, have been (as usual) the poor of the developing world. Are the fattened First-World naysayers really fearful of the alleged health effects of GM agriculture, or is their antipathy based mainly on their own economic self-interest? They don’t care, it’s the same to them either way: They’ve kept Yankee gene-spliced food out of Europe and reaped (sorry) economic benefits, while telling the public they’re protecting everyone from “Frankenfood.”

Unfortunately, this agenda denies African and Asian subsistence farmers equal access to these new technologies — which are proven to increase crop yields and ward off starvation. These technologies can directly enhance nutrition (for instance through “golden rice,” GM rice engineered to increase vitamin A intake for the billion or so people who subsist on rice). And this is but a foretaste of a brighter future.

Best of all, GM agriculture reduces the need for pesticide inputs, an issue allegedly near and dear to the hearts of the activists whose mantra is “organic, now and forever.”

So why do the so-called “environmentalists” oppose GM food for the starving billions? Who really knows? Their opposition is certainly not based on any real health threats.

And now even the WTO has pulled down the curtain and exposed the EU wizards for the charlatans they are. Their technophobic, neo-Luddite discrimination has thwarted African health and agriculture officials who desperately want GM seed but legitimately fear trade embargoes if they use them.

This is analogous to the pesticide DDT, banned due to superstition and anti-science agendas only after insect-borne plagues were eradicated from North American and Europe. Malaria continued ravaging the African south until today, and the ban remains. Similarly, the de facto ban on GM food will likely go on despite the WTO ruling (which won’t even be final for some months, and is then subject to appeal and even defiance).

Why do we allow a small number of junk-science devotees and trade-barrier-supporters to dictate public health policy to the rest of the world, at a cost of millions of lives?

Ingo Potrykus, inventor of golden rice, recently said: “Blanket opposition to all GM foods is a luxury that only pampered Westerners can afford.”

Gilbert Ross, M.D., is executive and medical director of the American Council on Science and Health.


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