Biotech Progress

January 01, 2000  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  the International Herald Tribune  ·  Biotech

Regarding "After Four Seasons of High Growth, Transgenic Crops Are Now Wilting" (Opinion, Feb. 22) by Brian Halweil: Mr. Halweil’s argument is so full of weeds as to be worthless.

He claims that plantings of genetically engineered crops may be down as much as 25 percent from last year because of farmers’ fears that their crops will not be accepted. Never mind that those fears were created in the first place by environmental groups such as Mr. Halweil’s Worldwatch Institute. Moreover, the Worldwatch data have been outdated by two major recent developments.

If the "precautionary principle" were in effect a century ago, we’d all still be "driving" these.

Cargill, the largest U.S. grain merchant, said it was "business as usual" concerning the acceptance of biotech grains. Perhaps more important, the agricultural giant Archer Daniels Midland, which had previously insisted that it would no longer accept biotech grain, has essentially reversed its position. It noted that fewer than 5 percent of its customers ask about the genetic status of the corn they buy. As for the "precautionary principle" that Mr. Halweil insists should be applied, it is indeed as reactionary as his opponents say it is. It declares that a new technology must be proved safe — even though absolutely nothing in life is safe.

In the years during which Americans have eaten biotech crops, about 200,000 of them have been killed by motor vehicles, but not one from genetically modified food. Yet cars should remain legal, while biotech food is yanked from store shelves. The precautionary principle is nothing short of a prescriptionto halt progress in its tracks, which indeed is its main appeal to supporters.