BY JACK DINI – Pesticide self-poisoning, a major public health problem in the developing world, accounts for about one-third of the world’s suicides, killing at least 250,000 to 370,000 people each year. Most of these suicides occur in rural areas of the developing world where high levels of pesticide use in agriculture combined with pesticide storage at home facilitate this particular method of suicide. (1)
So, where do biotech seeds fit into this equation? As Dennis Avery reports, “The world’s farm pesticide toll has been cut radically with biotech seeds that carry their own internal pesticide. A new study in India has found that biotech cotton has reduced pesticide spraying by 50 percent, and spraying of the most toxic poisons by 70 percent. This is important progress—which should be enough by itself to embarrass Greenpeace and the other anti-technology groups opposing biotech. But the big news on the biotech crop is that they’re slashing the toll from farmer suicides.” (2)
Avery concludes by asking, “Will the quadruple benefits of fewer crop spraying; lower costs, higher yields, and more financial security—plus reduced misery that leads to suicide—finally soften the hearts of anti-technology activists?
Based on recent evidence this is quite doubtful. In Britain, France and elsewhere, Greenpeace vandals have destroyed bio-engineered crops, wiping out millions of dollars in research to develop food plants that require fewer pesticides, are more nutritious, reduce dangerous mold toxins, withstand floods and drought, and increase crop yields. The people who would benefit most from this research are the poorest, most malnourished on Earth . They could improve their lives, simply by planting different, better corn, cotton, or soybean seeds. (3)
Elsewhere, in early August, two leading biotechnologists of the Department of Agriculture said that Greenpeace has exceeded its bounds by demanding that government scrap all field trials for Bacillus thurgiensis (Bt) eggplants and imposing its thinking on 100 million Filipinos that any GM crop is ‘evil’ and ‘subverts nature.’ “Greenpeace is simply demonizing genetically-modified (GM) crops and should return to their original advocacy, which is clean environment.” (4)
Even Dr. Patrick Moore, ecologist and co-founder of Greenpeace, stated that “the campaign of fear now being waged against genetic modification is based largely on fantasy and a complete lack of respect for science and logic.” Moore joined over 3,000 scientists from around the world in signing a Declaration in Support of Agricultural Biotechnology, saying that “in the balance it is clear that the real benefits of genetic modification outweigh the hypothetical and sometimes contrived risks claimed by its detractors.” Moore also criticized his former Greenpeace colleagues for claiming that there was ‘zero benefit’ even from such modified plants as Golden Rice, a variety with added pro-vitamin A. Golden Rice was developed by Swiss scientist Ingo Potrykus to help address the severe problem of micronutrient deficiencies in developing countries diets—a problem that results in half a million cases of childhood blindness and millions of deaths each year. “Let someone come forward and state that the possibility of saving 500,000 children from blindness is a zero benefit,” Moore said. (5)
With the exception of nuclear power, there is perhaps no better example of the strength of the irrational fear of new technology overcoming the potential benefits of foods produced with the new biotechnology, or gene-splicing techniques. If you want a good incite into this technology, read The Frankenfood Myth by Henry Miller and Gregory Conko. These authors report that for a decade the United States has produced ever-larger quantities of gene-spliced, insect-resistant corn that yields as much as, or more than, the best traditional hybrids, with far less need for chemical pesticides. No negative health or environmental effects have been observed, yet there is an immensely strong anti-biotech lobby, especially in Europe, where activists have persuaded many governments to thwart new approvals. They have also successfully opposed the use of gene-spliced corn and soybeans as food aid in famine-stricken parts of Africa and Asia. (6)
So, will Greenpeadce and other anti-GM folks recant based on the fact that besides all other benefits from GM crops, suicides will be noticeably reduced? Don’t bet on it.
- Andrew H. Dawson et al., “Acute human lethal toxicity of agricultural pesticides: A prospective cohort study,” PLoS Medicine, DOI:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000357
- Dennis Avery, “Farmer suicides reduced by biotech,” Canada Free Press, August 1, 2011
- Paul Driessen, “Not exactly Mother Teresa,” CFACT News, January 17, 2010
- “DA biotech experts rap Greenpeace,” http://www.bic.searca.org/news/2011/aug1/phi/14.html, August 14, 2011
- C. S. Prakash, “Greenpeace founder supports Biotechnology,” http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-infor/pr/moore.html/
- Jay Lehr, “Biotech: Enormous potential compromised by self-interest, bad science, and excessive government regulation,” http://www.amazon.com/review/R1J2MJBUXMAJ1I, February 22,2010