Filed under: Africa, Capitalism, Developing Nations, Domestic Policy, Economy, Energy, Environment, Junk Science, National Security | Tags: Anti-Chemical Activists, Genetically Modified Food, Organic Food Fables
Food prices are up, and manufacturers are trying hard to keep you from noticing. Cereal boxes remain the same height, but they are thinner. Baker’s chocolate, formerly in 8 oz. boxes, now comes in boxes that are about ¼” smaller in every direction, contains half as much chocolate “NEW! 4 oz. Easy Break Bar, Same great chocolate. ” Still the same great price, for half as much. Sugar packages have lost a pound of content. I don’t like seeing food prices climb, but I object even more to manufacturers’ attempts to fool me.
If we insist, as a nation, on putting most of our corn crop into our gas tanks — the result is food price inflation. Food prices are rising faster than overall inflation. Core inflation is running around 2%, but the USDA said food prices would be up 3% to 4% last year. Corn ethanol does nothing for the climate, and it contains less energy than gasoline. You’re just paying farmers to grow fuel instead of food. A rise in the price of corn affects the price of other farm commodities such as meat, poultry, dairy and soy products. Congress ended the direct ethanol subsidies in 2011, but the renewables standard remains, and it is the biggest factor. Food prices hit the poor the hardest, and the ethanol mandate is essentially a tax on the poor.
“Organic” foods have been heavily promoted. They cost about 30% more than non-organic foods, but the label “organic” means only that growers used “natural” fertilizers and “natural” pesticides, but pesticide residue does not cross the conservative safety thresholds set by regulators. Natural fertilizer refers to animal manure —pathogen-laden animal excreta. “Organic” is supposed to be better for the natural environment, but it isn’t so, it just uses more land. The term “organic” refers to the practices and procedures a farmer intends to use. It does not indicate superior nutrition, flavor, or healthful qualities. It’s not better for you, just more expensive.
And for sheer silliness, consider the locavores. Now that with modern transportation we can have summer foods in the winter, plentiful vegetables when it’s snowing out, and strawberries all year around, the purists insist on locally grown food, with the suggestion that it is much fresher. But there’s not much local in the winter, and it may be flown in faster anyway.
Environmentalists are the loons who care more about the environment than about people. Fringe anti-biotechnology activists are hell-bent on banning anything containing a chemical. Chemicals are bad. A current interest is genetically modified food. Modify people’s genes as much as you want, select the desired sex and attributes of your potential baby, but don’t modify plants to be more resistant to disease, or insert a gene for Vitamin A to prevent blindness, as in “golden rice,”— an incalculable benefit to parts of the world dependent on rice, yet lacking the essential vitamin in their food supply. Better to have blind kids than mess with their food. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) are not GMO skeptics, as they like to portray themselves, but fringe anti-chemical activists operating on the “precautionary principle” or the theory that if something is ‘suspected’ of potentially causing harm, you have to prove that it will not.
We are growing more food on less land, the green revolution, that will help to feed a hungry world. Food for the Poor is asking for help to feed starving Guatemalan children. Egypt is having trouble feeding their own people. We have over 17 years of successful GMO cultivation, millions of acres, hundreds of millions of servings and not one instance of adverse health or environmental effects. It is a remarkable achievement, and there are far more achievements in the pipeline.
Biotechnology offers an unparalleled safety record and demonstrated commercial success. Remarkably, however, biotechnology might not reach its full potential. In part, that’s because outspoken opponents of GM crops in the U.S. have spearheaded a “labeling” movement that would distinguish modified food from other food on grocery store shelves. Never mind that 60%-70% of processed food on the market contains genetically modified ingredients. In much of Europe, farmers are barred from growing genetically modified crops. Even in Africa, anti-biotechnology sentiment has blocked its application. In Zambia, for example, the government refused donations of GM corn in 2002, even as its people starved.
Opponents of GM crops have been extremely effective at spreading misinformation. GM crops don’t, as one discredited study claimed recently, cause cancer or other diseases. GM cotton isn’t responsible for suicides among Indian farmers—a 2008 study by an alliance of 64 governments and nongovernmental organizations debunked that myth completely. And GM crops don’t harm bees or monarch butterflies.
Anyone who cares about alleviating hunger and protecting the environment should work quickly to remove the bias against GM crops. A good first step is for educated, scientifically literate people to avoid being taken in by the myths about genetically modified food. These innovations have too much potential to empower individuals and feed the world to be thwarted by falsehoods and fear-mongering.