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Op-ed: Call the morgue; environmentalists are at it again

Third World children pay a heavy price for urban environmentalists banning GMO foods

Mischa Popff

How do you look a half-million kids in the Majority World in the eye and tell them they have to go blind this year? Why? The genetically-modified Golden Rice that could provide them a daily ration of Beta carotene will not be approved thanks to activist claims it might contaminate organic crops.

As with most environmental issues, there’s a simple solution. You don’t tell these kids anything of the sort. Instead, you tell organic activists to read their own standards for organic production, standards which stipulate that there is no such thing as contamination of an organic crop by genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Full stop!

Organic farmers are not allowed to make use of GMOs, just as they’re not allowed to make use of synthetic pesticides. But mere contact with trace amounts of pesticide drift does not cause an organic farmer to lose certification. Likewise, mere contact with GMOs does not jeopardize organic integrity. Full stop… again!

Let’s be clear. Synthetic pesticides can contaminate an organic crop if they reach a critical threshold level outlined in America’s standards for organic production. This can result in the decertification of an organic crop, and has resulted in countless negligence suits over the years.

But there has never been an organic decertification, much less a lawsuit, resulting from GMO “contamination” anywhere in America … anywhere in the world in fact! And it’s because the scientific community has never isolated a single example of any health effect caused by GMOs, nor any environmental effect.

So why do activists, who long ago rejected this agricultural technology (in spite of urgings to accept GMOs on a case-by-case basis by the Clinton Administration), remain so committed to labelling GMO foods like a package of cigarettes as is the case now in Vermont, or banning them outright as will now be the case in Jackson County, Oregon?

Many dangers

Lots of things could be dangerous. In fact, organic pesticides like Rotenone and pyrethrins ARE frightfully dangerous, and no one argues that fact, even organic activists.

Activists admit that labelling is only the first step to their goal of banning GMOs. The National Director of the Finland, Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association, Ronnie Cummins, spells it all out: “The challenge will be to see if organic consumers, environmental organizations, farm activists, churches, and public interest groups can begin making headway in the bigger battle — driving genetically engineered crops off the market all over the world.” So much for the ruse that GMO labelling is all about consumer choice.

We’ve been down this road before. In the late nineteenth century, officials in France were so worried that Alfred Nobel’s invention of dynamite (TNT) might be dangerous that they actually banned it, creating L’Administration des Poudres et Saltpetre. So absolute was the power of this agency that it led to the defeat of Napoleon III by the Prussians at the Battle of Sedan in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

And here we are again with France once again at the forefront of the global movement to ban yet another form of technology; this time, GMOs. Only time will tell how poorly this will bode for the nation that gave us Marie Curie and Louis Pasteur. But the really horrific aspect of France’s technological obstinacy is those half-million kids who will go blind this year due to Vitamin-A deficiency, most of whom will die.

Other technologies OK

Meanwhile, organic activists are fine with the most-advanced forms of technology in all other areas of life. Anyone who agrees, even half-heartedly, with anti-GMO organic activists should ask themselves if they use any of the following artifacts of our modern, technological society:

  • Electricity
  • Light bulbs
  • Microchips
  • Energy-efficient heating and cooling systems
  • Fuel-efficient cars
  • Mass transportation
  • Tap water

Organic activists would have you believe technology is fine, except in the field of farming. But we all have to eat. Shouldn’t farming be MORE important than texting your friends?

The activists respond by saying we have never directly manipulated plant genomes before. But each of the innovations listed above, including Nobel’s TNT, relied on doing something we never did before. It’s how society moves forward.

Pesticide contamination

Meanwhile, a whopping 43% of the organic food sold in America tests positive for pesticide contamination. How could this be? Simple really. The activist leadership of the organic industry chooses to ignore the testing clause contained in America’s organic standards, focusing instead on their unwavering, ideological opposition to GMOs.

But if rank hypocrisy among organic activists and France’s ban on TNT over a century ago don’t strike you as compelling examples of the negative consequences of ignoring science, consider instead the global ban on DDT, a pesticide once used to kill disease-carrying mosquitoes.

It was Rachel Carson’s 1962 bestseller "Silent Spring" that first questioned the use of DDT, but she never called for its ban, only for its more judicious use. And yet, eight years after her death, environmental activists went ahead and banned DDT. And, since 1972, more people have died of malaria and dengue fever than died in both world wars after, mostly children under the age of 5.

As surely as activists failed to comprehend what Carson was actually saying in her book, they’ve also failed to comprehend what their own standards say about GMOs, to say nothing of the fraudulent use of synthetic pesticides.

Combined with Europe ignoring its own scientific community that has repeatedly concluded GMOs are perfectly safe (see here and here), and with the 25 states here in America that are considering no fewer than 84 pieces of legislation related to GMO labeling and/or banning, the question now becomes, How many more people will die of malnutrition while urban organic activists continue to pretend GMOs pose a threat to organic crops?

History would appear to be repeating itself. But don’t worry. There’s no need to inform the people who run the morgues over in the Majority World. They’re already accustomed to the disastrous effect environmental activism here in the West has on their kids.


Mischa Popoff is a former organic farmer and USDA-contract organic inspector. He is the author of Is it Organic? and has co-authored articles alongside Dr. Patrick Moore, one of the co-founders of Greenpeace, and leader of the Allow Golden Rice Now! campaign.

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