Day 4: Opposition to GMOs is Clear & Present Danger

“Some people don’t understand the science behind the (GMO) technology, and what you don’t understand, you normally fear,” writes Suzie Wilde, who blogs at I Kissed a Farmer.

I couldn’t agree more.  Fear causes people to make decisions and act in ways that defy common sense and common decency.  For example, vandals destroyed a “Golden Rice” trial on Aug. 8, 2013, in the Phillipines.  “Golden Rice” is a rice variety in which rice grains accumulate B-carotene.  This rice variety has been ready for use since the turn of the 21st century, yet it is still not available to farmers.

Meanwhile, literally millions of people who live in poverty suffer from Vitamin A deficiency resulting in compromised immune systems.  Severe Vitamin A deficiency also results in blindness, and nearly 50% of the half-million children who are blinded by it die within a year.  From 1.9 to 2.8 million deaths could be prevented annually if Golden Rice were available in these poverty stricken areas!  We know these deaths could be prevented, yet we’re letting fear of the unknown prohibit us from helping these poor people.

Fear of the unknown is also causing agriculture to come under attack on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, known as the Garden Island.  Activists from the mainland are funding a campaign to remove four seed and technology companies from Kauai.  The anti-GMO groups are citing pesticides as the reason, but their real agenda is to advance their battle against all GMO crops.

If seed companies are forced from the Hawaiian Islands, it will have a negative effect on our seeds in the Midwest.  It will slow-down the time new hybrids and varieties reach market as research facilities in Hawaii speed up hybrid development from 10 or 12 years to just 3 to 5 years.

Why does this matter?  It matters because new corn hybrids are higher yielding than older hybrids.  The average “life” of a hybrid seed corn product today is less than three years because these hybrids are replaced by higher-yielding products or products that have the potential due partly to protection mechanisms they have against insects and disease.

If Zambian farmers had access to seed with better defenses against weeds, pests and weather extremes, their living standards would rise considerably.  Kelvin Kamfwa says his parents, just like millions of subsistence farmers in Zambia, struggle to survive.  He knows firsthand that better seeds equal better life.

Access to GM crops would provide youth with options and opportunity in a country where flushing toliets and education are considered luxury.  Activists say they’re protecting human health and the planet when they protest biotechnology and GMOs, but Kamfwa says protestors are really condemning millions to lifelong poverty.

GM crops can help farmers worldwide rise above poverty through heartier, healthier plants and increased yields.  It’s a fact that seed technology advancements have allowed farmers to make significant yield increases in recent years.  In 1912, U.S. corn yields averaged just 20 bushels per acre (bu/A).  Iowa corn yields averaged nearly 200 bu/A in 2009.  This week I visited an Iowa farmer, who achieved whole-farm averages of 300+ bu/A; one of his test plots produced a yield of 414 bu/A.

Fraley quoteJust think how many more people can be fed with corn yielding 400 bu/A as compared to 20 bu/A!  As Dr. Robb Fraley, who’s often referred to as Father of Biotechnology says, “GM crops are the least size-sensitive of any crop. Small farmers, as well as large farmers, can use them.  They are just seeds, and any farmer knows what to do with a seed.”

While not everyone will agree with my viewpoint, I feel “helping farmers feed and fuel the world” is a noble mission.  I can rest easier at night, knowing the seed technology and trait companies with which we work are helping advance agriculture around the globe.

Please do your own research on the topic of GM crops.  Below are links to a few resources: