International praise for genetically improved foods

Published September 1, 2001

As research continues to show the benefits of genetically improved human food products, biotech foods recently gained highly visible support from two key sources.

The United Nations on July 9 issued Making New Technologies Work for Human Development, a 278-page report calling for more widespread use of genetically improved foods. The UN analysis follows close on the heels of a World Conservation Union report finding that bio-engineered crops are essential to preserving world wildlife.

UN: Biotech to fight malnutrition

The UN report chastises Western anti-technology groups for impeding the development and distribution of genetically modified foods. Mark Malloch Brown of the United Nations Development Program, the UN agency that issued the report, stated that genetically modified staple crops such as rice, millet, and cassava are absolutely necessary to fight malnutrition throughout the world.

“These varieties have 50 percent higher yields, mature 30 to 50 days earlier, are substantially richer in protein, are far more disease and drought tolerant, resist insect pests, and can even outcompete weeds,” noted Brown.

“The developing world needs these technologies as soon as possible,” declared Sakiko Fukada-Parr, lead author of the UN study. “The first thing to remember is that the scientific evidence for health and environmental harm is quite limited and very weak,” she said, challenging biotech opponents to produce any scientific evidence justifying their campaign against genetically improved foods.

By impeding the use of genetically improved foods, the anti-technology lobby “risks marginalizing itself and denying developing countries opportunities that, if harnessed effectively, could transform the lives of poor people and offer breakthrough development opportunities to poor countries,” the UN report states.

WCU: Biotech for land preservation

The World Conservation Union issued in May Common Ground, Common Future, a joint report with Future Harvest (representing Third World agricultural researchers). The report’s authors, Jeffrey A. McNeely and Sara J. Scherr, conclude that high yields resulting from genetically improved crops and modern farming technology would benefit the environment by allowing more land to be preserved as wildlife habitat.

Without the benefit of modern Western farming technology, McNeely and Scherr note, Third World nations must devote more land for farming than would be necessary if they utilized genetically improved crops and other high-yield farming technology.

Observed Dennis Avery, director of global food issues for the Hudson Institute, “Until now, eco-groups have been marching lockstep in support of the myth that organic farming can feed the world while protecting wildlife from harsh agricultural chemicals. But organic farmers’ yields are little more than half as high as those of conventional modern farmers.” As a result, Avery notes, farmers must increase their acreage and drive out a significant amount of threatened wildlife.

“Whether the world supports or hamstrings high-yield farming in the 21st century is the biggest wildlife conservation issue facing world,” Avery added.

Anti-technology lobby continues attacks

Despite the conclusions of the two recent studies, the anti-technology lobby continues to press for a ban on genetically improved crops. Ignoring the UN findings, Adam Hurtler, a spokesman for a group of street demonstrators protesting a biotech conference in San Diego, maintained, “The biotech industry is seizing control over our bodies, our futures, our food. . . . We have enough food. We have enough medicine. The real roots of the global health crisis are inequality and injustice, and that’s what biotech industry is perpetuating.”

At the same time, the California Public Interest Research Group issued a report calling for a ban on all field testing of genetically improved crops, citing environmental and human health concerns.

“It is unbelievable that this report is being put out there as some type of news by this organization,” countered Lisa Dry of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Dry noted that biotech crops comply with strict standards set by the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Agriculture.

Henry Miller, a senior research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and former director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology, also was unimpressed by the anti-technology argument. Miller noted that in years of testing, genetically improved test crops have not caused any environmental or health problems. Moreover, genetically improved foods could fight serious human health problems such as heart disease.

“Asking for a moratorium on field testing of gene-spliced plants is tantamount to asking for a moratorium on antibiotics or blood transfusions,” Miller said.

For more information . . .

A table of contents for the July United Nations report, Making New Technologies Work for Human Development, is available on the Internet at The full 278-page text of the report is available, in Adobe Acrobat’s PDF format, at

A news release announcing the May issuance of the IUCN/Future Harvest report, Common Ground, Common Future, is available on the Future Harvest Web site at The full text is available as a PDF file at