After Japan surrendered to the US ending the Second World War, there were stories of Japanese soldiers tucked away in island hideouts that did not get the word the war was over for the next several decades. These men went on thinking the war was still on, sometimes for years. Something similar is happening over the battle over biotechnology. Judging from the volume of social media chatter and negative news media coverage, you would think the fate of biotechnology in food production hung in the balance. The reality is far different. Those who oppose GMO products haven’t gotten the word: they lost.
I came to this conclusion was walking the halls of the 19 acre biotechnology research complex just opened by Dow AgroSciences. Down each long hallway was state-of-the-art laboratories staffed with several hundred scientists from all over the globe, all working toward one goal: improving food production. While Dow AgroSciences never divulged the exact cost of the complex, I am sure it ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Would they have made this kind of investment if they thought there was a chance GMO foods would be banned? Last year I visited a similar but even larger research complex at the Monsanto Company in St. Louis. Here too, there seemed to be no fear that the technology and products they were spending billions to develop would be outlawed by government regulators or environmental activists.
The “chatter” class, as I call those who stir up negative publicity about all kinds of issues, like to flood the media, both social and journalistic, with accusations about companies like Monsanto and Dow. While these efforts can have an impact on public opinion, the forces behind the adoption of biotechnology are far bigger and more powerful than public opinion. Having enough food to feed the world, reducing disease and malnutrition, and improving the health and safety of the food we eat are all more important than what people are saying on Facebook. This is why biotechnology is here to stay.
An irony I saw while touring the Dow facility was that some of the labs were not doing research on biotech crops but on how to improve natural processes, that is, to help a plant do something better than it naturally does. These products are not “GMO” products because they are the same plant doing what is has always done, only now doing it a bit letter.
The war of words over biotechnology will continue, but so will the research and adoption of biotechnology. The current feud over GMO labels on food products will become irrelevant when 90% of the products in a store have such a label. Voters in California may think twice about voting against biotech ballot initiatives when their store shelves are empty and their grocery bills double.
Biotechnology is too far advanced and offers too many benefits to mankind to stop its progress. Opponents will continue to make noise and throw up paper tigers as a show of resistance; but, in the end, their efforts will not stop the green revolution.
by Gary Truitt