The sad fate of Golden Rice, the genetically modified version of the worlds most popular staple, is one of many revelations in Let Them Eat Precaution: How Politics Is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture (AEI Press, January 2006). Bioengineering has created new kinds of soybeans, wheat, and cotton that generate natural insecticides (making them more resistant to pests and drought and increasing yields); nutrition-added fruits, vegetables, and grains; and futuristic "farmaceuticals"life-saving medicines made by melding agricultural methods with advanced biotechnology. Countless scientific studies have found that biotech farming can dramatically reduce reliance on costly and environmentally harmful chemicals, and the products that result are safe and healthy.
Editor Jon Entine, along with ten experts from the United States and Great Britain, explain why cultural politics and trade disputes, not science, pose the biggest hurdles in developing these products. Instead of meeting the desperate needs of the worlds poor with new medicines and vitamin-fortified crops, anti-biotech campaigners offer liberal doses of the "precautionary principle"the controversial notion that innovation should be shelved unless all risks can be avoided. Well-funded environmental groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth; organic advocates; religious groups such as Christian Aid; and "socially responsible" investors exploit anxiety about science, caricaturing genetic technology as inherently unpredictable and a "genetic Godzilla" that could usher in an age of "Frankenfoods."
Among the other findings in Let Them Eat Precaution:
Some 40,000 peoplehalf of them childrendie every day from hunger or malnutrition-related causes that genetically modified products could alleviate. International advocacy groups have intimidated the Zambian and Zimbabwean governments into rejecting donations of bioengineered grain that would have helped feed the 10.1 million undernourished people in those two countries. Biopharmaceuticals such as potatoes transformed into edible vaccines against diarrheaa leading cause of death in the developing worldand tobacco modified to fight dental cavities, the common cold, and diabetes are caught in a regulatory jungle. Anti-biotechnology groups funded by tax-exempt foundations, the social investment community, and the organic and natural products industry masterfully exploit the Internet to spread their message. The misinformation campaign has turned one of the founders of Greenpeace into a determined spokesperson for the promise of biotech farming and farmaceuticals.
The anti-biotech industrys admonition of "Dont tamper with nature" may be superficially seductive, but a blanket rule that natures course is always preferable to scientific innovation is a prescription for paralysis. The authors of Let Them Eat Precaution believe that proponents of biotechnology must reorient their strategy to address the political, social, moral, and economic arguments raised by biotech opponents, rather than relying simply on the scientific evidence. While not a universal panacea, genetically modified technology offers a unique opportunity to address international health and nutrition needs, especially in countries with increasing populations, widespread poverty, and limited funds for expensive and environmentally harmful chemical pesticides.
Let Them Eat Precaution includes "Beyond Precaution" by Jon Entine, scholar in residence at Miami University of Ohio, and adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. "Global Views on Agricultural Biotechnology" by Thomas Jefferson Hoban, director of the Center for Biotechnology in a Global Society and professor in the departments of sociology, anthropology, and food science at North Carolina State University. Mr. Hoban is also a member of the Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). "Agricultural Biotechnology Caught in a War of Giants" by C.S. Prakash, professor of plant biotechnology at Tuskegee University and president of AgBio World Foundation; and by Gregory Conko, senior fellow and director of food safety policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. "Trade War or Culture War? The GM Debate in Britain and the European Union" by Tony Gilland, science and society director at the British Institute of Ideas. "Hunger, Famine, and the Promise of Biotechnology" by Andrew S. Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). "Let Them Eat Precaution: Why GM Crops Are Being Over-Regulated in the Developing World" by Robert L. Paarlberg, professor of political science at Wellesley College; associate of the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University; and consultant for the International Food Policy Research Institute, USAID, USDA, and U.S. State Department. "Can Public Support for the Use of Biotechnology in Food Be Salvaged?" by Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America and former assistant secretary for food and consumer services at the USDA. "Deconstructing the Agricultural Biotechnology Protest Industry" by Jay Byrne, president of v-Fluence Interactive Public Relations (dealing with issues management, including biotechnology). "Functional Foods and Biopharmaceuticals: The Next Generation of the GM Revolution" by Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of the Systemwide Biotechnology Research and Education Program at the University of CaliforniaDavis; co-director of the NIH Training Program in Biomolecular Technology; member of the Genomics Panel on Technology of the WTO; and member of the Technology Discussion Panel on Sustainable Agriculture at the UN. "Challenging the Misinformation Campaign of Antibiotechnology Environmentalists" by Patrick Moore, founding member of Greenpeace and former director of Greenpeace International. Mr. Moore now heads the environmental group Greenspirit in Vancouver, Canada.
"Let Them Eat Precaution does a superb job of educating the reading public on the basic issues of genetically modified foods. The distinguished authors provide a devastating point-by-point refutation of the anti-GMO activists false claims, providing a reasoned, scientifically grounded perspective on this critical issue. As the Marie Antoinette title implies, though the affluent may be leading the charge against GMO foods, it is the poor who are most likely to suffer the effects of activists that falsely claim to speak for the worlds poor." Thomas DeGregori, professor of economics, University of Houston, and author of Origins of the Organic Agriculture Debate "A well-funded global antibiotech activist campaign, abetted by European Union regulators more interested in political pandering than good science, threatens to starve millions of the worlds poorest people by denying them access to environmentally safer and higher yielding biotech crops. The distinguished experts assembled in Let Them Eat Precaution make it abundantly clear that humanitys health and well-being depend on innovation, not a technological freeze in the name of the "precautionary principle," which demands perfect safety from all new technologies. The contributors carefully document not only the policy challenges facing agricultural biotechnology but the real benefitsfrom a massive reduction in pesticide use to a slew of new pharmaceuticals and vitamin-enriched foodsthat may never come to fruition if antiscience advocacy groups prevail in this battle of ideas." Ronald Bailey, author of Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution and science correspondent for Reason magazine "This fine volume fills a very useful role in the ongoing debate over the use of biotechnology in foods and pharmaceuticals. Let Them Eat Precaution covers every aspect of the issue, catalogs what is known about GM crops, and helps us understand the ideological basis for opposition to the use of this life-saving technology. The antibiotechnology campaigns are denying food to starving millionsa high price to pay for ideology." Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Mo.