Speaking at the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Bill Gates took aim at the chorus of environmental leftists and organic food advocates who believe Africans should starve rather than eat genetically modified (GM) foods. “Some voices are instantly hostile to any emphasis on productivity. They act as if there is no emergency, even though in the poorest, hungriest places on earth, population is growing faster than productivity,” he said.
His opposition is significant, because Gates is left-of-center himself. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with assets of $29 billion as of 2005, has focused on the “population” side of the “problem” in the past, sending billions of dollars in grants to such groups Population Action International, Population Services International, and the Population Resource Center.
However, Gates announced he will issue a $120 million grant to increase food productivity in sub-Saharan Africa through the planting of genetically modified seeds. In Des Moines, Gates cited a Stanford study from 2008 concluding African farmers will lose one-quarter of their productivity within 20 years if they continue to plant the same strains of corn. However, “If the seeds perform well, African farmers can expect to produce two-million more tons of maize in a year of moderate drought.” Radio Iowa reports Gates has “committed more than a billion dollars” in all.
Taking on the Green Left
In proposing this initiative, he is standing up to the Green Left, which has long favored environmental “purity” to human well-being. Greenpeace cooked up the term “Frankenfood” to demonize genetically modified foods a decade ago. Jeremy Rifkin called GM foods, “a form of annihilation every bit as deadly as nuclear holocaust” and compared their cultivation to “Nazi eugenics.” So successful was their campaign that many ecological groups have equated the agricultural corporation Monsanto, a leader in biotechnology, with the antichrist.
Dire predictions aside, GM foods not only potentially increase food production but have replaced the need to spray crops with chemical pesticides, which sickened or killed Africans. Those farmers who spray can now streamline the process, saving time and money. The modified crops are more resistant to cold, drought, herbicides, pests, and disease. They also supplied nutritional gaps in the consumption patterns of the poor. For instance, so-called “golden rice” spliced Vitamin A into rice, which could stave off blindness among the world’s poor who eat little more than rice. (Giving credit where credit’s due, golden rice was developed with aid from the Rockefeller Foundation.)
The many concerns floated by the Green Left have proven more theoretical than actual. Greenpeace has long claimed GM foods increase allergies; however, the World Health Organization – hardly a corporate, capitalist shill – concluded, “No allergic effects have been found relative to GM foods currently on the market.” Although six EU nations ban GM foods, Jaap Satter, a senior policy adviser at the Dutch Agriculture Ministry, has said, “You cannot say anymore that there is a scientific reason to be against genetic modification.” The National Research Council summed up the situation: “No conceptual distinction exists between generic modification of plants and microorganisms by classical methods or by molecular techniques that modify DNA and transfer genes.”
Some environmentalists seem concerned the foods will be too successful at feeding the poor. Al Gore has worried, “The most lasting impact of biotechnology on the food supply may come not from something going wrong, but from all going right…We’re far more likely to accidentally drown ourselves in a sea of excess grain.” Given the environmentalist movement’s hatred of population – best exemplified by Obama Science Czar John Holdren’s justification of compulsory abortion in the United States – this may be the real locus of their disdain.
So deep is the Green Left’s hatred of GM foods that even an organization Gates founded has given genetically modified food a chilly reception. “The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa was established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation” and the Rockefeller Foundation in 2006 “with the objective of improving agriculture in Africa.” However, its leader, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, vowed in 2007: “We in the alliance will not incorporate GMOs [genetically modified organisms] in our programmes. We shall work with farmers using traditional seeds.”
The scare tactics and shunning of American and Euro-socialist leftists is theoretical and faulty – but their mania has reaped a deadly harvest among the world’s most vulnerable people.
Let Them Eat Twigs
In 2002, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa refused to accept tons of U.S. food aid for his starving nation, because the aid contained genetically modified food – specifically, maize. “Simply because my people are hungry, that is no justification to give them poison, to give them food that is intrinsically dangerous to their health,” he said. The deluded president continued, “I will not allow Zambians to be turned into guinea pigs no matter the levels of hunger in the country.”
The levels of hunger were staggering. Nearly one-third of Zambia’s 10 million people faced famine. Some 14 million Africans faced starvation region-wide. Nonetheless, the president privately upbraided officials in the UN World Food Programme (WFP) for distributing GM foods, which fed 125,000 people in five camps. The WFP reported some impoverished Zambians “resorted to eating little more than twigs and ash from the fire in a brown soupy concoction.” Desperate, rural villagers broke into the palace where the stockpiles were rotting and stole 2,000 bags of maize.
In response, the World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg in 2002, signed a “statement of solidarity” with Zambia. Charlie Kronick of Greenpeace went further, alleging the humanitarian aid constituted a sick capitalist ploy. “There is a constant drip of pressure from the U.S. government and biotech industry to make sure Africa is softened up for GM,” he theorized. “Europe is closed to them and they need a market for it.”
Others offered more than ideological support. Zimbabwe joined the boycott, preventing GM grain’s importation. Angola followed suit in 2004. Lesotho and Mozambique milled all such grain so that it would not be planted and “infect” other crops.
Not all were limited to the EU and Africa. In 2004, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez passed “possibly…the most sweeping restrictions on transgenic crops in the western hemisphere.”
At home, the opposition has been remarkably well-heeled. National Review’s Deroy Murdock found:
In 2001, the 30 leading anti-biotech groups…spent $341.4 million, including Greenpeace USA’s expenditure of $23,748,737, Environmental Defense’s $38,794,150 and the Natural Resources Defense Council’s $41,625,882. Between 1996 and 2001, this crusade’s lavish underwriters included the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ($11,906,500), the Ford Foundation ($39,978,020) and the Pew Charitable Trusts ($130,996,900).
It also included a large portion of the organic food market. Somehow, this story of an industry trying to spike a competitor did not make MSNBC or the pages of Mother Jones.
Whatever the purported concerns, the prohibition of GM foods is a moral issue. As Velasio De Paolis of the Pontifical Urban University has said, it is “easy to say no to GM food if your stomach is full.” However misled he may be on other issues, Bill Gates deserves credit for standing up against the Green Left on this point.
The question remains, will he do so on the issue that seems closest to his heart: the eradication of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa? In a recent speech on the topic Gates admitted, “two tools helped to bring the death rate down: One was killing the mosquitoes with DDT.” Before Rachel Carson’s crusade – based entirely on scientific theories that never panned out – DDT use had nearly eradicated malaria. Now, according to one report, “there are approximately 350 to 500 million cases of malaria, killing close to one million people” annually. “Every day, malaria takes the lives of 2,000 children in Africa alone.” Yet instead of backing DDT use, Gates has sought to find a vaccine.
If Gates truly wants to put the well-being of Africans above political correctness, DDT is the best place to start.
This article originally appeared on Thursday, October 9, 2009, on FrontPage Magazine.
(Photo credit: OnInnovation. CC BY-ND 2.0.)