Ignorance of Biotech
In fact, the use of gene-splicing to craft small, precise genetic changes that enhance or introduce desirable traits into plants has been a stunning technological success— but excessive and unscientific regulation and the intractable opposition of activists have slowed its translation into consumer-friendly foods.
How ironic that the same activists who have opposed agbiotech relentlessly for 20 years now decry the “hype” and “over-selling” of its benefits—rather like the teenager convicted of murdering his parents who pleads for mercy from the courts because he’s an orphan.
Pollack’s statement, “Developing non-allergenic products and other healthful crops has also proved to be difficult technically,” is simply untrue. A vast spectrum of such plants (the prototype of which is vitamin A-enhanced golden rice) has been crafted by laboratory scientists, but they cannot afford the gratuitously inflated regulatory costs to test the plants in the field.
Excessive and unwise regulation is a major reason that products in the development pipeline “do not include many of the products once envisioned,” in Pollack’s phrase. Unscientific and discriminatory EPA and USDA regulatory policies make field trials with gene-spliced plants 10–20 times more expensive than a similar plant engineered with less precise, less predictable conventional genetic techniques.
Unlike pharmaceutical development, agricultural R&D is a low-budget enterprise, and such counter-intuitive, unscientific regulation and gratuitous regulatory costs make the development of many promising and even important food products uneconomical.
Finally, Pollack’s disparaging assertion that industry “has been peddling the same two advantages—herbicide tolerance and insect resistance—for 10 years,” is puzzling. These traits have been of monumental importance—not only to farmers’ bottom line, but to occupational health and the natural environment.
Enhanced pest resistance in plants has obviated the need for hundreds of millions of pounds of chemical pesticides (and thereby reduced environmental and occupational exposures), and herbicide tolerance has made possible a shift to more benign herbicides and to environment-friendly no-till farming (less runoff of chemicals, less carbon dioxide production).
Antitechnology, antibusiness activists fear a world in which exploitative, multinational corporations conspire to strip away individual choice from the world’s farmers and consumers. Yet it is they who are guilty of the mendacity and manipulation they imagine they see in others; they who are guilty of stripping away the freedom of researchers to research, doctors to doctor, and consumers to consume vaccines and drugs that can be life-saving.
Like cheap knock-offs of designer goods, some of the offerings in the marketplace of ideas may be attractive at first glance but do not stand up to scrutiny. Only if we learn to distinguish the genuine from the fake will we be able to protect ourselves—and our supply of new plants and other products—from the tyranny of the of the activists.