Green killers and pseudo-science

Green fundamentalists are killers. Their opposition to genetically modified foods is killing people in famine-hit Africa today, and could threaten Indians in the future too.

The USA has rushed food aid to southern Africa in the form of maize, the staple diet of the region. But Zambia has refused to distribute this maize to its starving population.

Why? Because some of the maize may be GM, and may be used by farmers as seed. The US has used GM food for years with no ill-effects. But the European Union, under the influence of Greenpeace and other fundamentalists, has banned the import of GM foods.

Now, Zambia and other southern African countries traditionally export maize to Europe. They fear Europe will ban such exports if there is any suspicion that they have planted any GM maize. So they face a dilemma. If they reject food aid, people will starve. But if they accept food aid and jeopardise future maize exports to Europe, that too could cause farmer starvation.

Greenpeace and its supporters are responsible for this outrageous state of affairs. They spearheaded the ban. Vandana Shiva, a leading Indian opponent of GM foods, was recently honoured by Time magazine as a heroic Third World defender of traditional agriculture.

But at the Johannesburg green summit, Shiva was given a very different award: The Bullshit Award for Sustaining Poverty. This was bestowed on her by a group of Third World activists and farmers demanding the freedom to choose seeds, to choose technology, and to trade unhindered by bans. Their citation says that, in a closely contested race, Shiva narrowly beat Greenpeace and some others. I personally think Greenpeace should have won hands down. It has surely done more damage, especially in Africa.

Shiva has hit back at her critics, such as Barun Mitra of the Liberty Institute. In an interview with, she declared that Mitra and others were people whose minds have been bought with money.

This is pure McCarthyism. I and many of my colleagues in journalism agree with Mitra that opposition to GM foods is indeed a recipe for impoverishing farmers.

The traditional organic farming which Shiva recommends is the very technology that led to mass starvation in India for centuries, with up to one-tenth of the population perishing in periodic famines.

Mass starvation was finally ended by the green revolution, which brought in modern genetics and chemical inputs. GM takes scientific innovation a step further. GM foods have not affected public health in any country, including the ultra-health-conscious USA.

GM plants are laboratory crosses across genomes. But nature too is replete with crosses across genomes. This is one way species have evolved for millions of years. To condemn such crosses as dangerous or unnatural is pseudo-science of sort that led Hitler to fulminate against the mixing of races.

Hitler believed that the Aryans were a superior race. He was aghast at the thought of Aryan blood mixing with the inferior blood of Jews or blacks. His belief that crosses across races would produce genetic horrors had no scientific basis. Yet he banned the mixing of races, and sought to eliminate (as a Final Solution) those he deemed inferior and dangerous.

Greenpeace and Co. extend this same argument to plants. They claim that natural species are pure and superior, while GM varieties are inferior and dangerous. Like Hitler, they express horror at the mixing of species. They do not want to allow people to choose what to plant or eat. They want an outright ban.

They provide no proof that GM foods are dangerous. Instead they say it is up to proponents of GM foods to prove these are not unsafe. This is eerily Hitlerian too: condemn without evidence, and ask the condemned to prove their innocence. Is this not like asking every Indian Muslim to prove that he is not pro-Pakistani? Or asking every Jew to prove that he does not condone the killing of Jesus Christ? Is it not an insult to common dignity?

Science punctures the notion that natural foods are safe and GM foods are not. Science has proved beyond all doubt that a wide variety of natural foods kill. Butter, cooking oil, chocolate, cream and fried foods in general cause cardiac disease, hypertension and cancer. Desserts of all sorts, from ice-cream to gulab jamun, are full of cholesterol-raising ingredients. Alcohol kills. Tobacco kills. All these are products of natural plants. Yet green fundamentalists insist that the real danger is from GM plants.

Shiva claims that proponents of GM foods are third-rate scientists, corrupt politicians, and pawns of multinationals. Really?

According to Alex Avery of the Hudson Institute Centre for Global Food Issues, the proponents of biotechnology include the World Health Organisation, Food and Agriculture Organisation, six national science academies, the US Department of Agriculture, American Medical Association, American Dietic Association, and 19 Nobel prize winners, including Norman Borlaugh, founder of the green revolution.

Not even Hitler would claim that all these could be bought by the Jews.

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