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Engage in a Constructive Debate About Genetically Modified Crops

By James Wachai

Richard Heinberg, famous for his rantings against Big Oil, in October delivered a lecture at the E. F. Schumacher Society in Stockbridge, Massachusetts on October 28, 2006.

The abbreviated text of the lecture entitled “Fifty Million Farmers,” is available in the online edition of Energy Bulletin November 17, 2006.

In the lecture, Mr. Heinberg forecasted that prolonged famine looms in the United States due to, among other factors, the effects of global warming, shortage of fuel, and increasing scarcity of water.

Even agricultural technologies such as genetic engineering, according to Mr. Heinberg, would do nothing to alleviate food shortage in the U.S.

This is what he said about genetically modified crops. “Our collective experience with genetically modifying crops so far shows that glowing promises of higher yields, or of the reduced need for herbicides, have seldom been fulfilled.”

He went on, “At the same time, new genetic technologies carry with them the potential for horrific unintended consequences in the forms of negative impacts on human health and the integrity of ecosystems.”

Mr. Heinberg’s rantings about GM crops sound like a comic strip. First what does he mean by “Our collective experience with genetically modified crops…?” Whose collective experience is he referring to? His “Our collective experience…” is null and void considering that 200 million acres of genetically modified crops are being grown in more than 21 countries.

It’s even more misleading for Mr. Heinberg to say that new genetic technologies pose “horrific” threats to human health. This is mere sensationalism because he doesn’t even bother to identify these “horrific threats.”

Mr. Heinberg’s lecture reminds me of a video clip in YouTube that equally attempts to discredit genetically modified crops without any scientific justification. Entitled “Contaminated” the video, as is the habit of anti-technology activists, dwells on hearsays and lies about modern agricultural biotechnology. What do people stand to gain from distorting scientific facts?

It’s time the world resorts to a civil discourse about GM crops. Let’s dwell on the science behind genetically modified crops rather than half-baked issues only tailored to instill fear and despondence in consumers.

About the Author: James Wachai is a communication expert, specializing in agricultural issues, and also authors the blog GMO Africa -

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