Writer Justin Gillis described a meeting at the Long Knife Saloon, where wheat farmers gathered to discuss a new kind of crop that will help them cut down on weeds and boost their yields. “The wheat was created in a St. Louis biology laboratory, through genetic engineering. It is meant to benefit farmers, but a lot of people in the room fretted that it would put them out of business,” wrote Gillis.
He went on to say that many wheat farmers are worried about adopting this new technology because they don’t know if anyone will want to buy it.
And that’s why the real story behind biotech wheat isn’t taking place in the village of Manning–but across the ocean. The only reason we’re even discussing a “controversy” in North Dakota and other wheat-growing states is because a small group of Europeans have decided to make it one, but at the cost of ignoring both scientific evidence and common sense.
Biotechnology already has revolutionized agriculture, even though we’ve only seen the beginnings of what it will accomplish. I’ve been able to take full advantage of it in my corn and soybean fields. I’m producing more food on the same amount of land, all while using less spray and cutting down on soil erosion to protect our environment.
Now the miracle of biotechnology is finally going to help wheat farmers, with a genetically modified plant that resists herbicide. It will enable farmers to kill more weeds with less spray.
This is an especially beneficial development for wheat farmers, because weed killing is so important to what they do. Wheat grows in semi-arid climates where every drop of water matters. Weeds in wheat fields are parasites that suck up resources that otherwise nourish one of America’s staple crops.
It’s a wonder that any wheat farmer would think twice about adopting this new technology. And yet there’s plenty of concern in the heartland. “In the states that grow the fabled amber waves of grain that symbolize America’s heritage of plenty, the most plentiful commodity these days is in trouble,” says the Post.
That’s because so much of the wheat grown in the United States is sold overseas. Europe is a major market, and yet the Europeans have balked at biotech crops.
Some of them profess to wonder whether genetically modified crops are truly safe to eat. The truth is that biotech food has never hurt a human, anytime or anyplace. In fact, it enhances food safety, because it helps eliminate the insects that chew open seedcoats and admit pathogens.
At bottom, the Europeans are trying to protect special interest groups at home. Their opposition to biotechnology has nothing to do with public health, and everything to do with raw politics. Some of their leading scientific organizations, such as the French Academy of Sciences and the French Academy of Medicine and Pharmacy, have endorsed biotech foods. It’s the politicians who continue to oppose it.
They will lose eventually. It remains an open question of how long the European Union will continue to cry wolf before it approves this technology, however. The United States and the rest of the world must press the Europeans until they come to their senses.
In the meantime, their shortsighted and parochial concerns are damaging family farmers whose livelihoods depend upon open markets. This is doubly true in developing countries, where the adoption of biotechnology has an immediate opportunity to improve living conditions and fend off starvation.
European intransigence is hurting consumers, too, because denying them biotech food denies them choices. And, finally, the enemies of biotechnology are not friends of the environment, because few things in agriculture are as favorable to conservation as products that require fewer chemical applications and protect the soil.
I hope that American wheat farmers will embrace biotech, and that European regulators pull down their roadblocks. We all know they’ll do it eventually. The sooner they do, the sooner we’ll all benefit.