Will the last person to agree that biotech food is safe to eat please turn out the lights?

That was my first response when I read a summary of the new report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Issued recently, its strong endorsement of genetically enhanced crops provides further proof that biotech food is here to stayand that its permanence is something to welcome rather than fear.

में The State of Food and Agriculture 2004, the FAO reached several important conclusions, including these:

GM food is safe to eat.
Genetically enhanced pest and disease resistant crops offer the possibility of reducing the use of agricultural pesticides.
Small farmers have been some of the biggest beneficiaries of biotechnology.

None of these claims is actually new. Weve been hearing them for years from dozens of distinguished sources on the farm, around the conference table, and in the science lab. Yet its helpful for these indisputable facts to receive the UNs prestigious imprimatur.

Thats due in large part to the FAOs traditional concern for farmers in the developing world. The organization is in an excellent position to speak to the common good of all people, rather than the special interests of a few.

Some 842 million people currently eat an inadequate diet, according to the FAOs latest numbers. Thats nearly 14% of the worlds population. These unfortunate folks are of course concentrated in poor countries where farmers still dont make much use of modern agricultural methods. The Green Revolution hasnt yet transformed their practices, to say nothing of Gene Revolution. The challenge of feeding the world will only increase in the coming decades, as the global population continues to increase.

Obviously, much work needs to be doneright now as well as in the future. And biotechnology is clearly part of the answer to the vexing problem of malnourishment. As assistant director-general Harwig de Haen put it in a press conference: FAO believes that biotechnology, including genetic engineering, can benefit the poor, but that the gains are not guaranteed.

Of course theyre not guaranteednot when fearmongering activists in Europe and Japan are frightening people all over the planet with their panicky complaints about Frankenfood and the like.

The FAOs report left groups like Greenpeace practically speechless. Thats no surprise. What are they supposed to say when an internationally respected body comes to a set of conclusions that totally contradicts what theyve been claiming for so long?

कुंआ, I suppose they could admit theyve been wrongincredibly, spectacularly, extravagantly, ostentatiously, and tragically wrong. That would be the responsible thing to do. We try to teach our children to confess their mistakes. Its part of growing up. We should expect nothing less of political outfits run by adults.

Naturally, enemies of biotechnology have chosen the path of least resistance: denial.

The Associated Press tracked down one Doreen Stabinsky, a Greenpeace spokeswoman, for a comment on the FAO report. Hunger is not a problem that needs technical solutions, she said. It needs political will and appropriate policies.

What a ridiculous statement. Technical solutions are of course a huge part of addressing the problem of hunger, whether theyre advances in biotechnology, fertilization, or irrigation. Were exponentially better at feeding the world today than we were a generation ago, and technical know-how is a huge part of the reason why.

But Im not done with Stabinsky. Who is she to talk about political will and appropriate policies? I cant think of a more useful form of political will than for Greenpeace to admit that its neo-Luddite views on biotechnology have led to a wholesale rejection of appropriate policies and that they now need a complete revision.

Consider one of the specific points in the FAO reportthe concern that biotechnologys great promise may not reach down and help small-scale farmers in the developing world because profit-minded companies lack the incentive to invest in new crops that dont hold tremendous commercial potential. Even the major food crops of the poor–गेहूँ, चावल, white maize, potato, and cassavaare also being neglected, says the report.

Wheat is being neglected? कुंआ, thats sort of true. Last month, Monsanto announced that it would delay plans to commercialize biotech wheat. The root cause of its reluctance, तथापि, was not driven by economicsbut by the phony fears of consumers in Europe and Japan, stoked as they are by irresponsible militants at Greenpeace.

Maybe I should quit worrying about whos going to turn off the lights and start worrying about whos going to turn them oninside the heads of activists who can now count the United Nations as one of their most influential critics.