FIGHTING HUNGER, purging the vestiges of colonialism, cleaning up the environment—these are all causes the left ostensibly supports.
Someone ought to tell that to the 2,000 leftist protesters who took to the streets of Sacramento last week.
There, dressed as giant ears of corn, butterflies and tomatoes, protesters assembled outside what would have otherwise been an unremarkable event: a gathering of agricultural ministers, scientists, and health-care experts from more than 100 countries to discuss methods for using advanced technology to combat famine and improve nutrition.
While the dignitaries met inside, the protesters rallied outside with puppets and signs bearing catchy phrases like “Feed the needy, not the greedy.” The display was a far cry from the anti-war vomit-ins or the Seattle anti-WTO riots, but that didn’t stop the activists from having a grand time. After the official protest, the Associated Press reports, some 20 activists “doffed their clothes and danced on the steps of the state Capitol, then began an unauthorized parade through downtown Sacramento”—all to condemn the use of genetically modified (GM) foods.
Hey, the war’s over. The professional protesters have to protest something.
So now it’s “Frankenfoods,” the left’s name for GM crops, which do all sorts of things the Sacramento protesters apparently consider monstrous—like increasing crop yields, warding off insects, boosting food's nutritional and health qualities, and withstanding droughts. Top among the protesters’ concerns is making sure that GM seeds don’t find their way to Africa, where millions of starving men, women, and children stand to gain from their use.
As the “Frankenfoods” name suggests, the Left regards GM technology as reckless messing with nature, the inevitable result of which would be cataclysmic, unintended consequences. Science tells another story. Americans—even perpetually protesting Americans—eat GM foods all the time. Take that vegan favorite, soy. Eighty percent of America’s soy crop is genetically engineered to resist a popular weed killer. A third of all U.S. corn contains a bug-killing bacterium. Seventy percent of all processed foods consumed in the U.S. include at least one GM ingredient.
And the various studies on the safety of GM foods generally show no deleterious health or environmental effects. Far from it—the use of GM crops reduces the need for potentially carcinogenic and environmentally destructive pesticides.
A recent Wired dispatch tells the story of Thandiwe Myeni, a South African widow and mother of five, and one of few African farmers to take advantage of GM technology: “Before growing Bt cotton, a strain that makes its own insecticide, Myeni used four to five pesticides on her cotton crop. The pesticides made some workers sick, and in one case killed four children who drank water contaminated by the chemicals.” Thanks to GM technology, Myeni now not only has a livelihood, but the envirionment and her neighbors alike are far safer.
But she is the exception. For the most part, Africa has been denied the use of GM farming, thanks to the vestiges of Europe’s old colonial regime. EU powers, heartily opposed to GM technology, have campaigned to keep food out of the mouths of starving Africans, with a high cost in human lives.
In Europe—where experimenting with and even cloning human embryos is permitted in some countries—tinkering with the DNA of fruits and vegetables is considered some sort of grave offense. The European Union has banned the import of GM products (much to the consternation of U.S. agribusiness and President Bush, who has fined a WTO protest).
In most of Africa, which still relies heavily on Europe as its main trading partner, the EU’s hard-line stance on GM products has scared governments and farmers away from this technology. EU activism has allowed famine to go without food. As David Almasi, director of the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., told Wired: “Governments like Zimbabwe are willing to risk famine rather than lose a future trading partner in the European Union.”
So Africans continue to starve; and the continent routinely suffers from droughts, poor nutrition, and sundry environmental dangers—in no small measure because of European Luddism cheered on by eco-radicals in the American Left.
Yet at least the European position, unconscionable though it is, makes sense in light of naked self-interest. The continent’s professed aversion to GM foods is its justification for a de-facto ban on $300 million worth American corn imports. Old European leaders want to protect their farmers from foreign competition, no matter who starves, just as they wanted to maintain their Iraqi oil contracts, no matter who suffered.
As for the American Left, the “Frankenfoods” vitriol is more ideologically driven. Some GM opponents hate globalization and fear technology. Others so fetishize the environment that they’re willing to let “nature” run roughshod over starving Africans, even while they chomp on GM soyburgers and dance around naked in celebration. Others still detest the prospect of US business opening new markets in Africa, as though death and misery are better that letting the benighted continent deal with the Great Satan.
Underneath it all is surely some pride, too. How hard it must be for committed leftists to see how decades of Africa’s experimenting with socialism has wreaked havoc on precisely the poor and downtrodden people it was supposed to help. How angry they must be that, through GM technology, capitalism may soon deliver on socialism’s long unfulfilled promises to the Third World—autonomy, a clean environment, and food on every plate.It’s not “Frankenfoods” that Africans need fear, but Frankensocialism, the monster that the left won’t let die.