The Hittman Chronicle

Dave Hitt

In 1798 Thomas Malthus published his "Essay on the Principle of Population." He warned that because population grew exponentially but food production only grew geometrically, we were all going to starve. At the time about half the population of the US were farmers. Today less than three percent of us are, and we have more food than we know what to do with.

But that hasn't stopped the naysayers, who still echo Malthus' predictions. Dr. Paul Erlich has made a nice living being wrong about the massive famine that's just around the corner. In book after error-filled book he's predicted deadly shortages of food (and everything else) were imminent. He started in 1968 with "The Population Bomb." None of his predictions came true, so he celebrated his incompetence by publishing a thirty-year anniversary edition in 1998. We still aren't even close to running out of food, resources, or patience for his nonsense.

We haven't starved because agriculture keeps improving. Advances in breeding, pesticides, farm equipment and farming techniques keep providing us with higher yields. One major advance has been genetic modification. It has been violently opposed by fanatic Luddites who think "The Fly" was an incredible documentary. With no scientific evidence of any danger, they resort to spreading Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) at every opportunity. Their endless and tiresome use of the term "Frankenfoods," tells us everything we need to know about them.

The Food FUDers have been a huge problem in Europe, and are starting to infest the US. Disappointed that their FUD isn't working quickly enough, they've added terrorism and vandalism to their toolbox. They destroy crops, vandalize farm equipment, interfere with research, and even burn down hamburger stands.

Genetic modification is nothing new - we've been breeding and cross-breeding crops for thousands of years. GM allows a much greater degree of precision, and also allows moving traits across species. GM crops have greater yields, so less land is used for farming. It allows precise targeting of pests so farmers can use less pesticide. It even allows adding specific nutrients to foods - for instance putting vitamin A in rice to reduce blindness and disease in impoverished nations. FUDers demand all this terrible science be stopped, immediately. They're delighted to use violence, vandalism and terrorism to stop it.

One of the nastiest enemies of corn crops is the European Corn Borer. Even with regular application of pesticides the larva of the ECB moth can munch through a crop like Rosie O'Donnell at a pork rind buffet. Every year North American farmers lose about a billion dollars to this pest. (The Borer, not Rosie.)

The bacteria Bacillus Thuringiensis, which occurs naturally in soil, is an enemy of the ECB larvae. It produces a protein that kills the slimly intruder. BT corn takes a gene from the bacteria and transplants it into the corn, giving the corn a built in defense against the larva. The protein is activated by the larva's alkaline digestive system, then attaches to receptor cells specific to the ECB, killing it. It has no effect on mammals, with their acidic digestive system and lack of receptor cells. BT Corn results in higher yields using less land and far less pesticides - two things that would delight real ecologists. Yet the Food FUDers have made it their favorite target.

It should be noted that spraying crops with BT is considered organic farming. It should also be noted that corn doesn't exist in the wild, and was specifically created by cross-breading and genetic manipulation.

Does this frighten you?

Listening to a FUDder is like listening to someone trying to sell you an Amway franchise. Their arguments look appealing, even sensible at first glance, but on second glance their silliness becomes apparent. And once you learn the facts they're leaving out, so does their dishonesty.

BT Corn Kills Butterflies: Cornell University did a study to see if the pollen from BT corn would kill the larvae of Monarch butterflies. They force fed large amounts of it to the larvae, and to no one's surprise, they died. The researchers themselves pointed out that no attempt had been made to recreate a natural concentration of pollen, nor did they give the larvae an alternative food source. (Many critters will instinctively avoid poisoned food.) They also noted that corn pollen is heavy and doesn't travel far, it's not usually produced at the same time the Monarchs are in the larval stage, and milkweed, the larva's exclusive food, is uncommon around corn fields. All these facts are ignored by the FUDders, who use the study as an excuse to don butterfly costumes and prance around like fourth-graders at a Halloween party.

The author of the study, Professor John Losey, said "I don't think it's a scare story, because we're showing that this is only a laboratory study. At this point, I can't see pulling back on the BT crops because of their proven benefits weighed against potential risks." During a different interview he said "Our study was conducted in the laboratory and, while it raises an important issue, it would be inappropriate to draw any conclusions about the risk to Monarch populations in the field based solely on these initial results." A recent follow-up study showed BT pollen poses no risk to Monarchs. This study has, of course, been ignored by the FUDers.

Using insecticides instead of BT corn not only kills Monarch larvae, but many other insects as well, including beneficial ones. This argument reeks of common sense, and so is simply ignored or avoided by the FUDders.

You can't prove it won't cause long term harm: You can't prove there are no invisible pink unicorns in the room, either. Because it's impossible to prove a negative, Luddites of all stripes have used this argument against just about every advancement humans have ever made. What you can do, and what has been done, is to test and test and test some more to discover any possible dangers. When none are found the thing being researched is considered safe. If dangers are found, the next step is to compare the risks to the benefits and decide if it's worth it.

Notice that FUDers always specify long-term harm. That's because US citizens have been wolfing down GM foods for years and without a single incident. Not one. Since there has been no short term harm, they have to harp on the possibility of long term harm.

When making this argument (which is often phrased "No one has proven they are safe") they rely heavily on terms like "may", "might", "perhaps", "suggests", "possibly", "probably," etc. If those words don't set off your bullshit detector, you need to bring it in for a tune up.

Biotech crops reduce biodiversity: The best source of biodiversity is the wild, undeveloped land where all kinds of living things can interact with each other. Increased yields means less land is needed for farming. More land can lie fallow, or even be taken over by the wild again, providing for more biodiversity, not less.

GM crops are untested: This is an outright lie, often repeated by the FUDders. Before it is offered for sale GM food is rigorously tested by the EPA, the FDA and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). Over 5,000 tests have been performed since 1987, resulting in a mere 40 crops being released commercially.

It's Unnatural: Yes it is. Any kind of farming is unnatural. Plants do not naturally spring up in neat rows containing a single crop. Nature responds to gardens and farms with a barrage of bugs, rodents, weeds and diseases, in an attempt to return the land to its natural state. The only completely natural way to eat is by foraging in the woods and hunting your own food. The number of protesting FUDers who do that is approximately none.

Transgenic Foods are Playing God: Nearly every FUDder will use the term "playing God" sooner or later. This is the core of their belief and the heart of their arguments. It shows their conclusions are neither rational nor scientific, but religious. And like most religious zealots they're eager to force their beliefs on the rest of us by any means possible.

GM food should be labeled: FUDders claim this is out of concern for safety, but their agenda is too transparent to fool anyone smart enough to read The Hittman Chronicle. Labeling makes FUD much more effective, and makes it easier to force food manufactures to abandon this promising technology.

FUD is already working without the labeling: Gerber and Frito-Lay, cowering before the FUDers, have announced they won't be using GM food in their products. Such cowardice is common among food producers in Europe - expect to see more of it in the states.

There is not even the tiniest, most microscopic shred of evidence that GM food is harmful in any way, so it's not the GM foods that should be labeled. Instead, foods that do not use GM crops should be labeled, and already are. Recent USDA regulations prohibit labeling food "organic" if it contains any GM crops. People willingly pay premium prices for organic food, even though there is no evidence that it is more wholesome or nutritious. (Organic crops, however, decrease biodiversity, because their lower yields require considerably more farm land to produce the same amount of food.)


GM food is not a panacea, the one and only answer to the problem of feeding more people on less land. It is simply a new, very powerful tool that will help us feed our growing population. Like any other powerful tool it has to be handled carefully, with a great deal of caution. But no amount of caution or care will satisfy the FUDers. They will do everything they can to cripple and even eliminate the technology. They are determined to prove Malthus was right. We can't let them succeed.

Other Links

Guess how honest the Greens are about Biotech's role in medecine.

Protesters don't have to worry about their next meal.

The USDA explains its take on GM foods..

April, 2000


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