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Genetically Modified Food Can’t Just Be Wished Away

Writing in the Washington Post last week, Jeremy Rifkin, the president of Foundation on Economic Trends, a nongovernmental organization sworn to the destruction of modern agricultural biotechnology, argued that genetic engineering, especially in relation to agriculture, is quick losing its agricultural relevance.

And he questioned multinational biotech companies to stop touting genetically modified food as “the next fantastic scientific and technological revolution in agriculture and the only efficient and cheap way to feed a growing population in a shrinking world.”

To assert that agricultural biotechnology is losing its relevance is to misstate facts. Contrary to Rifkin’s misleading postulation, agricultural biotechnology, and specifically genetically modified food continues to gain prominence. You only need to read the latest report on global area of biotech crops by Clive James to conclude that Jeremy Rifkin is economical with truth regarding public attitude towards genetically modified food.

Rifkin, in his vain attempt to downplay the gains made by modern agricultural biotechnology believes that Marker Helped Selection (MAS) is the new kid on the block and should be embraced in the place of “obsolete” transgenic technology. He exhorts – using twisted logic lacking in scientific justification – the virtues of MAS. Unlike transgenic technology, marker helped technology, to Rifkin, guarantees clean seeds that, unlike genetically modified seeds, can’t potentially compromise consumers’ health and the environment. What a lie!

What really baffles me, and I am sure other readers who stumbled on Rifkin’s article, is its richness in abstractions and falsehoods as is illustrated above. Rifkin, wrongly, contends that marker helped selection holds the key to sustainable agriculture. How right is this without watertight evidence to show what the so-called marker helped selection has achieved? How many acres or hectares of land are currently under Rifkin’s marker helped selection crops? In the absence of such evidence, is one not justified to conclude that Rifkin’s real motivation is to mislead the public about genetically modified food?

Transgenic technology remains unrivalled in terms of developing high yielding and pest resistant crops. This, perhaps, clarifies why since the commercialization of the first genetically modified crop a decade ago, more than 240 million acres of these crops have been planted in a record twenty one countries. Surely, twenty one countries can’t be incorrect on genetically modified crops.

The increasing acceptance of genetically modified crops is not as a result of sophisticated marketing campaigns by multinational biotechnology companies as critics of genetic engineering would like everybody to believe. Genetically modified crops have right value to farmers.

If the likes of Jeremy Rifkin passionately believe in the superiority of marker helped selection, they should let it compete with transgenic technology and leave farmers to exercise their right to choose. The argument that transgenic technology should be discarded to pave the way for marker helped selection is defeatist. Let both exist side by side and see which will gain support in the farming communities.

James uses his communication expertise to make awareness about GM food. To read more about him, go to gmoafrica.org gmoafrica.org

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