Bio-Foods Can Improve
Nutrition in America,
Cut Starvation and Disease in Africa
by John Meredith
Wouldn't you rather eat a banana than
get a shot? I know that I would.
Science now makes it possible to get
a vaccination against hepatitis, which kills an estimated 100
million people per year worldwide, simply by eating a banana.
A breakthrough in the field of biotechnology, it virtually eliminates
the storage and sterilization concerns previously necessary for
injections. It also saves money, costing just two cents for a
banana instead of $125 for a shot.1
But this and other marvels of genetic-modification
are at risk. Environmentalists are attacking biotechnology, trying
to convince the government and the public that the science is
unsafe. What's really unsafe, however, is their attempt to stop
valuable research and the production of foods and medicines.
As a black American, I consider this opposition as elitism in
its cruelest form since the poorest members of the population,
blacks in particular, are going to suffer because of it.
If you think advances in food science
have not affected you, think again. Genetically-modified ingredients
are already used in everyday items like Coca-Cola, Heinz ketchup
and Betty Crocker cake mixes.2 Pretty much everything in the
produce section of a supermarket is improved by science. And
you don't think decaffeinated coffee beans came about naturally,
Science is making food easier to grow
and better for us. Biotechnology creates hearty plants that can
grow in climates and conditions that could not previously sustain
them. According to a 1997 estimate by the World Bank and the
Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research, agriculture
in the developing world will increase by 25% as a result of biotechnology.
Scientific research makes it possible for farmers to use fewer
herbicides to keep plants bug-free. And biotechnology makes foods
healthier. Already, you can eat rice fortified with iron, broccoli
that helps fight cancer and tomatoes that contain added doses
of Vitamin A-producing beta-carotene.
Before the tomatoes can go to market,
the government puts them and every other genetically-modified
product through rigorous testing to ensure their safety. It takes
approximately eight to ten years for a new product to gain government
approval, and it is still under the regulatory control of the
Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture, Environmental
Protection Agency and state regulators.4
Considering the benefits of biotechnology
and the stringent government policies ensuring their safety,
why the opposition? Unfortunately, you must realize that environmental
radicals regularly put the needs of rocks and slugs before the
needs of mankind. Their campaign against science, if successful,
could lead to hard times and worse for the poor and minorities
here in the United States and in Africa.
Despite recent advances in the workplace
and the growth of the black middle class, there are millions
of us who still live in sub-standard conditions in urban areas
and who bring home meager salaries that keep us there. By shunning
biotechnology, we are being denied the benefits other Americans
take for granted. Produce that has a longer shelf life and more
nutritional value at lower prices would be a godsend to urban
blacks who must usually rely on corner markets that don't get
the same quality stock as the Fresh Fields in the suburbs.
A recent article in the Washington City
Paper reported how the junk food culture that rules our urban
communities has plagued black youths with deadly weight problems,
giving them diabetes and other ailments once seen only in older
Americans.5 This problem will only grow as long as those communities
are denied access to better, healthier fare.
Then there is the problem of the African
homeland. Sub-Saharan Africa has an infant mortality rate of
9.2%, and three million children who have survived are blind
due to a lack of Vitamin A in their diets.6 Biotechnology can
now provide rice and tomatoes rich in Vitamin A. It can create
crops that are resistant to insect predators, need less fertilizer
and reduce soil erosion. Existing crops like cassava and papaya
can be genetically-modified to beat back the viruses and insects
that devastated them in the past.7
Will opponents of biotechnology stop
this progress? They are enlisting their allies in Congress to
call for more restrictions on research and implementation. But
while these elitists can still drive their VW Beetles to Fresh
Fields for organic lettuce, inner city blacks must rely on the
local Wendy's for their tomatoes and their brothers in Africa
continue to starve. Apparently more blacks must die so that they
can save the world.
1 "Edible Vaccines,"
Biotechnology Industry Organization, 1999.
# # #
2 Scott Kilman, "Food Fight: Biotech Scare Sweeps Europe,
and Companies Wonder if U.S. is Next," Wall Street Journal,
October 17, 1999.
3 Food Marketing Institute Backgrounder: Technology and Food,
downloaded on November 22, 1999 from http://www.fmi.org/media/bg/biotech.html.
4 Amy Ridenour, "Tastes Great, Less Filling: New Bioengineered
Foods Bring Benefits to Consumers," National Policy Analysis
No. 272, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington,
DC, December 1999.
5 Stephanie Mencimer, "Hiding in Plain Sight," Washington
City Paper, June 16-22, 2000.
6 "Sub-Saharan Africa: Data and Statistics," World
7 Michael Centrone, "Biotechnology: Putting an End to World
Hunger," National Policy Analysis No. 289, The National
Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC, June 2000.
John Meredith is a member of the National
Advisory Council of The National Center for Public Policy Research's
Project 21. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.