by: Dean Kleckner, Chairman, Truth About Trade & Technology –
You see a lot of lopsided scores in college football, especially early in the season when powerhouse teams play out-of-conference games against smaller schools.
But a billion to nothing?
That’s the score in the debate between farmers, researchers and consumers who support agricultural biotechnology and the anti-biotech crowd who oppose it.
A billion is a very big number–it’s the American way of saying a thousand million. It starts with a one and has nine zeroes after it.
This week, a farmer harvested the world’s one-billionth acre of biotech crops. We don’t know exactly where it took place, but we do believe the milestone was reached in the northern hemisphere on or about October 2, based upon officially reported statistics. It could have been a soybean farmer in Kansas, a canola producer in Ontario, or a corn grower in Spain. Maybe the commodity was cotton, harvested in California, China, or India.
What we do know, however, is that the billionth acre of biotech crops was planted earlier this year–on May 9, by our calculations–and that the time has come to reap what we sowed.
It took ten years to get here. A decade ago, biotech crops were commercially available for the first time. Farmers around the world adopted them very quickly because they increased yields and lowered costs. They’re also conservation-friendly, reducing pressure to convert wilderness into farmland. Anybody who believes in saving the rainforests knows how important that is, especially as global population grows.
A billion acres is a lot of land–an almost incomprehensible amount of it. Just how big is a billion? Think of it this way: A billion seconds ago, it was 1964. A billion minutes ago, it was roughly 100 A.D.–the Roman Empire was still around and the Bible was still being written. And a billion hours ago, it was the Stone Age.
So one billion acres of harvested biotech crops is an awful lot of food.
While farmers have been growing genetically improved crops and just about everybody has been eating it, extremist groups like Greenpeace have gotten hoarse screaming about “Frankenfood.”
But what do they have to show for their efforts? Absolutely nothing.
The enemies of biotechnology would love to uncover a tiny hint of evidence showing genetically enhanced crops to be bad for your health. They’ve searched high and low for any indication of this, but like those people who roam the Sierras looking for signs of Bigfoot, they simply can’t find any.
The latest research, just published in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, confirms what scientists have said for years at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Academy of Sciences: Biotech enhanced food is no different from any other kind of food we put on our dinner tables.
That won’t be true for long, because soon biotech food actually will be better for you. In the first ten years of its commercial life, biotech crops primarily have contained “producer traits.” In other words, farmers have been the ones who first recognized the advantages. In the not-too-distant future, however, biotech food will boast consumer traits as well. Heart-healthy soybeans are here today – one of many crops that has been in the research-and-development pipeline, promising to become a staple of the American diet.
Now that biotech crops have reached the billion-acre milestone, we continue to say in total confidence: This is a proven technology. It’s not experimental or risky. Instead, it’s the latest form of the breeding methods that have allowed farmers over thousands of years to turn wild plants into domesticated crops. The miracle of biotechnology is that now we’ll make faster progress.
The score won’t remain a billion to nothing for long, because farmers are going to keep on planting and harvesting acres of biotech crops. And it won’t take a whole decade to do it a billion more times.
Folks, this game is over. At some point, we’re going to have to invoke the mercy rule.
Dean Kleckner is an Iowa farmer and past president of the American Farm Bureau. He chairs Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org) a national non-profit based in Des Moines, IA, formed and led by farmers in support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology.