Commentary: Brother billionaires
Taking GMOs off the hit list
But talk about burying the lead to the story.
You had to read far down in the gushing news reports about the event to uncover the fact that this initiative will not be another Green Revolution—at least not one using conventional hybridization techniques, as happened 50 years ago. The $25 million initial investment Gates and Slim are making to the Mexican center will fund construction of a new cluster of biotechnology labs.
That addition will include hothouses with “high-efficiency air filters and a water treatment plant to prevent pollen and genetically modified material from escaping to the outdoors,” according to a statement by the Gates Foundation.
In a quaint turn of phrase, Thomas Lumpkin, the director of the International Center, opined that “genetic splicing is joining cross-pollination as one of the tools in the toolbox.”
Try selling that line to the anti-GMO forces Stateside.
While Lumpkin claimed that hybridization represents “a sort of genetic modification,” albeit by selective planting and breeding, he acknowledged that the center hasn’t shipped any genetically engineered seeds yet, and that some countries might have concerns.
“We want to facilitate the movement of those (genetic) traits to the countries of the developing world that request them, that want them,” he said. “Nothing is being pushed, nothing is being forced, and CIMMYT will not profit.”
For his part, Gates told reporters that, “There are legitimate issues, but solvable issues” regarding genetically modified crops. One of those solutions, he said, could include distributing GM crops that are patented but require no royalty payments.
If that happens it would represent a monumental change in the current status of nearly all commercially available GM seeds and a way to defuse what activists typically roll out as one of their strongest arguments (other than the peril of Frankenfoods) to demonize genetic engineering.
Ultimately, the value of this joint venture, if a modern business tactic apply to a non-profit, is twofold.
First of all with the combined clout of Gates and Slim, nobody—but nobody—can pretend to ignore the import of what these two hope to accomplish in regard to, arguably, the world’s biggest future challenge: food security. When you can write checks with nine zeroes, the world pays attention.
Second, the Gates Foundation has scrupulously adhered to a strong scientific rationale for virtually all of its investments, whether in agriculture, health care or education. Agree or disagree, for example, with the foundation’s support of online educational tools and private charter schools, the bottom line for anyone who gets a grant from Gates is always the same: Deliver results.