Julie Borlaug says biotech is necessary in fight against hunger

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click image to zoomTexas A&M AgriLife ResearchJulie Borlaug, granddaughter of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug and associate director for the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, delivers the keynote address advocating science and biotechnology as important tools in addressing global food security at the recent Ag Issues Forum in San Antonio. Julie Borlaug, granddaughter of Nobel Peace prize laureate and father of the Green Revolution Dr. Norman Borlaug, recently presented the keynote address to 165 U.S. and foreign newspaper, television, radio and Internet journalists at the 9th annual Ag Issues Forum in San Antonio.

The forum, presented by Bayer CropScience, was held in advance of the annual Commodity Classic, which is touted as the “nation’s largest farmer-led and farmer-focused convention and trade show.“

In her address, Borlaug, who is associate director for external relations at the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, part of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M University System, said her grandfather was a strong proponent of science and biotechnology as “weapons in the fight against world hunger.” She urged forum attendees to help “educate and inform the public” about the need for continued scientific and biotechnological advances in agriculture to feed a growing world population.

“In my view, advocates of biotechnology desperately need to do a better job of explaining to the public why it is so important to the future of humanity and why we should not deprive millions, even billions, of people from its promise,” she said. “Science has spoken and the consensus is that genetically modified foods are safe and have the same nutritional value as organics.”

Borlaug noted that the world population, currently estimated at 7.2 billion, is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050.

“Almost all of that growth will be in undeveloped or underdeveloped countries and in locations where smallholder farmers are already struggling to raise sufficient crops,” Borlaug said. “I wonder how many opposed to biotechnology have ever been to an undeveloped country where agricultural workers, many of whom are women, spend their days pulling weeds, hauling water and fighting against crop loss from insects, viruses, bacteria and fungi.

“Without the life-changing and life-saving innovations of science and biotechnology, such as crops that are more drought, pest or disease resistant, how can these small-landholder farmers hope to advance beyond mere subsistence, much less provide food to feed others?”
Borlaug said she hoped scientists, journalists and others either directly involved in or communicating about biotechnology would find more practical and uncomplicated terms and “jargon” to describe its benefits and make a better case for the necessity of agricultural advancements.

She noted some of the benefits of the application of proper science and biotechnology to agricultural crops included reducing the need for chemical inputs such as pesticides and herbicides, a smaller carbon imprint from less need for mechanized plowing and tilling, and the ability to specifically modify foods to contain more nutrients and grow in difficult environments.

“Opponents of what are termed GMOs or genetically modified organisms often use emotional and anti-corporate arguments to state their case,” she said. “But the real emotional appeal should be toward the vital and practical need for such innovation in the face of global food insecurity and the social instability this can cause.

“Most people in developed countries seem to have the perspective that food is somehow grown in the grocery store and is plentiful because they’ve never seen a shortage in their lifetime. They somehow feel, in spite of extensive research showing there is no nutritional difference between genetically modified foods and ‘organics,’ that non-modified foods are the only ones people should eat.”

She added that her grandfather was a scientist, but like many scientists he had “some difficulty in explaining why science is important.”

“But his innovation of developing a dwarf wheat triggered the Green Revolution — a true agricultural quantum leap that saved more than a billion lives,” she said.

She noted that March 25 of this year would have marked her grandfather’s 100th birthday, and that Dr. Norman Borlaug passed away in 2009 at age 95 after spending most of his life searching for ways to address world hunger.

“It’s ironic to me that some people would like to somehow go back a hundred years, to the time when my grandfather was born, in terms of agriculture and agricultural advancement,” she said. “But my granddad was not only a scientist and humanitarian, he was also a realist who understood that agriculture must always keep moving forward, not backward. He knew that science could and should be used to meet the challenges of farmers and others involved in agriculture throughout the world.”

She noted the recent destruction of a field of genetically engineered golden rice by protesters in the Philippines as an example of misdirected social conscience.

“This rice was to provide a new source of vitamin A, an essential nutrient whose absence causes blindness in a quarter-million to a half-million children, as well as about 2 million deaths, in Africa and Asia each year. It’s hard to believe anyone would want to deny this important food source to those who would so profoundly benefit from it.”

The key is choice, Borlaug said.

“We wouldn’t want to tell people not to eat organic foods, even if they’re paying more for something that’s nutritionally no different from genetically modified foods or because there’s no real ‘standard’ for organic production,” she said. “Conversely, we feel people should certainly be allowed to choose foods that have been improved and enhanced through biotechnology.”

However, she added, this is not to imply that biotechnology is the cure-all for world hunger.

“Multiple, integrated solutions are needed,” Borlaug said. “Farmers in underdeveloped countries need drought-resistant seeds, fresh water from improved irrigation, enhanced post-harvest storage and better roads for getting their crop to market. Biotechnology is just one of the tools the world needs to ensure adequate food security for this generation and the next.”

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Mischa Popoff    
Greenville TX  |  March, 10, 2014 at 03:07 PM

There was a time when activists were all about choice. Now they want to limit our choices in the name of preserving some spiritual vision of what the environment once was. This world will be a much better place when people who don't work on farms stop trying to tell farmers what choices they should make.

Arthur Tesla    
Petaluma  |  March, 11, 2014 at 01:39 PM

The world will be better when farmers grow food and not genetically engineered poison. You are not producing food in a void. There is a consumer out there. What does the consumer want? Consumers are Opposed to genetically engineered foods. It is a poor marketing strategy to try to Force on consumers something they don't want!!

Indiana  |  March, 25, 2014 at 04:39 PM

Personally, I am offended that you think you can speak for another consumer, or other thinking people who would disagree 100 percent with assumptions!! I for one trust what the GMO intentions are providing nutritious food, scientifically for a growing population. If, you don't want GMO food, don't eat it, I respect that, but to push your fears onto the real world, and real world issues is seriously misguided. GMO food is engineered for a very noble cause, and I respect that too.

Washington  |  April, 03, 2014 at 12:30 AM

I may not agree with you but you have a valid opinion. Though, you say "if you don't want GMO food don't eat it" but the truth is GMA is trying to pass a bill to ban GMO labeling. Which would take away our freedom of choice. We the people have the right to know what we are consuming and cannot allow this to pass! It outrages me that they want to trample our rights and also deny individual states constitutional rights to pass food safety laws as well. This is something that we need to take action on as the people, first and for most.

South Carolina  |  April, 11, 2014 at 09:13 PM

But can we, really, choose not to eat GMOs when the pollen crosses with non-GMO varieties, and wild varieties, genetically modifying them as well? GMOs are not being grown under domes. They're replacing the natural plants. Please, stop lying ablut feeding the starving people of the world. Those people fed themselves before, saving seed,growing real food. Those that got duped into growing this monstruosity replaced their forests and multycrop gardens with this monocrops meant to feed cattle and pigs in other continents, so now they are starving. GMOs are starving them! They are also getting sprayed with poisons with the consequence of miscarriages and deformed children, and rare kidney diseases, and cancer.

Sylvia Walker    
Tustin, CA  |  April, 11, 2014 at 09:15 PM

Here is a perspective by a third-generation Iowa farmer who warns of the dangers of GMOs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDHumw0ossc

Sylvia Walker    
Tustin, CA  |  April, 11, 2014 at 09:21 PM

Here is what Dr. Lorrin Pang, the state health care officer for Maui County, Hawaii. has to say about the need for caution--much more than is currently being display--with GMOs. Here are some of Dr. Pang's credentials: graduated with honors in chemistry from Princeton, then went to medical school in Tulane and has a masters in tropical medicine, as well as many years of experience in public health (including 24 years with the Walter Reed Institute of Research and the World Health Organization). You have to stay with the video for a while to get to the heart of the content, but I think that it is worth it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCGIf0GSwX8

Berkeley  |  April, 12, 2014 at 12:52 AM

Actually most consumers do NOT have a choice if they want to eat GMOs or not. And please don't say we do by eating organic. This is not an organic vs GMO issue. Labeling is about giving EVERYONE the Right to choose which food is best for them. AND this noble cause to feed the world is such BS. We throw 40% of our food away. And let's talk about fear. You should be afraid. Very afraid. We have no clue what the long term consequences of growing and eating GMOs will do. We do know that farm animals that eat GMOs are very unhealthy. We do know glyphosate has been found in our blood and breast milk. We do know that 1 in 50 kids has autism. And the number is getting worst.

Berkeley  |  April, 12, 2014 at 01:04 AM

Micsha - so you think consumers should just shut up and eat whatever food farmers grows? What happen to the free market that is driven by demand. Or that the consumer is king. Nope, in your world, Big Biotech and Big Agri create the supply and then through false advertisements and propaganda tell consumers what to eat. Yep, and you would call that Food Freedom? Wake up, we don't have food choice as Big Food is trying to water down the standards for organic food. Soon all food will be cheap, crappy, industrialized, Roundup saturated GMO foods. And subsidized with my taxes.

Pietro Belfiore    
West Chester  |  April, 24, 2014 at 09:55 PM

If I knew what contains GMO I wouldn't eat it, by the way the struggle of GMA in opposing GMO labeling says enough in terms of good faith. Don't forget that official science put Galileo in prison because of his heretical deviant assumptions! Does it ring any bell about interests hidden by noble causes?


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