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Food Fore Thought

Europe can't taste the future

SUSAN ALLEN

As more of America's intellectually elite embrace the benefits of plant biotechnology, it is rumored that we are again on the cusp of a new agricultural movement, reminiscent of the green revolution 40 years ago.

In the early 1960's a group of scientists and students deemed "scientific rebels" caused a world-wide revolution in farming by teaching peasants how to farm more efficiently using new varieties of wheat that were pest resistant, climate hardy and high yielding. The scientist credited for launching the "Green Revolution" and receiving the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for this effort was Dr. Norman Borlaug.

Today it is a new generation of "scientific rebels" that explore the cutting edge of plant biotechnology. Like their earlier counterparts, they are facing the usual hostile opposition to a paradigm shift in technology. This time, however, it is from an unanticipated foe... the European continent.

Quite simply, Europeans seem unable to taste the future.

So, why does technology that many see as a miracle, frighten Europeans so?

Europeans who oppose GM crops do so for a myriad of reasons. Many strongly favor traditional farming practices, having not been exposed to large production agriculture like most Americans. There is the concern that GMO crops cannot be contained, coupled with the unwarranted fear that they will spawn super pests, "Franken bugs". Topping it off is a strong dose of cynicism from Germany and France who view anything from the U.S. with skepticism. Thus, the nasty mix of dialog does not leave much room for reason.

The EU position continues to rub salt in the American farmer's wound. Now the EU is preparing to implement new GM labeling laws. Fearing that other countries throughout the world could follow suit, Washington is lobbying hard against such strict labeling. American farmers have estimated that the restrictions on GMO foods in Europe have cost them $300 million a year in just corn exports alone.

In the words of writer Bruce Sterling, "the potentials of GM Food should be dead obvious to us all. It is a miracle technology that if properly handled by a mature, honest insightful society could make it possible to grow bountiful crops on marginal lands."

The European mindset is all the more ironic when balanced with the legacy of Norman Borlaug. Now in his nineties the father of the Green Revolution, Dr. Borlaug is still actively urging his followers to be "scientific rebels". Hopefully, Mr. Borlaug's philosophy will help convert the current brood of European skeptics, and Europe will finally be able to "taste the future".

Susan Allen writes for Allen Media, the public relations firm responsible for distributing the Food Fore Thought monthly column.

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