More about Norman Borlaug |

More about Norman Borlaug

Last week’s column introduced Norman Borlaug, a man who saved a billion lives by his crop experimentation and won a Nobel Peace Prize for it.

If you missed the column, you can research Borlaug online. He was a man who realized that one way to help alleviate starvation around the world was by modifying crops.

Borlaug pointed out, “With the earth’s population increasing exponentially, all these new people can be fed in only one of two ways. Either we significantly increase yields on the land now in production, or we plow under the remaining rainforests and other habitats for wild plants and animals in order to have more land to farm. Biotechnology will help preserve the ecosystem while also reducing hunger and malnutrition, by providing these increased yields.”

Fast forward to the current day when the attitude of a certain segment of our population believes that the only reason a company works to improve crops is the almighty dollar. These are the same people who complained vehemently about pesticides and herbicides being used on crops. Manufacturing companies listened and responded by modifying plants with the thought of reducing chemicals necessary to produce abundant agricultural products. The loud minority complained about that. Considering most of these naysayers wouldn’t know a corn stalk from a tumbleweed, they certainly have strong opinions. Paraphrasing Ronald Reagan, they know a lot that isn’t so.


Borlaug explained the logic behind genetic engineered crops. “Many people in the environmental movement confuse chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Fertilizers are chosen because they can help plants grow and produce more; they supplement and improve the soil. Pesticides are chosen because they are deadly to pests. Crops genetically engineered to resist pests make it easier to grow food without the use of pesticides.” It is important to realize there are trade-offs.

For example, Chris Dowswell, an assistant to Borlaug, pointed out a National Academy of Science study of the use of BT cotton, which is genetically engineered to resist many pests, prevented the use of 21,000 tons of poisonous pesticides in a single season. “It’s the same with genetically engineered corn,” Borlaug said. “If you listen to some in the environmental movement, you get the impression we’re on the verge of being poisoned out of existence. The truth is, we have a longer better life now than our grandparents did. A girl baby born in 1900 had a life expectancy on average of 48 years, for a baby boy, it was 46.”

Many readers remember what it was like to live before antibiotics and they are especially grateful that pharmaceutical companies developed the products. Those who are too young to realize the good that comes with these scientific discoveries are the ones who are more likely to be against improvements. Even Borlaug reminded, “Antibiotics have been made by genetic engineering for years and no one complains.”

There is a misperception by a minority in this country that mankind’s abilities to improve plants, whether by grafting, genetic modifying or any other manner, must be negative. Perhaps with a bit of education these individuals will understand why the changes are important. ❖

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