Op-Ed: GMO Lives Matter I: What is the Green Revolution?

These days we’re used to seeing the word “green” used as an adjective to describe everything from various technologies to entire philosophies and movements, including those of political nature. There are green parties in nearly 90 countries in the world, including the Green Party of the United States. The green parties are typically associated with liberalism, but there are also green conservatives, libertarians, anarchist, etc. What unites them is that they all collectively embrace environmental concerns. The core of each of these are relatively well-known in western society and have their roots in environmentalism. While that is great and all, you will hardly find people these days who are familiar with the much different “green revolution” that began in the 1940’s; a scientific revolution that has quite literally saved an estimated more than one billion lives thus far, and actually provides solutions to environmental issues.

Despite the fact that genetic engineering has proven to be a reliable method of solving the problems that environmentalists haven’t let us forget about, many individuals within this same crowd of people often times are part of the movements that rail against this very technology. This is what I like to call “the height of irony”, and a dangerous entity with its roots based solely in ignorance.

The Mexican government and the Rockefeller Foundation united around a common goal of increasing grain yields for a rapidly growing population with a diminishing food supply and established a plant-breeding station. They brought to the table a weapon of mass destruction: Dr. Norman Borlaug (1914-2009), an American biologist and plant breeder from the University of Minnesota, who had recently developed a high-yield, disease-resistant wheat plant. In 1944, Mexico relied on importing about half of their wheat. Twelve years later in 1956, the country was officially self-sustained with their wheat production and was exporting ½ million tons of it by 1964. This was a production increase of an astounding more than 600%, as pointed out in the documentary film entitled Freedom From Famine: The Norman Borlaug Story produced by a collaborative effort between the Mathile Institute for the Advancement of Human Nutrition and Courter Films & Associates.

In time, this new agricultural technology would show its face Pakistan and India. Dr. Borlaug’s work nearly doubled each of the two nation’s wheat production between 1965 and 1970, saving millions of people from starvation.  In just twenty years, annual wheat production in India had been increased almost fourfold from what it was before; going from producing twelve million tons in 1966 to forty-seven million tons in 1986. This only takes into account one of many genetically modified (GMO) crops. What about all the others?

I’m glad I asked. With the help of Dr. Borlaug, Mexico founded a research institute called The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). It was in that setting that Borlaug worked together with the Ford Foundation to develop a new variety of rice called ‘IR8’. This technology essentially saved the country of India, which was on the brink of a mass famine in the 1960’s. Today, however, the Indian food situation is very different as the country is now one of the world’s leading producers of rice. The use of IR8 rice subsequently spread all throughout the continent of Asia following India’s adoption of the crop. Nowadays, rice is considered by many to be the single most important crop on the globe as it accounts for 80% of the total calories consumed by 2.7 billion Asians; which happens to be nearly half of the world’s rapidly growing population. Though the yield of these crops been massively increased, we have managed to do this without having to increase the amount of land used for agriculture. The amount of arable farmland available is expected to decrease in the coming years. Without GMO crops, we would have to further encroach on most of the remaining natural habitats in the world such as forests to be able to keep up with the growing global demand for food.

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Speaking of rapid population growth: boy, do we have issues. Recent estimates have suggested that approximately 6.5% of all people ever born are alive this very moment. Considering the fact that we’ve been here about 200,000 years, that’s a gigantic rate of growth to experience in real time. There are currently about 7 billion of us on the face of the planet. Just as the Freedom From Famine documentary points out, in 1975 there were only 3.9 billion people on earth. Our population has nearly doubled from what it ever has been in just more than forty years out of approximately two hundred thousand! In the year 1800, there were less than one billion. All though the overall rate of growth is slowing down, that doesn’t discount the fact that our population is estimated to be at a whopping 8.9 billion people by 2025.

Dr. Norman Borlaug’s work as a scientist has arguably been among the most important in human history. Which is probably why he’s the only individual to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize (1970), U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977), and the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal (2006) during his lifetime. He also was awarded the United Nations FAO Agricola Medal (2010), but not until the year after his death. All though the success of the green revolution has been profound, there are still a lot of people in the world who are starving. Those of you concerned with the scary GMO foods need to take this sort of information very carefully into account before going and rehashing the propaganda put forth by pseudoscientific outlets such as Natural News. We’ll continue to explore the misinformation you can find all over the web more in-depth in part II of this series.

Joshua D. Speer

I'm an undergraduate student living in Denver, CO. I am currently working on my prerequisites at Front Range Community College--where I'm a staff writer for the Front Page (campus newspaper) and chapter president of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL). I intend to transfer into a four-year Bioengineering program, sub-specialty of Neuroengineering. Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @JoshuaDSpeer.

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