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Norman Borlaug Blasts GMO Doomsayers

Africa News Service
By Tervil Okoko
June 7, 2000

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Nobel Prize laureate, Dr Norman E. Borlaug, has defended the utilisation of Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs to boost food production in the world.

He told a forum organised in his honour at the Nairobi International Centre for Research in Agriculture and Forestry Monday that such organisms could play a key role in bringing about food security.

"There is no evidence to indicate that biotechnology is dangerous. After all, mother nature has been doing this kind of thing for God knows how long," he said. Told a packed hall consisting of researchers and food scientists in the Kenyan capital.

He dismissed the critics of GMOs as people who had not produced even a kg of food and yet were yelping about bio-safety and the dangers involved in the technology.

Borlaug, who received a Nobel Peace in 1970 for his efforts to feed a hungry world, said genetic engineering (a term he prefers to GMOs) was the only technology that must be embraced by countries whose food supply is threatened by the inequalities of the world. Citing the examples of China and Brazil where cereal production has gone up more than two-fold making the former the current world's leading cereal producer, he said biotechnology was the surest existing way to ensure food security in Africa and other developing countries. Maize, if given the right push, he noted, will sufficiently feed Sub-Saharan Africa.

"We need sophisticated scientific technology to boost our production," he said without batting an eye-lid to the danger supposed to be posed by such ventures.

Responding to questions on why he was advocating for an open adventure into genetically engineering at a time when most countries are preaching zero risk in respect to bio-safety, Borlaug dismissed the zero-risk idea, saying it was a non issue where only plant genes are concerned, and not chemicals. He said zero-risk is something that does not exist and not tenable in a biological world where things kept on changing.

Asked who is going to be concerned with the bio-safety once a floodgate has been opened for genetic engineering, he described people who have been championing a GMO-free world as "utopian thinkers" who do not understand the complexities of food production. "Dosage makes the poison. But vitamins, which are vital, are taken in smaller quantities. If we could get a gene from rice - because rice does not suffer from rust - and then use it to protect other crops that suffer from rust like wheat, that would be a big revolution, and that will not be dangerous to human health in any way," he added.

He said Africa is undergoing political instability because there is not enough food to feed the people. "We need more investments in agriculture and we must stop looking at agriculture as a donkey's profession," he said. Borlaug challenged African leaders to embark on productive technology that would ensure predictable food supply to their masses. "The so called GMOs can play a very vital role in peoples' lives. However, this must be accompanied by political goodwill because technology alone cannot survive without decisive support," he said.

He, however, called for the establishment of responsible government agencies to police the GMO imports.

Borlaug is the president of Sasakawa Africa Association, a body that runs various food technology projects across Africa including Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Ethiopia, Guinea, Tanzania, Mozambique Malawi and Uganda. He is the father of the famous "Green Revolution" that enabled India and Pakistan to increase cereal production from 12 million to 68 million tonnes within 35 years. He has dedicated more than five decades to fight for the end of world hunger and the acceleration of agricultural productivity in developing nations.

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