After a special all-organic lunch Thursday arranged by
Alice Waters, proprietor of Berkeley's famous Chez Panisse restaurant,
Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug made a prediction: There will come a day,
he said, when genetically engineered foods will be considered organic
and they may wind up on Chez Panisse menus.
Waters may demur -- but Borlaug knows agriculture.
He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work with
high-yield wheat in India and Pakistan. His introduction of hybrids
he developed in Mexico caused what is called the Green Revolution, which
ended starvation in India and Pakistan in the 1960s.
China developed the same methods, high-yield hybrid wheat
and rice coupled with the ferocious application of fertilizer that ended
most starvation in that country.
Now Borlaug, who is spry and alert at 89, is in Africa
-- trying to create a new green revolution. He's teamed up with former
President Jimmy Carter and partners in a dozen African nations -- supported
by a Japanese foundation.
Africa is the place where help from America and other
developing countries to fight AIDS, to improve human life is badly needed,
The alternative is starving people, chaos and terrorism,
Waters -- long an advocate of food produced locally by
nonchemical means -- hosted an international group of environmentalists
enrolled in a course on sustainable environmental management at the
University of California, Berkeley. Borlaug spoke last week at the university.
In an interview, 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, he said.
Pesticides are poisons. They are chosen because they are
deadly to pests, he said. Crops genetically engineered to resist pests
make it easier to grow food without the use of pesticides, he said.
Eventually they are going to become common and widely accepted because
they reduce the use of killer chemicals.
An associate, Chris Dowswell, pointed out a recent 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. "Besides, antibio- tics have been made by genetic
engineering for years and no one complains."
Dowswell noted that total world production of cereal grains
in 1950 was 680 metric tons. By 2000, it had reached two billion tons,
more than a threefold increase on less than a 10 percent increase in
"Had you tried to produce the 2000 harvest, using
1950 technology, you would have had to add millions of acres of land,
decimating forests and wildlands, he 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,"
Borlaug said. "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.
"Today, we have a longer, better life. In 2000, on
average a girl baby had a life expectancy of 74 years; for a boy baby
it was slightly less," he said.
But Africa is one place the green revolution is having
a rough go, the Nobel Laureate said. Unlike India, Pakistan and even
North Africa, where introduction of new strains of rice, corn and wheat
have been successful, the continent below the Sahara is difficult.
First, there are no railroads and few roads leading into
agricultural areas, making it difficult to bring in fertilizers, which
are heavy. There also are few schools in rural areas and many young
people -- who learn about cities on their radios, have turned their
backs on agriculture and move to cities, where they find themselves
in dismal straits, he said.
Massive intervention by developed nations is needed, he
And forget the multi-nationals. If a corporation was to
put money in African -- stockholders would revolt, because it would
be many years before a company could expect a profit, he said.