August 11, 2000, Friday
Bio-foods can end hunger in America and starvation and disease in Africa
By John Meredith
WASHINGTON _ Wouldn't you rather eat a banana than get a shot? I know that
I would. Science now makes it possible to get a vaccination against
hepatitis, which kills an estimated 100 million people per year worldwide,
simply by eating a banana.
A breakthrough in the field of biotechnology, it virtually eliminates the
storage and sterilization concerns previously necessary for injections. It
also saves money, costing just two cents for a banana instead of $125 for
But this and other marvels of genetic-modification are at risk.
Environmentalists are attacking biotechnology, trying to convince the
government and the public that the science is unsafe.
What's really unsafe, however, is their attempt to stop valuable research
and the production of foods and medicines. As a black American, I consider
this opposition as elitism in its cruelest form since the poorest members
of the population, blacks in particular, are going to suffer because of
If you think advances in food science have not affected you, think again.
Genetically modified ingredients are already used in everyday items like
Coca-Cola, Heinz ketchup and Betty Crocker cake mixes. Pretty much
everything in the produce section of a supermarket is improved by science.
And you don't think decaffeinated coffee beans came about naturally, do
you? Science is making food easier to grow and better for us.
Biotechnology creates hearty plants that can grow in climates and
conditions that could not previously sustain them. According to a 1997
estimate by the World Bank and the Consultative Group on International
Agriculture Research, agriculture in the developing world will increase by
25 percent as a result of biotechnology. That's great news for sub-Sahara
Africa, where starvation and malnutrition are cutting a wide and deadly
Scientific research makes it possible for farmers to use fewer herbicides
to keep plants bug-free. And biotechnology makes foods healthier. Already,
you can eat rice fortified with iron, broccoli that helps fight cancer and
tomatoes that contain added doses of Vitamin A-producing beta-carotene.
Before the tomatoes can go to market, the government puts them and every
other genetically modified product through rigorous testing to ensure
their safety. It takes approximately eight to 10 years for a new product
to gain government approval, and it is still under the regulatory control
of the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture,
Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators.
Considering the benefits of biotechnology and the stringent government
policies ensuring their safety, why the opposition? Unfortunately, you
must realize that environmental radicals regularly put the needs of rocks
and slugs before the needs of mankind. Their campaign against science, if
successful, could lead to hard times and worse for the poor and minorities
here in the United States and in Africa.
Despite recent advances in the workplace and the growth of the black
middle class, there are millions of us who still live in substandard
conditions in urban areas and who bring home meager salaries that keep us
there. By shunning biotechnology, we are being denied the benefits other
Americans take for granted.
Produce that has a longer shelf life and more nutritional value at lower
prices would be a godsend to urban blacks who must usually rely on corner
markets that don't get the same quality stock as the Fresh Fields in the
Then there is the problem of the African homeland. Sub-Saharan Africa has
an infant mortality rate of 9.2 percent, and 3 million children who have
survived are blind due to a lack of Vitamin A in their diets.
Biotechnology can now provide rice and tomatoes rich in Vitamin A. It can
create crops that are resistant to insect predators, need less fertilizer
and reduce soil erosion. Existing crops like cassava and papaya can
be genetically modified to beat back the viruses and insects that
devastated them in the past.
Will opponents of biotechnology stop this progress? They are enlisting
their allies in Congress to call for more restrictions on research and
But while these elitists can still drive their VW Beetles to Fresh Fields
for organic lettuce, inner-city blacks must rely on the local Wendy's for
their tomatoes and their brothers in Africa continue to starve. Apparently
more blacks must die so that they can save the world.
ABOUT THE WRITER
John Meredith is a member of the African-American leadership network
Project 21 of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a
nonpartisan think-tank. The son of Mississippi civil rights leader James
Meredith, he is a board member of two community-based nonprofit
organizations and the national co-chairman of minority outreach for an
independent election monitoring group. Readers may write to him at
NCPPR, 777 N. Capitol NE, Suite 803, Washington, D.C. 20002, or e-mail him