GMO Opponents Are Immoral, Argues Purdue University President Mitch Daniels

GoldenRiceIRRIMitch Daniels is right: It's past time to tell your anti-GMO friends, family and neighbors they are helping to kill poor people.

Today in a Washington Post op-ed, the former Indiana governor and current president of Purdue University cogently argues, "Avoiding GMOs isn't just anti-science. It's immoral." Daniels observes:

Of the several claims of "anti-science" that clutter our national debates these days, none can be more flagrantly clear than the campaign against modern agricultural technology, most specifically the use of molecular techniques to create genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Here, there are no credibly conflicting studies, no arguments about the validity of computer models, no disruption of an ecosystem nor any adverse human health or even digestive problems, after 5 billion acres have been cultivated cumulatively and trillions of meals consumed.

And yet a concerted, deep-pockets campaign, as relentless as it is baseless, has persuaded a high percentage of Americans and Europeans to avoid GMO products, and to pay premium prices for "non-GMO" or "organic" foods that may in some cases be less safe and less nutritious.

Daniels properly excoriates academic scientists, regulators, along with food and agricultural companies for their cowardly reticence in challenging "an aggressive, often self-interested anti-GMO lobby that is indifferent to the facts and quick with ad hominem attacks."

So what should be done? Daniels asserts:

It's time to move the argument to a new plane. For the rich and well-fed to deny Africans, Asians or South Americans the benefits of modern technology is not merely anti-scientific. It's cruel, it's heartless, it's inhumane — and it ought to be confronted on moral grounds that ordinary citizens, including those who have been conned into preferring non-GMO Cheerios, can understand.

Travel to Africa with any of Purdue University's three recent World Food Prize winners, and you won't find the conversation dominated by anti-GMO protesters. There, where more than half of the coming population increase will occur, consumers and farmers alike are eager to share in the life-saving and life-enhancing advances that modern science alone can bring. Efforts to persuade them otherwise, or simply block their access to the next round of breakthroughs, are worse than anti-scientific. They're immoral.

The Journal of Markets and Morality asked me two years ago to debate statistician Nassim Taleb on the question "Do GMOs [genetically modified organisms] present cause for moral concern?" The editor of the journal explained, "The goal of this controversy is to assist our readership (economists, political scientists, theologians, moral philosophers, ethicists) in developing a more informed understanding of the issues at stake in the current state of the GMO debate, addressing concerns of fact, morality, and policy."

In my initial essay, I detailed the strong scientific consensus is that current versions of genetically enhanced crops are safe for people and the natural environment. In addition, I pointed out that modern biotech crops could play a big role in helping to increase the availability of healthful food to the poor around the world. I concluded, "Fallacious arguments against developing and growing modern biotech crops is cause for great moral concern."

Taleb was invited to participate because he and some colleagues had put together a mish-mash of a paper filled with statistical mystifications and handwaving to argue the modern crop biotechnology could lead to the extinction of the human race.

After reading my essay Taleb withdrew from the debate and, for good measure, called me an "idiot."

I am not alone in arguing that opposition to modern biotech crops is immoral. Last year, 100 Nobel Laureates signed an open letter demanding that Greenpeace and other activists groups stop killing and blinding poor children in developing countries. Specifically, the laureates urged, "Greenpeace to cease and desist in its campaign against Golden Rice specifically, and crops and foods improved through biotechnology in general."

Golden rice is genetically enhanced to produce beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency in poor countries results in hundreds of thousands of deaths and cases of blindness annually. It was created by a non-profit consortium of researchers and is being developed by the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. Thugs associated with Greenpeace attacked and destroyed golden rice research plots at IRRI back in 2013.

In their letter, the Nobel laureates pointed out that "scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production.

"There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity."