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Genetically Modified Famine: Ideology Vs. the Poor

Chuck Colson | BreakPoint | Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Genetically Modified Famine: Ideology Vs. the Poor

March 16, 2010

By 2050, the world's population, which is currently about 6.8 billion, is projected to peak at about 9 billion. That's an additional 2.2 billion people to feed, clothe, and house.

Assuming no change in food consumption patterns, food production will have to increase by one third just to keep pace with population increases. Then again, we live in a world in which an estimated 1 billion people today are undernourished. Our goal ought to be to produce more food, urgently.

A modest but important start would be to not let ideology get in the way of making sure people have enough to eat.

An example of how this happens was related to me recently by this year's Wilberforce Award winner, former congressman Tony Hall. In 2002, famine brought on by drought and crop failures threatened Zambia and much of southern Africa. People left their land and walked 50 kilometers to towns in the hope of finding food.

Between 1 and 3 million Zambians required food assistance from the United Nations' World Food Program, whose principal donor is the United States. That's where Hall enters the story. At the time, he was the United States' Ambassador to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.

Hall, who has devoted his adult life to combating global hunger, was shocked and infuriated by what he saw. Zambia blocked the shipment of 40,000 tons of food and put thousands of more tons under lock and key.

Why? Because the food included genetically modified maize and other grains. President Levy Mwanawasa said that he would not risk feeding his countrymen "poison."

He was exaggerating for effect. He knew that these genetically modified crops were the same food eaten by Americans every day. Ambassador Hall and others told him and anyone who would listen that there was no evidence that these foods posed any risk to human health. They note that genetically modified food was already available in Zambian supermarkets.

But this game of chicken with the lives of Zambians wasn't primarily about evidence. Mwanawasa and other African leaders were under severe economic pressure from environmentalists and European governments not to accept food that contained genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Some European nations threatened trade sanctions against any country which accepted it. So Zambians continued starving.

For these opponents, concerns about GMOs is, as one expert put it, "apparently ideologically driven." GMOs are very politically incorrect in Europe. The concern, therefore, isn't driven by increasing standards of living for the half of the world's population that lives on less than $2 a day.

Instead, this ideology is driven by profoundly anti-human sentiment. Much as in the global warming debate, the prescription of many environmentalists seems to be "fewer and poorer people," which is obscenely easy for people in the affluent West to say.

Christianity, in contrast, sees human life and flourishing as an unequivocal good. It recognizes that feeding people and alleviating misery should be our priority. And it doesn't allow people to starve while grain rots in a storage warehouse.

So the next time you may be tempted to think that the politically correct movement is just a harmless fad, think about thousands of starving Africans. Worldviews matter.