Public is Misled by Opponents of Biotech – What Else is New?

The following was excerpted from the April 11, 2007 issue of The Biotech Advantage.

Dr. A. M. “Tony” Shelton, who is a Professor of Entomology at Cornell University and a visiting scientist at Lincoln University, recently wrote an opinion piece in The Press (Christchurch, New Zealand) that the debate on biotech crops is misleading New Zealand’s public.

This article is a great example of the ongoing misinformation campaigns run by opponents of biotech crops in New Zealand, and throughout the World.

Shelton addresses the issue that organic agriculture farming practices are safer than those used by farmers of biotech crops. The benefits of biotech crops have been clear to agricultural scientists and many working within agricultural sectors, but may be less clear to the public, he says. Over the last 10 years the use of biotech crops has resulted in the reduction of 224 million kilograms of active pesticide ingredients being sprayed.

Organic standards require farmers to apply only pesticides that are “natural” and not synthetic, but being “natural” does not ensure safety. For example, sulphur, a major fungicide used in organic agriculture, is toxic to a broad range of organisms and is a longer-term soil and environmental contaminant than most of its synthetic counterparts.

Another claim, according to Shelton is that the use of Bt crops will lead to the development of insects resistant to Bt, eliminating one of the tools organic growers have to control caterpillar pests. After 11 years, there has not been a case of insects developing resistance to Bt plants in the field. When Bt plants were developed, scientists knew about the potential for resistance and developed strategies that have proven effective in preventing resistance to Bt plants.

Shelton says that many conventional farmers now employ some organic practices to add to soil health on their farms. He also says that many organic farmers he knows have expressed interest in using some biotech plants to help control pests in a more environmentally sustainable fashion, but the organic lobby will not allow it for philosophical, not scientific, reasons.

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