I have written extensively in the past about the benefits of genetically modified crops and how the anti-GMO lobby will tell any lie they can think of to try to discredit a technology that not only doesn’t do harm but actually has the potential to do enormous amounts of good. They say that it increases pesticide use when it actually leads to reductions in pesticide use. They say that it leads to defects and illnesses in the animals that eat GMOs when there is no evidence at all to back up the claim. They say that they put us all under the thumb of Big Agro even when seeds are given away in humanitarian projects. They ask for the scientific evidence to demonstrate safety and then sabotage the field trials designed to answer those questions.
The latest episode in their willingness to say and do anything to protect their precious ideology was brought to my attention when I listened to the brilliant Kevin Folta and his podcast Talking Biotech. Kevin is an academic at the University of Florida who is particularly interested in strawberries but is a great science communicator in the field of GMOs, so to speak.
In a recent episode there was a feature on Bt brinjal and the enormous success it has had in Bangladesh. But wherever there is a GMO success story you can be sure that nearby there is a horde of rabid, incoherent anti-GMO activists poisoning the well any way they can.
Brinjal is the Bangladeshi word for aubergine or eggplant depending on which side of the Atlantic you live. Bt is short for Bacillus thuringiensis which is a bacteria that lives in soils, it is naturally resistant to a caterpillar called fruit and shoot borer. Bt preparations have been cultured and sprayed over crops for many decades now, in fact, they’re even classified as an organic pesticide so there’s a good chance you’ve already eaten aubergines treated with Bt even if you only eat organic.
The GMO version, Bt brinjal, has had the one specific component of the bacteria inserted into the genome of plant so that it produces its own caterpillar repellant. It’s a simple and effective solution to a terrible problem. Farmers in the developing world often don’t have access or can’t afford the Bt pesticide and often use other pesticides that are far more toxic and less specific.
A typical crop might require more than 150 applications of the usual pesticide. Farmers involved in the pilot project have reported an 80% decrease in the amount of pesticides they have used. Normally they might expect to lose 40% of their crop over the year but yields of Bt brinjal have doubled and the farmers report never having seen such large harvests. They are very, very happy.
Add to this the fact that there is no big biotech company involved and you might think that this could be a success story that even the environmentalists might be able to get behind. The GMO brinjal was partly developed with money from the Bangladeshi government and the seeds are being sold at an artificially low price that makes them available to all. Given that brinjal is a staple crop in the region this is great for everyone there.
The success of the project was first reported in a BBC Panorama documentary and an article in the New York Times. Journalists actually went to the farmers and interviewed them for their perspective as well as talking to the academics involved. It was this that seemed to grab the attention of the anti-GMO crowd and they put their propaganda machine into overdrive. The fact that there are literally no down sides to this story did not hold them back.
They sent their own ‘journalists’ to Bangladesh to try and generate quotes to support their own ideological narrative. Tactics, aside from making up total lies, included showing farmers pamphlets with nonsense in them claiming that eating these fruits would result in babies with defects. They also tried arguing with the farmers, who generally gave them short shrift, using such arguments as: if these brinjal are so bad that even insects won’t eat them then they are definitely not fit for human consumption. Brilliantly, the farmer they tried this on was not the complete moron they must have hoped and he countered them wonderfully saying that you can take medicine that will kill the worms inside you that doesn’t do you any harm.
The alleged journalist visited the farmer, Hafizur Rahman, several months after the harvets had been completed. Once the brinjal plant has fruited it dies, that’s normal, that what the non-GMO plant does. So when the reporter saw a field full of dead and dying plants he reported that the GMO crop was a failure and that the farmer had abandoned it. This is a wilful misrepresentation of the truth.
Below you can see a video of the farmer being interviewed once again, this time by academics from Cornell University. It is quite long but it let’s the farmer explain in his own words what he thinks of the Bt brinjal and also his reaction to how his words were not only twisted but fabricated by the anti-GMO journalist.
Bt brinjal is a good thing. It is good for the people who will eat it instead of going hungry. It is good for the farmers that will grow twice as much of it with less effort. The fanatics who have ranked themselves against this to try to smear it anyway they can are not environmental activists because their action will harm the environment. They are not humanitarians because more people will go hungry were they to be successful. They are zealots that will do anything to protect their precious ideology. They must be exposed for what they are and we must allow the third world to start feeding itself properly.