Advancing a Free Society

The Rush to Condemn Genetically Modified Crops

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

By Gregory Conko and Henry I. Miller

In spite of more than twenty years of scientific, humanitarian, and financial successes and an admirable record of health and environmental safety, genetic engineering applied to agriculture continues to be beleaguered by activists. Gene-spliced, or so-called genetically modified, crop plants are now grown on nearly 150 million acres in the United States alone, helping farmers to increase yields, reduce pesticide spraying, and save topsoil — and without injury to a single person or damage to an ecosystem. But this remarkable record hasn’t kept radical environmentalists from condemning and obstructing the technology. When they can’t sway public opinion with outright misrepresentations or induce regulators to reject products, activists have resorted to vandalism of field trials and, finally, to harassment with nuisance lawsuits.

Environmental activists succeeded in alarming the American public about gene-spliced crops and foods for a time during the 1990s and the early part of last decade, but they cried wolf so often in the face of an unbroken string of successes that the public began to tune them out. More recently, the activists have had to dig deeper into their bag of tricks and revive a proven strategy for obstructing progress: litigation that challenges the procedural steps government agencies take when approving individual gene-spliced crops. Since 2007, a coalition of green activist groups and organic farmers has used the courts to overturn two final approvals for gene-spliced crop varieties and the issuance of permits to test several others. At least one additional case is now pending.

Continue reading Gregory Conko and Henry Miller in the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review