Here's another Avery piece, FYI. Enjoy!
--The Mighty Oak was once a little nut that held its ground.
The San Fransisco Examiner
May 3, 1999
Dennis T. Avery, based in Churchville, Va., is director of global food
issues for the Hudson Institute of Indianapolis.
The pied piper of biotech farming
By Dennis T. Avery
SPECIAL TO THE EXAMINER
CHURCHVILLE, VIRGINIA --
I HAD the honor of being splattered with a chocolate pie, hurled on behalf
of the Biotic Baking Brigade, as I was giving a speech at Grinnell College
The Brigade issued a statement that said the pie was punishment for my
"dangerous, shameless and flagrant support of biotechnology and industrial
I am proud to say, "Guilty as charged." I am guilty of supporting virtu-
ally any technology or farming system that will safely and sustainably raise
yields on the world's farms.
I am proud to be a small part of the global agricultural research system,
which has saved a billion babies from starvation and death ‹ and
incidentally prevented the plowdown of 15 million square miles of wildlife
habitat for low-yield crops.
The pie was a special honor, considering other recent recipients of pies
from the Brigade, a network inspired by activists loosely based in San
It is flattering to be among giants like the Nobel laureate Milton Friedman
and Larry Vanderhoef, chancellor at UC-Davis, where some of the world's
finest agricultural research is conducted. (Last November in San Francisco,
Mayor Willie Brown was pied by the Brigade; his three assailants were
sentenced to jail for misdemeanor battery.)
The real insult at Grinnell College was that the pie-thrower, who isn't a
student, didn't listen to the speech. He simply snuck through a back door,
threw his pie and fled.
David Campbell, chairman of the environmental department at Grinnell, called
the pie-throwing "witless, cowardly, puerile and violent."
A pie in the face hardly advances the discussions the world needs to have
about biotechnology, disappearing family farms, the environment or anything
I'm in favor of biotechnology in food production because the expected world
population of nearly 9 billion people in 2050 will demand nearly three times
as much food as the world consumes today.
Without new breakthroughs in biotechnology, we will probably not be able to
produce that additional food ‹ not without plowing up tens of millions of
square miles of land now in a wild state.
The risk for the 21st century is not famine, but wildland destruction on a
Of course, the Biotic Baking Brigade may be able to identify a risk to
humans from biotech food that outweighs the conservation of wildlands. If
so, I want very much to take such risks into account.
To date, however, scare tactics about "Frankenstein foods" have been backed
only by vague mutterings about "allergens" ‹ and humanity has always been
surrounded by millions of allergens.
Some activists have even gone so far as to claim that the new "Terminator
gene" will cause all the world's plants to become sterile and trigger mass
But how does a gene that prevents reproduction get loose into wild plants?
If it works, it stops itself. It is designed to prevent the escape of
bioengineered traits and should be welcomed by intelligent conservationists.
What about "factory farms?" I have many neighbors involved in contract
production of poultry and several friends involved in contract hog farming.
They see it as a more efficient way to produce meat. Confinement hogs
generally use 25 percent less feed per pound of meat than outdoor hogs.
And they mean more livestock and poultry jobs in the rural United States
instead of in China or Argentina.
Of course, we don't have farming to please farmers. We have farming because
we need food and fiber. Farms produce a lot more food per acre than hunting
or gathering. So much for the praise heaped upon primitive tribes and
I hope that someday the adolescent mock-heroism of the Biotic Baking Brigade
will find a goal worthy of its members' passion and intelligence. Forcing
the world back into low-yield farming doesn't even come close.
I have one other suggestion for the Biotic Bakers. I am not that fond of
chocolate. I hope they make the next one banana cream.
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