A catchy headline in a newspaper about a totally different matter often strikes home with a subject of great import elsewhere. "GM Needs a Political Strategy" was the headline on an article in The Wall Street Journal analyzing how the Obama administration is dealing with the massive problems facing General Motors. Yet, a person focused on the food industry encountering that headline would likely jump to the wrong conclusion, which was that the headline writer meant to declare "genetic modification needs a political strategy." Without even debating which "GM" truly deserves the greatest attention from politicians, food manufacturers are acutely aware of how the questions swirling around genetic modification of crops urgently merit the attention of government and politicians as well as the leadership of the food industry.
Since this page rarely suggests politicians as valuable allies in rationalizing difficult situations, turning in this direction for help should be perceived as nearly an act of desperation. In the case of General Motors, which has faced dire financial collapse, politicians are the ones with the billions and billions needed to sustain this once grand corporation during these difficult times.
When it comes to genetic modification, the problem is totally different, but equally serious. Unless the entire world accepts that biotechnology provides the answer to assuring an adequate food supply, consequences are too awful to contemplate. Too many obstacles are being raised in response to political pressures that have little or no grounding in science. Just as politicians posing as statesmen are expected to negotiate settlements of the many horrific conflicts plaguing the world today, those who speak for governments must put an end to the doubts about genetically-modified crops.
Like global economic and even military conflicts, the issues standing in the way of full forward on biotechnology involve national blocs. Here the European Union has the key role by rejecting genetically-modified foods in the face of its own scientists declaring them safe. Hardly anything affirms this science’s part in improving crop yields, quality and environmental impact than what has happened in America where modified corn and soybeans account for the major share of production, causing no harm and benefiting the entire food supply chain. It’s only wheat that has not been positively affected by biotechnology. Wheat’s position stems not just from the complexity of its genetic structure, but from fear of how consumers in the E.U. and in Japan would react negatively, out of ignorance, to g.m. wheat.
As an indirect route to obtaining political support to persuade nations and consumers, the leading wheat industry organizations in the United States, Canada and Australia have joined in a unique undertaking. The aim is to move forward together, figuratively jumping off the cliff holding hands, in embracing biotechnology’s role in wheat. By doing this together, these wheat exporting nations believe they will avoid one country claiming superiority for not taking this step, which all agree offers considerable advantages to growers, processors, food manufacturers and consumers.
The essential role of politicians in addressing biotechnology in food production came to the fore at a conference last spring in London. There a leading food ingredient executive operating in the E.U. declared that it is politicians like the leaders of the E.U. and its 27 member nations who are able to convince consumers of the very real value to them of accepting genetically-modified crops across the range of food products sold in Europe. Calling for the "responsible use of modern biotechnology within a regulated framework," this executive said it was up to E.U. politicians to end the uncertainty caused by zero tolerance for genetically-modified crops even though they are safe according to international standards. This call must be heeded by food manufacturers around the world because it is apparent that without nearly universal acceptance, a situation approaches that will cause chaos in a world where food production is less than what is needed.
This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, September 1, 2009, starting on Page 9. Click