October 25, 2013

Regarding the Oct. 23 editorial “Africa’s food future”:

As a scientist, I remain baffled by the widespread fear of genetically modified foods. This fear is based on ignorance of how foods have developed.

Virtually everything we eat in the developed world has been genetically modified through the traditional and mostly random process called selective breeding, with or without the incorporation of spontaneous or induced mutations. The major difference between crops that have been modified using targeted molecular techniques (genetically engineered) and traditional crops is that genetic engineering changes only one gene, is much more efficient and produces a product that grows better or produces needed nutrients without significant changes in the actual food characteristics. Both genetic modification techniques can have undesirable environmental consequences.

The use of antibiotics in livestock is of much greater concern to human and animal health than is genetic modification of foods by targeted molecular means. Contributing to food insecurity in underdeveloped nations because of irrational fears is morally unjustifiable.

Jeannine Majde, Arlington

The Post pitted sustainable agriculture against hunger in its editorial on using genetically modified crops in Africa. But poverty, land access, infrastructure and debt were noticeably absent from its analysis.

According to the United Nations, sustainable agriculture is key to reducing hunger. U.N. special rapporteur Olivier De Schutter stated, “We won’t solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations. The solution lies in supporting small-scale farmers’ knowledge and experimentation, and in raising incomes of smallholders so as to contribute to rural development.”  

A joint report by the World Health Organization, United Nations and World Bank concluded that policies must shift away from industrial food systems to meet the growing demand for food. African scientists, representing many of the nations affected by poverty and hunger, have also warned that genetically engineered crops would undermine these nations’ capacities to feed themselves by destroying biodiversity and local knowledge.  

How we grow, produce and distribute food is a critical question for humanity. It is counterproductive to cast sustainable, organic agriculture as an obstacle to progress.

Elizabeth Kucinich, Washington

The writer is policy director for the Center for Food Safety.