01 Jul 2000 Bio-Foods Can Improve Nutrition in America, Cut Starvation and Disease in Africa, by John Meredith
Wouldn’t you rather eat a banana than get a shot? I know that I would.
Science now makes it possible to get a vaccination against hepatitis, which kills an estimated 100 million people per year worldwide, simply by eating a banana. A breakthrough in the field of biotechnology, it virtually eliminates the storage and sterilization concerns previously necessary for injections. It also saves money, costing just two cents for a banana instead of $125 for a shot!
But this and other marvels of genetic-modification are at risk. Environmentalists are attacking biotechnology, trying to convince the government and the public that the science is unsafe. What’s really unsafe, however, is their attempt to stop valuable research and the production of foods and medicines. As a black American, I consider this opposition as elitism in its cruelest form since the poorest members of the population, blacks in particular, are going to suffer because of it.
If you think advances in food science have not affected you, think again. Genetically-modified ingredients are already used in everyday items like Coca-Cola, Heinz ketchup and Betty Crocker cake mixes. Pretty much everything in the produce section of a supermarket is improved by science. And you don’t think decaffeinated coffee beans came about naturally, do you?
Science is making food easier to grow and better for us. Biotechnology creates hearty plants that can grow in climates and conditions that could not previously sustain them. According to a 1997 estimate by the World Bank and the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research, agriculture in the developing world will increase by 25% as a result of biotechnology. Scientific research makes it possible for farmers to use fewer herbicides to keep plants bug-free. And biotechnology makes foods healthier. Already, you can eat rice fortified with iron, broccoli that helps fight cancer and tomatoes that contain added doses of Vitamin A-producing beta-carotene.
Before the tomatoes can go to market, the government puts them and every other genetically-modified product through rigorous testing to ensure their safety. It takes approximately eight to ten years for a new product to gain government approval, and it is still under the regulatory control of the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators.
Considering the benefits of biotechnology and the stringent government policies ensuring their safety, why the opposition? Unfortunately, you must realize that environmental radicals regularly put the needs of rocks and slugs before the needs of mankind. Their campaign against science, if successful, could lead to hard times and worse for the poor and minorities here in the United States and in Africa.
Despite recent advances in the workplace and the growth of the black middle class, there are millions of us who still live in sub-standard conditions in urban areas and who bring home meager salaries that keep us there. By shunning biotechnology, we are being denied the benefits other Americans take for granted. Produce that has a longer shelf life and more nutritional value at lower prices would be a godsend to urban blacks who must usually rely on corner markets that don’t get the same quality stock as the Fresh Fields in the suburbs.
A recent article in the Washington City Paper reported how the junk food culture that rules our urban communities has plagued black youths with deadly weight problems, giving them diabetes and other ailments once seen only in older Americans. This problem will only grow as long as those communities are denied access to better, healthier fare.
Then there is the problem of the African homeland. Sub-Saharan Africa has an infant mortality rate of 9.2%, and three million children who have survived are blind due to a lack of Vitamin A in their diets. Biotechnology can now provide rice and tomatoes rich in Vitamin A. It can create crops that are resistant to insect predators, need less fertilizer and reduce soil erosion. Existing crops like cassava and papaya can be genetically-modified to beat back the viruses and insects that devastated them in the past.
Will opponents of biotechnology stop this progress? They are enlisting their allies in Congress to call for more restrictions on research and implementation. But while these elitists can still drive their VW Beetles to Fresh Fields for organic lettuce, inner city blacks must rely on the local Wendy’s for their tomatoes and their brothers in Africa continue to starve. Apparently more blacks must die so that they can save the world.
John Meredith is a member of the African-American leadership network Project 21 and is a board member of two community-based non-profit organizations, a consultant for an educational organization and the national co-chairman of minority outreach for an independent election monitoring organization. He can be reached at [email protected].
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.