Why Churches Consider Biotech Farming A Blessing
*Thanks To Technological Advances In Farming, We Can Both Feed The World's People And Take Care Of The Environment
December 28, 2000
by Dennis T. Avery
THE BridgeNews FORUM: Viewpoints on farming, farm policy and related agricultural issues, December 22, 2000.
CHURCHVILLE, Va.--We are told the baby Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room for his family at the inn in Bethlehem.
Many people say the overcrowding in Bethlehem that night 2,000 years ago has become endemic to the whole world. They demand something stronger than "family planning" to ensure that too many babies won't be born to overpopulate the planet during the 21st century.
The anti-population movement believes that the high value the world's religions place on human life must now give way to a new religion; one that ranks human life as no more important than the lives of snail darters and kangaroo rats.
They claim the world hasn't got room for both people and wildlife, and we've overdone the people.
Fortunately for the Christmas spirit, they are wrong. Demonstrated reality shows that people and nature can coexist in a high-tech world.
Technology is preventing the need for inhumanity to man. Most reassuring for all is that the world's population surge is rapidly re- stabilizing on its own, due to affluence, urbanization and food security.
As the Third World catches up with the First World its fertility rate is moving rapidly toward the affluent-country average of 1.7 births per woman.
World population is likely to peak in 2035, with less than 9 billion people. That's a challenge, but no valid reason for abandoning our moral values.
Second, the planet today has almost as much room for wildlife as it did back in 1950, when there were only half as many people, and a far larger proportion of the world's kids were going hungry.
Africa is still hungry today because it does not invest in agricultural research, fertilizers and pest management while its wildlife remains both the most highly prized and the most threatened on earth.
Without high-yield farming, the world would have had to clear another 16 million square miles of forest to produce today's food supply. As it happens, the world's total forest area is 16 million square miles.
Thus, every forest tree and creature on the planet today owes its existence to genetically improved seeds, chemical fertilizer, irrigation and/or pesticides.
Moreover, the Soil and Water Conservation Society of America recently published its conclusion that modern high-tech farming is the most sustainable food production system in history.
This is due particularly to its use of integrated pest management, low-till cropping and land-efficient confinement feeding of livestock and poultry.
The Church of England recently re-stated its judgment these high-tech farming developments have come as the result of the intelligence God gave to people.
Lower orders of creatures have no capacity for stewardship of anything beyond their own time and energy, and our role must be to ensure protection for them as well as for mankind.
Pope John Paul II, in his November address on the Jubilee of the Agricultural World, said agriculturalists were tasked with "making the earth fruitful, a most important task whose urgent need today is becoming ever more apparent."
The Pope said man is "not the absolute arbiter of the earth's governance, but the Creator's 'co-worker.'" He asked farmers to "follow in the footsteps of your best tradition, opening yourselves to all the developments of the technological era, but jealously safeguarding the perennial values that characterize you."
The Vatican's director of bioethics, Bishop Elio Sgreccia, is more specific, saying "I have stopped all those who demand condemnation of (genetically-modified) products. We are increasingly encouraged that the advantages of genetic engineering of plants and animals are greater than the risks."
A fellow of the Pontifical Academy of Life, Guiseppe Bertoni, criticized the "catastrophic sensationalism" of press reports that substantially contribute to biotechnology's current infamous image, and said we must reject the idea that "scientific progress is something to be feared."
If the world rejects high-tech farming for the 21st century, in direct contradiction of the stewardship mandated under all beliefs, either humans or wildlife species must suffer.
Neither choice is morally acceptable. Fortunately, the safe, sustainable and productive farming systems developed over the past 100 years by farmers, scientists and agri-businessmen have given us the opportunity this Christmas season to celebrate a future of a stable population with food and shelter for all--human and creature alike.
Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.