NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Anti-Biotech Activists Threaten Agricultural Gains

December 6, 2000

Texas A&M University professor Norman Borlaug, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in agriculture in 1970, is warning of a growing anti-biotech movement in countries such as India. Fear-mongers, he says, could lead poor countries to back off from use of inorganic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides -- risking the return of famines that preceded their introduction.

  • As of 1965, wheat yields were 4.6 million tons in Pakistan and 12.3 million in India -- and famine was widespread in both countries.
  • Then Borlaug persuaded both countries to try highly productive dwarf wheat and practice improved integrated crop management.
  • The change has been so successful that this year Pakistan harvested 20 million tons and India brought in 73.5 million tons -- all-time records.
  • But now India is considering outlawing inorganic, synthetic fertilizers -- which Borlaug fears would seriously diminish the country's ability to feed its one billion people.

New and improved agricultural technologies have also resulted in enormously higher yields in the U.S.

  • In 1960, U.S. production of the 17 most important food, feed and fiber crops was 252 million tons.
  • By 1999, it had increased to 700 million tons -- produced on 10 million fewer acres than were cultivated in 1960.
  • If the U.S. had tried to produce the harvest of 1999 with the technology of 1960, we would have had to increase cultivated areas by about 460 million acres -- which we don't have.

Source: Norman Borlaug (Texas A&M University), "We Need Biotech to Feed the World," Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2000.

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