Corn Commentary

Why not Send the Best to Haiti?

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and today nearly 2.4 million Haitians still lack adequate access to food five months after the earthquake. The need for food is desperate.

To help, Monsanto is donating $4 million worth of seeds to the country. “The Haitian Ministry of Agriculture approved a donation from U.S.-based Monsanto Company to Haitian farmers of $4 million worth of conventional hybrid corn and vegetable seeds to be made over the next 12 months in support of reconstruction efforts.” Monsanto made the specific point that no GMO seeds would be included in the donation because, according to Business Week, “The announcement raised concerns in Haiti that the donation would include genetically modified seeds, for which the country does not have a regulatory system.”

This announcement came out right after the New York Times ran a nice op-ed on the potential of genetically-modified crops for feeding people in the poorest nations:

Appreciating this potential means recognizing that genetic engineering can be used not just to modify major commodity crops in the West, but also to improve a much wider range of crops that can be grown in difficult conditions throughout the world.

Doing that also requires opponents to realize that by demonizing the technology, they’ve hindered applications of genetic engineering that could save lives and protect the environment.

Scientists at nonprofit institutions have been working for more than two decades to genetically engineer seeds that could benefit farmers struggling with ever-pervasive dry spells and old and novel pests. Drought-tolerant cassava, insect-resistant cowpeas, fungus-resistant bananas, virus-resistant sweet potatoes and high-yielding pearl millet are just a few examples of genetically engineered foods that could improve the lives of the poor around the globe.

It’s wonderful that Monsanto is able to donate seed to people who are in desperate need to help them feed themselves and get their country back to productivity, and it’s great that the hybrids they are donating are high yielding and certainly high quality. But it’s kind of sad that they were not able to donate the very best they could offer in genetically-modified crops that could potentially speed up the recovery process. I find it disturbing that it sounds like they were unable to donate GMO seeds because Haiti has no “regulatory system” for that. To require a regulatory system makes GMO seeds sound like a dangerous substance that needs to be controlled.

Last month’s National Research Council report noted the GMO crops have done no harm to human health and have actually been beneficial for the environment. Yet, as the NYT op-ed points out, opposition to the technology has created an expensive regulatory system that is keeping it out of the hands of the very people who could benefit from it the most - the poorest and most vulnerable. Hopefully, with continued understanding and the growing population, that will change and everyone will have access to the best technology to grow the best food for their needs.