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How genetic technology could save millions from malaria

How genetic technology could save millions from malaria

Genetically-modified mosquitoes could stop the spread of deadly disease, but “agroecologists” say no thanks

Late last month an op-ed appeared by Richard Tren in the Wall Street Journal. The title caught my eye and should catch yours as well: “Environmental Extremists Favor Mosquitoes Over Mankind”.

It stated, “A child under 5 dies from malaria about every two minutes world-wide. Yet radical environmentalists and agroecologists are mobilizing against an important measure to stop mosquitoes from spreading the disease.”

What is “agroecology” and why should we care? 

“Agroecology explicitly promotes peasant agriculture and the superior wisdom of indigenous peoples,” explains the editorial. Further, it appears that agroecology wants to “…transform capitalism itself…”

According to the WSJ opinion piece, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) apparently supports agroecology. The column further declares “A recent study promoted by agroecologists acknowledges that their policies would reduce food production by 35% in Europe…”

‘Crime against humanity’

One hundred forty-four Nobel laureates accuse agroecologists and Greenpeace “…of a crime against humanity…” for opposing genetic technology. The United Nations’ FAO has published a report entitled “The 10 Elements of Agroecology”. The FAO report claims agroecology is an integrated approach which simultaneously applies ecological and social concepts to the management of agricultural systems.

“It seeks to optimize the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment while taking into consideration the social aspects that need to be addressed for a sustainable and fair food system.”  

Sterile mosquitoes

According to the WSJ, the Gates Foundation is attempting to develop a genetically modified sterile mosquito to reduce the mosquito population by producing sterile females. Mosquito populations around the world would be reduced or eventually eliminated. There have been years of research and successful releases of the modified mosquito in South America and in the Caribbean.

According to the WSJ “…a coalition of 40 leading environmental and civil society organizations [are] demanding the [Gates project] be shut down immediately.”

According to the op-ed, the agroecologists “abhor” free markets. Again, it appears the agroecologists are preaching socialism vs. free markets. One U.N. FAO steering committee member, Miguel Altieri, is quoted as saying that the Green Revolution was a “…failed project that undermined the ability to address the root causes of hunger and put global food production under the control of a few transnational corporations, bolstered by free trade agreements.”  

The opinion piece concludes that agroecology has the support of environmental groups and is assisted by many European governments. The FAO, in its own report, claims all it is seeking is a sustainable food and agricultural system. If this is the case, it is surprising there is active opposition to the Gates Foundation effort to kill off mosquitoes.

It is sad to see that United Nations organizations such as FAO would be opposed to genetic technologies and pesticides. 

What generated the mosquito story? On June 3, 2019, a U.K.-based biotechnology company announced it completed its first field trial in Brazil which was effective in killing large populations of mosquitoes. Oxitec LTD’s press release indicated it was able to suppress populations of mosquitoes by approximately 96% in Brazil.

Killing mosquitoes which are carriers of the Zika virus and yellow fever should be a major event welcomed by all.  The CEO of Oxitec LTD, was quoted as saying “Once fully developed, we believe this will be the first technology capable of giving governments, commercial and consumer end-users, the power to deliver safe, effective…[mosquito] control with an easy-to-deploy, cost effective…solution.”

If Oxitec, a subsidiary of Maryland-based Intrexon Corporation, is correct, agriculture should be applauding the Gates Foundation and Intrexon. This would be a momentous scientific advance for sustainable pest management which helps both agriculture and mankind.   

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 

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