Via WSJ, adapted from after-dinner remarks by Purdue University President Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. at the Agriculture Department’s Agricultural Outlook Forum in Arlington, Va., Feb. 25:
I know you enjoyed your meal. That was quite excellent. But did you stop to consider how astounding an event that was? Because aside from the youngest in the room, you should all remember that two or three decades ago we were all told that we would have starved by now. That the world was going to run out of food, there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it.
Everyone in this room knows that instead, the intervening decades have seen the greatest upward surge for the good of humanity in the history of the planet Earth. That the combination of greater freedom in important countries and technology has brought down the number of undernourished—our undernourished brothers and sisters—by hundreds of millions, even as population grew by billions.
And now, of course, having climbed a mountain that people said was insurmountable, we all face the next one. Nine billion people, in an historical blink from now, maybe three decades.
There are huge threats, impediments, to our climbing the mountain of feeding a world of nine billion fellow humans, but they are not the ones we’ve known in the past.
The threat this time is internal. It will be a self-inflicted wound. What is troubling me, and I hope troubles you, is that there is a shockingly broad, and so far shockingly successful, movement that threatens this important ascent of humankind out of the condition that has plagued us since we first walked upright: of having enough food to meet the most basic, the most elementary need of any living species. That threatens our ascent by choking off the very technologies that could make that next great triumph possible.
I suggest to you that you have a positive duty to do things that probably do not come naturally, to contest and refute junk science and false claims against the technologies that offer so much promise to the world. And not solely on the polite objective grounds that come most naturally to folks in the pursuits represented here, to people who work in the regulation of agriculture and its products, to those who study academically these subjects and work on the new technologies and the policies around them, or to the businesses that produce these products as the technologies become available.
We are used to and only comfortable with polite and civil dialogue: PowerPoints, facts, data at meetings where people have agreed, at least tacitly, to follow the facts where they lead. That is not this argument. We are dealing here, yes, with the most blatant anti-science of the age. But it is worse than that. It is inhumane and it must be countered on that basis. Those who would deny with zero scientific validity the fruits of modern agricultural research to starving or undernourished people—or those who will be, absent great progress—need to be addressed for what they are, which is callous, which is heartless, which is cruel.
Marie Antoinette may have at least had the excuse of naïveté and ignorance. That excuse cannot be made for the people who are attacking GMOs and other technologies like that today. You know, when starvation was imposed knowingly, in cases and instances we can all think of from the past, we knew what to call it. And I can’t for the life of me see a moral distinction between those instances and these.
No, folks who have taken that point of view have got to be called to account. How can you say to the hungry of this earth—how can you say to those who don’t enjoy the luxury that we all do and that the developed world in general does, how can you tell those folks, “Sorry about your luck.” You know this is an indulgence of the rich and it is not just scientifically indefensible, it is morally indefensible. And as much as we would like not to have to engage in arguments like that, somebody better.