Genetically altered insects could save millions from malaria but are anathema to ‘agroecologists.’
A child under 5 dies from malaria about every two minutes world-wide. Yet radical environmentalists are mobilizing against an important measure to stop mosquitoes from spreading the disease.
Target Malaria is a Gates Foundation-supported research effort to develop genetically modified sterile mosquitoes. Its approach is to drive modified genes through a mosquito population to produce sterile females or cause the breeding of only males. The goal is to reduce mosquito populations so much that the malaria parasite cannot be spread from person to person.
This spring Target Malaria ran a carefully controlled experimental release in Burkina Faso. The test followed years of research and similar successful releases in Latin America and the Caribbean. None of that mattered to the coalition of 40 leading environmental and “civil society” organizations demanding the project be shut down immediately.
The activist opposition to Target Malaria is part of a larger and growing campaign against all modern genetic technologies and pesticides used in both in disease control and agriculture. The campaign has been promoted in recent years by United Nations agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, as well as by European governments and European Union-funded nongovernmental organizations.
Malaria deaths in Africa are declining thanks to insecticide-treated bed nets, spraying and better treatment. But the disease remains stubbornly persistent in much of the continent. The emergence of resistant strains of mosquitoes and malaria parasites means public-health programs need new tools.
Field releases of genetically modified mosquitoes elsewhere—notably Oxitec’s trial in Brazil, aimed at controlling Dengue fever—have gone off without the dire consequences environmentalists predicted. But several years ago during the Zika outbreaks in Florida and Texas, scare campaigns succeeded in blocking mosquito tests that had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
There’s a long history of opposition to genetic technology, with serious human costs. Consider the decadeslong effort to stop cultivation of genetically modified golden rice, which could save two million people a year—many of them children—from early death and crippling blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency. A petition signed by 144 Nobel laureates calls on environmentalists to end their campaigns and accuses Greenpeace of a “crime against humanity” for its leading role.
Opposition to modern technology has deepened, and its highly politicized ideology has captured much of the development community under the banner of “agroecology.” This is a radical approach to food production that excludes modern farming techniques, including synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, modern hybrid seeds and even mechanization. Agroecology explicitly promotes “peasant agriculture” and the superior wisdom of “indigenous peoples.”
Agroecologists abhor free markets. A leader of the movement, Eric Holt-Gimenez of Food First, asks, “How can agroecology help us transform capitalism itself?” La Via Campesina, one of the groups protesting Target Malaria, rails against international trade and “profit at any price.” The Third World Network champions world-wide socialism and blames the U.S. for Venezuela’s economic and humanitarian crisis.
Now, with little debate, agroecology dogma has been officially adopted by the FAO, the U.N. Development Programme and the U.N. Environment Programme, and is being underwritten by European governments through their development agencies and support of environmental groups.
Like other radical “social justice” movements, agroecology is based on fraudulent history. FAO Steering Committee member Miguel Altieri describes the Green Revolution, which saved a billion people from starvation, as 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.” According to the FAO’s own data, however, the Green Revolution increased the world-wide food supply from 2,253 to 2,852 calories per person from 1961-2013, when the global population more than doubled.