CropLife International executive director Denise Dewar promotes pesticides and genetically modified crops from her Washington, D.C. office, but as a young, idealistic student, she dreamed of saving the world from pesticides.
“At that time I was being influenced by the environmentalists’ very negative anti-pesticides environment,” she told the Canada Grains Council’s annual meeting in Winnipeg April 4. “Greenpeace was very active at that time.”
She said the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agriculture College was the only university offering a course in environmental biology back then.
“So I had to take all these ag and food courses and I just loved it and I was hooked on agriculture,” she said. “But I also got an education and I realized, oh, there is a reason we need these products. Farmers need these pesticides and so I was converted.”
But according to Dewar, many people don’t understand why both farmers and consumers need “modern agriculture.” She urged everyone attending the meeting to get the message out to friends and family.
“You’ve all heard this before but I honestly believe it because I was once one of them (anti-technology),” she said. “We do need to communicate the need for technology in agriculture.”
Nothing in life is without risk, Dewar said.
“The benefits (technology) need to be put into context with the risks,” she said in an interview later. “The general public only hears about risks not the benefits. We take the benefits for granted because we have enough food.”
Up until recently, food in most of the developed world was so plentiful farmers rout inely suf fered depressed prices. But with demand at times recently outstripping supply, world grain and oilseed prices have hit new highs, at least in nominal terms.
Today’s world population of nearly seven billion is expected to reach nine billion by 2050. Food production must almost double between now and then. GM crops and pesticides are necessary to fill the breach, Dewar said.
GM crops are already paying off, including in developing countries, she said. India, once a cotton importer, is now an exporter. GM corn in the Philippines has boosted yields 15 per cent.
Thanks to GM, farmers have cut pesticide use by 393 million kilograms and greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by 18 billion kilograms – equal to removing eight million cars from the highways, Dewar said.
And since GM crops were first introduced 15 years ago there’s never been a scientifically documented case of damage to the environment or human health, she said. [email protected]
– DENISE DEWAR