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OTHER VIEWS--Heed Borlaug's Ag advice

Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, for defeating the scourge of Naziism. Alexander Fleming, for spotting the antibiotic property of the mold growing in his petri dish -- a mold he called penicillin. Jonas Salk, for developing the first pol...

Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, for defeating the scourge of Naziism.

Alexander Fleming, for spotting the antibiotic property of the mold growing in his petri dish -- a mold he called penicillin.

Jonas Salk, for developing the first polio vaccine.

And, of course, Norman Borlaug.

Norman who?

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Norman Borlaug, the University of Minnesota graduate whose "Green Revolution" -- the development of disease-resistant, high-yield varieties of wheat -- boosted worldwide farm productivity so much that it's credited with saving a billion people from starvation.

While Borlaug's not very well known to the public, he's a giant in scientific and humanitarian circles. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 and as recently as last week, Borlaug was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award bestowed by Congress.

So, with that as an introduction, how does the father of the Green Revolution feel about the Gene Revolution -- the growing use of genetic engineering in the production of crops? Borlaug has delivered his answer in countless speeches and papers over the years, most recently in an op-ed last week in the Wall Street Journal. Here is an excerpt:

"Persistent poverty and environmental degradation in developing countries, changing global climatic patterns and the use of food crops to produce biofuels all pose new and unprecedented risks and opportunities for global agriculture in the years ahead," Borlaug wrote.

"Agricultural science and technology, including the indispensable tools of biotechnology, will be critical to meeting the growing demands for food, feed, fiber and biofuels .... This flourishing new branch of science extends to food crops, fuels, fibers, livestock and even forest products ...

"Consider these examples: Since 1996, the planting of genetically modified crops developed through biotechnology has spread to about 250 million acres from about five million acres around the world ... This has increased global farm income by $27 billion annually.

"Ag biotechnology has reduced pesticide applications by nearly 500 million pounds since 1966. In each of the last six years, biotech cotton saved U.S. farmers from using 93 million gallons of water in water-scarce areas, 2.4 million gallons of fuel and 41,000 person-days to apply the pesticides they formerly used ..."

And so on, through a silo of other examples.

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Now, it's true that having the father of the Green Revolution on its side doesn't automatically make the case for biotechnology.

But it helps. And it's worth remembering the next time a call goes out to forbid or dramatically restrict biotechnology in North Dakota.

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