Fruits and vegetables that can be picked ripe yet arrive in stores sweet and fresh, more nutritious cooking oils, staples such as corn and soybeans that can be grown without harmful chemicals: It's the harvest of more than a decade of intensive, costly r&d by pioneering entrepreneurial biotechnology firms and innovative giants, too. And it's about to arrive at supermarkets near you.
Some of the products, like the tasty tomato that Calgene Inc. is about to unveil, are simply new and improved versions of Mother Nature. Other genetic modifications are entirely new strategies for solving some of agriculture's biggest problems, such as giving plants resistance to viruses that destroy 80% of crops in some areas of the country, or easing farmers' reliance on dangerous pesticides.
But none of this is going to happen if vocal opponents of biotechnology stampede consumers away in advance of the products' arrival. The Food & Drug Administration and the Agriculture Dept. have been monitoring agricultural biotechnology for a decade. They've developed procedures to make sure new biofoods are safe, keep risky experimentation in check, and still push this 21st century technology forward. The right strategy is to evaluate the products one by one, not redline the technology out of fear of the unknown. Let biotech pioneers in agriculture work on solving hunger, improving nutrition, and honing the high-tech edge the U.S. still retains in this revolutionary science. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was a spoof, not a documentary.