What does a Victoria Girl Guide's campaign to have genetically modified organisms removed from cookies have in common with native-led anti-fracking protests in New Brunswick? The answer: Both are based upon activist propaganda that has no scientific foundation.
Nine-year-old Maya Fischer and her mother have launched a petition to have GMOs removed from Girl Guide cookies, to make them "safe and environmentally friendly." Their anti-GMO beliefs seem to be shared by a majority of North Americans and Europeans. Yet scientific groups around the world say they are wrong. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has said that "biotechnology is safe." The French Academy of Science agrees: "All criticism against GMOs can largely be rejected on strictly scientific criteria." The national science academies of Germany, Brazil, India, China and Britain share that view. The World Health Organization has said: "No effects of human health problems have been shown as a result of the consumption of [genetically modified] foods …"
So why are so many people convinced that GM products are dangerous? An insight to that question came last January in a speech by Mark Lynas, a well-known founder of the anti-GM movement. "We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs cackling demonically as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life. Hence the Frankenstein food tag – this absolutely was about deep-seated fears of scientific powers being used secretly for unnatural ends. These fears spread like wildfire … This was the most successful campaign I have ever been involved with."
Mr. Lynas's redemption came when he finally decided to look at the science. He learned that GMOs require less fertilizer, thus reducing nutrient-rich runoff that feeds weed-choked rivers and streams, starving fish of oxygen. He learned that pest-resistant seeds reduce insecticide use and that drought-resistant plants lessen the unsustainable depletion of water aquifers. He said he found that GMO research is safer and more precise than traditional plant genetics that "mucks about with the entire genome in a trial-and-error way."
When it comes to irrational opposition to scientific advancements, shale gas has much in common with GM foods. Environmental groups portray hydraulic fracturing as a scary new technology that contaminates water supplies and poses a threat to public safety. Yet "fracking" is neither new nor scary. As I have noted previously, some 1.2 million wells have been hydraulically fractured over the past 60 years in the United States, yet neither the Bureau of Land Management nor the Environmental Protection Agency have found supportable evidence of fracturing-induced ground water contamination. Some 174,000 wells have been fracked in Alberta, along with thousands more in British Columbia.
Burgeoning shale-gas supplies are creating both an environmental and economic renaissance across North America. Natural gas has displaced coal as the fuel of choice for new power plants, diesel trucks and buses; railway locomotives and ferry boats are being refitted with cleaner-burning natural gas engines.
The biggest winners are consumers. Natural gas prices have dropped dramatically, reducing the cost of both heating and manufacturing processes. Because natural gas accounts for 80 per cent of the cost of nitrogen fertilizer, farmers are also benefiting. Shale-gas development is also creating jobs and boosting tax revenues, rejuvenating economically depressed rural communities across North America. British Columbia's huge shale-gas potential is spawning tens of billions of dollars in projects aimed at piping gas to tidewater for cross-Pacific transport to Asia.
Given these economic and environmental benefits, it would be irresponsible for the government of economically-challenged New Brunswick to shun industry efforts to assess the province's shale gas potential. Sadly, the recent protests show that environmentalist propaganda has convinced some natives that hydraulic fracturing is a technology to be feared.
Let's hope that First Nations leaders will be willing to examine the facts and the science. Failure to move forward will destroy an opportunity to build a better future for all New Brunswickers, including aboriginals.