VICTORIA — What does 10-year-old Victoria student Maya Fisher’s campaign to have genetically modified organisms removed from Girl Guides cookies have in common with the native-led anti-fracking protests in New Brunswick? The answer: both are based upon activist propaganda having no scientific foundation.
Fisher told reporters, "Now, we want the Girl Guides of Canada to live up to their own motto by removing GMOs and making cookies safe and environmentally friendly." Her anti-GMO (or GM) beliefs seem to be shared by a majority of North Americans and Europeans. Yet virtually all of the scientific evidence shows they are wrong.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science says 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 as well as Britain’s Royal Society share the same view. And the World Health Organization (WHO) States: "No effects of human health problems have been shown as a result of the consumption of GM foods..."
So how have so many people become convinced that GM is dangerous? The answer to that question came last January in a shocking speech by Mark Lynas, 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 (which became Franken-Food) tag — this absolutely was about deep-seated fears of scientific powers being used secretly for unnatural ends. These fears spread like wildfire... This has been the most successful campaign I have ever been involved with."
Lynas’s redemption came when he finally decided to look at the science. He learned that GMOs require less fertilizer, thereby reducing nutrient-rich runoff that causes fish-killing oxygen starvation in weed choked rivers and streams. He learned that pest-resistant seeds reduce insecticide use and that drought-resistant plants lessen the unsustainable depletion of water aquifers. And contrary to his own Franken-Food label, he found out that GMO research is actually 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 so-called fracking is neither new nor scary. In the United States, after some 1.2 million wells have been hydraulically fractured over the past 60 years, both the Bureau of Land Management and the Environmental Protection Agency have not found any supportable evidence of fracturing induced ground water contamination. Some 174,000 wells have been fracked in Alberta, together with thousands more in B.C. In 1975 as a young engineer, I directed the fracturing of the first well drilled by the company that grew into EnCana Corporation. Over the ensuing decades, EnCana safely fractured tens of thousands of wells on its way to becoming North America’s largest natural gas producer.
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 and diesel trucks, buses, even railway locomotives and inter-island ferries are gradually being re-fitted with cleaner-burning natural gas engines.
But the biggest winners are consumers. Natural gas prices have dropped dramatically, reducing the cost of both space heating and manufacturing processes. And since natural gas comprises 80 per cent of the cost of nitrogen fertilizer, farmers are also major beneficiaries.
Finally, shale gas development is creating jobs and tax revenues, and rejuvenating economically-depressed rural communities across North America. Here in Canada, B.C.’s huge shale gas potential is spawning tens of billions of dollars in projects aimed at piping gas to tidewater for transport to Asia via LNG ships.
Given these economic and environmental benefits, it would be irresponsible for the government of economically-challenged New Brunswick to shun industry’s efforts to assess the province’s shale gas potential.
Sadly, "warrior" protests show that environmentalist propaganda has convinced some natives that hydraulic fracturing is a technology to be feared. Hopefully, respected First Nations leaders who are willing to examine the facts will emerge. Failure to move forward will destroy an opportunity to build a better future for all New Brunswickers, including natives.
Gwyn Morgan is a retired Canadian business leader who has been a director of five global corporations.