Henry Payne/ The Michigan View.com
St. Louis - Last week at Washington University’s (and my son’s) graduation ceremony, one of the Midwest’s most prestigious universities honored one of its city’s most prominent citizens – a man whose company has developed technologies that have transformed agriculture and fed millions while making cropland more environmentally sustainable.
But when Chancellor Mark Wrighton called the name of former Monsanto CEO Richard Mahoney to receive his honorary degree, some 100 green student activists and alumni stood up and turned their backs in protest.
That Mahoney, who spearheaded the development of game-changing, genetically-modified crops, is a controversial figure says a lot about the American Left today.
Our colleges school students about the importance of getting involved – of solving the problems of hunger and poverty in the world. That is what Mahoney and his fleet of engineers have dedicated their lives to. Since 1960, the St. Louis company has led a productivity revolution that has more than doubled crop yields without increasing the area of land used. This revolution defied the Apocalyptic claims of the Left (before global warming, greens were obsessed with famine) that the world would run out of food by the end of the 20th century.
” If farmers were still producing food at 1960 levels of productivity, agriculture would have had to expand from 38 percent of the earth’s land to 82 percent to feed the world’s current population,” reports Ronald Bailey of Reason magazine. “This enormous increase in yields is the result of applying more artificial fertilizers, breeding higher yielding crops, a wider use of pesticides and herbicides, and expanding irrigation. More recently, advances in modern biotechnology have also contributed to boosting yields.”
Mahoney is one of the giants of this technological feat. From corn to wheat, his company developed crops that proved resistant to disease and drought – increasing crop yields at the same time they needed fewer pesticides in order the thrive.
These advances steadily increased crop yields in the U.S. (even as production has leveled off in hysterically anti-biotech Europe) – but created a boon in developing countries where help was needed most. For example, “biotech insect resistant cotton varieties have boosted the yields for India’s cotton farmers by 45 to 63 percent,” reports Bailey. “Similarly, biotech insect resistant corn varieties increased yields (or prevented losses) by 24 percent in the Philippines.”
For this, Mahoney gets booed? His industry’s breakthroughs are as misreported as they are significant.
Type a Google search on “Monsanto genetically-modified foods” and you are met by a wall of hysteria and misinformation from mainstream media outlets to Greenpeace to academics. Gorged on this ignorance, Washington University students protested Mahoney’s honorary degree. “Wash. U. should not award such a prestigious honor to someone responsible for a company that seeks to profit off the destruction of our agricultural system,” wrote one protestor. Destruction?
In addition to feeding the world, Monsanto has made this student’s university a powerhouse in American education. Aided by tens of millions in Monsanto contributions, Wash. U. churns out engineers and biology majors who will continue Mahoney’s groundbreaking work. Now retired, Mahoney gives his time to mentor students in the Olin School of Business. My son and his business colleagues were upset that activists stole next-day news headlines for their graduation stunt.
These activists are the children of the anti-business, anti-science Obama administration that is poisoning today’s airwaves with messages of class warfare and green extremism. The Mahoneys of the world can only be successful as long as governments make sensible regulations.
In 2006, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm bravely signed into law a statute forbidding attempts by her Green allies to prevent Michigan farmers from using genetically-modified seeds – potentially devastating the state’s #2 industry where 32 percent of corn and 90 percent of soy are genetically engineered. Those activists no doubt cheered at the negative publicity from Washington University last week.
Fortunately, however, its newest degree recipient never turned his back on the world’s hungry.