Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The First Shall be Last

 
640px-Ripe_Plantain_001
Plantains in Ghana by Flixtey.

If you’ll forgive a very rough gloss, Homo sapiens originated in sub-Saharan Africa about 200,000 years ago, spread out across Eurasia and, eventually, into the Americas. In the last two centuries, the cultural and technological changes brought by the Industrial, Green, and Information Revolutions flowed back to the corners of the globe where humanity first arose. It’s been a long trip, but we seem to be approaching the end of this particular journey.

The bad news is that Africa is still a basket case. By almost any quality-of-life measure, it ranks at the bottom of the list. And while some of these problems are political or endemic to the place due to its geography, the good news is that the continent may finally have reached the point where the things that have brought much of the rest of the world out of its natural squalor can finally be applied there as well.

Via The Economist, one of the biggest opportunities for improvement is by modernizing African agriculture. Mechanization might be part of that, but the biggest gains will likely come from applying the technology of the Green Revolution, particularly through hybrid and (very likely) GMO versions of the staples that constitute Africans’ diet. The reason this hasn’t happened already is simple:

[C]rops and diets differ a lot across the continent. In Rwanda, white maize and beans are the staple foods. In other places millet, teff, sorghum, cassava or sweet potatoes are more important. Asia’s green revolution was a comparatively simple matter, says Donald Larson of the World Bank, because Asia has only two crucial crops: rice and wheat. Provide high-yield varieties of both and much of the technical work is done. African agriculture is so heterogeneous that no leap forward in the farming of a single crop could transform it. The continent needs a dozen green revolutions.

This is actually beginning to happen, both in terms of the adoption of better farming techniques and through improved crops. Unfortunately, activists are busy protesting these very things, including human trials of a new strain of GMO cooking bananas that contain additional beta carotene, which metabolizes into Vitamin A. (Millions of people who eat such bananas suffer from Vitamin A deficiency; if you’re familiar with Golden Rice, this is essentially the plantain equivalent.) There’s little reason to suppose this would do anything but provide millions of people the ability to earn a living by feeding many millions more. But activists are treating it as the banana-based version of the Tuskegee Experiment, even if the first human trials are being conducted on (overwhelmingly white) students at Iowa State University.

If you couple this with the slow social improvements in the continent, as well as the spectacular improvements we’ve made against some of its natural scourges (even while holding back our heaviest weapons against the biggest killers), millions more Africans might be able to have the stability and resources to build better, more just, and more prosperous societies.

It’s not a total solution, but you have to start somewhere.

There are 36 comments.

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor

    I so grit my teeth at the whole GMO protest movement. Millions of people could be helped by these changes. I’ve had the impression over the years that a big part of the problem in Africa is the inability of getting funding past the pockets of their leaders. Is that still a factor, or have they found a way to get help directly to the farmers and others connected to agriculture?

    • #1
    • April 1, 2016, at 10:56 AM PDT
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  2. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Susan Quinn:I so grit my teeth at the whole GMO protest movement. Millions of people could be helped by these changes. I’ve had the impression over the years that a big part of the problem in Africa is the inability of getting funding past the pockets of their leaders. Is that still a factor, or have they found a way to get help directly to the farmers and others connected to agriculture?

    I’m no expert, but the politics in much of Africa are still a mess. Some places have made significant progress, though.

    • #2
    • April 1, 2016, at 11:00 AM PDT
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  3. TKC1101 Inactive

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: I’m no expert, but the politics in much of Africa are still a mess. Some places have made significant progress, though.

    A population that eats regularly is crucial for hope. Without hope, there is no will to improve government. Now a population that used to eat regularly and does not is outright dangerous.- see France, 1789.

    The hope for Africa is it may be entering the phase where generations do not deal with daily hunger. It is a bit crucial in making any more steps.

    Good post, Mr Meyer.

    • #3
    • April 1, 2016, at 11:12 AM PDT
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  4. Herbert E. Meyer Contributor

    Bravo, Tom, to you and to Ricochet for occasionally putting the spotlight onto places where some things are actually getting better. Just as “Airplane Lands On-time” and “Mall Closes at 9pm, Everyone Goes Home” aren’t news bulletins, “Life Improves in Africa” just doesn’t get the attention it deserves. The result is that we all get a distorted view of the world; we only hear about problems and disasters, never about positive developments. Keep ’em coming.

    By the way, last I checked seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa. Rwanda — cite of one of the greatest atrocities in modern history — now is growing at an annual rate of 8 percent.

    Like, wow….

    • #4
    • April 1, 2016, at 11:15 AM PDT
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  5. Front Seat Cat Member

    There is a saying somewhere that separates the liberals from conservatives – here’s a version: If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, if you give him a fishing pole and show him how to fish, he sustains himself. I think it applies here.

    As far as the GMO story, it needs the right marketing? Many confuse it with the Round Up Ready Monsanto mess, as well as introducing additions into our food system such as what you describe, where the source of the addition can come from something that causes an allergy to some people. Strange things like introducing a fish gene into a tomato to provide an additional element like Vitamin A would not work for people allergic to fish. It could even be life-threatening.

    I am a purist first, and like to think that God’s original product is the best. But there are also battles against crop diseases and pests etc. that require chemicals and new varieties. We are experiencing that here in FL in the citrus industry. It is great to read a message of hope for a continent that has had so much suffering – thank you!

    • #5
    • April 1, 2016, at 11:24 AM PDT
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  6. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Front Seat Cat: As far as the GMO story, it needs the right marketing? Many confuse it with the Round Up Ready Monsanto mess, as well as introducing additions into our food system such as what you describe, where the source of the addition can come from something that causes an allergy to some people. Strange things like introducing a fish gene into a tomato to provide an additional element like Vitamin A would not work for people allergic to fish. It could even be life-threatening.

    Well, RoundupReady crops are one variety of GMOs*, but — as you say — that’s just one variety of them. As regards Golden Rice and these bananas, this is quite literally the same chemical that makes carrots orange. There’s little reason to suspect any danger; but even if there were, that’s why they’re doing clinical trials.

    Front Seat Cat:

    I am a purist first, and like to think that God’s original product is the best.

    You may be disappointed on that. Wheat — all varieties, even the most ancient — is a human made hybrid and a great many crops are unregonizable compared to their ancient counterparts. Moreover, many modern food cultivars were created by bombarding seeds with massive doses of radiation and … just kind of seeing what happened. The mutated seeds are used the world over and have never required new labeling. Heck the super-crunchy granola I eat that smear NON GMO all over it is probably all made up of the stuff. And it still counts as organic if you grow it that way.

    • #6
    • April 1, 2016, at 12:08 PM PDT
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  7. Bruce Caward Thatcher
    Bruce CawardJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Front Seat Cat: If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, if you give him a fishing pole and show him how to fish, he sustains himself.

    If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he will vote for Democrats who will force you to keep giving him free fish.

    • #7
    • April 1, 2016, at 12:47 PM PDT
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  8. Tenacious D Inactive

    It’s a couple of years old now, but this article on the brewing industry in Africa from the Economist is a fascinating snapshot of progress in a related field (beer being a simple value-added product from agriculture):

    http://www.economist.com/news/business/21602999-long-established-african-firm-went-global-only-find-fastest-growing-market-was-its

    • #8
    • April 1, 2016, at 1:00 PM PDT
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  9. Tuck Inactive

    OK, I’m going to take the contrary view here. Africa’s already had its green revolution.

    The three biggest crops in Africa, apparently, are corn, rice, and wheat. Corn comes from South America, rice from Asia, and Wheat from the Middle East. None are native to sub-saharan Africa, obviously. The same is true for many other crops which are now African staples.

    This is what has allowed the African population to quadruple over the last 50 years. The population growth is not expected to slow, and until it does, they’re not going to get ahead of the malnutrition problems by eating orange bananas (yet another imported food).

    Since they’ve been outgrowing a steadily-increasing food supply for quite some time now, what is likely to change that?

    That’s the real question that will change Africa.

    • #9
    • April 1, 2016, at 2:04 PM PDT
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  10. Tuck Inactive

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: It’s not a total solution, but you have to start somewhere.

    This is the other thing that irks me about this post. You keep saying “we”. Who is this “we” you’re referring to? Africa’s a basket-case by who’s standards? Ours?

    The compelling, conservative case for Africa becoming more “developed” like us that I’ve heard is that we need to leave them alone, and start letting them act like free people. That is how Europe did it, after all.

    If they wind up not doing it in a way that makes them wind up looking like Europe, so what? Why is that a bad thing?

    For God’s Sake, Please Stop the Aid!

    Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor….

    …Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. … If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn’t even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit.”

    • #10
    • April 1, 2016, at 2:24 PM PDT
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  11. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Tuck:This is the other thing that irks me about this post. You keep saying “we”. Who is this “we” you’re referring to?

    Well, I said “you,” not “we.” “One” works fine. I am not calling for any government action.

    Tuck:The compelling, conservative case for Africa becoming more “developed” like us that I’ve heard is that we need to leave them alone, and start letting them act like free people. That is how Europe did it, after all.

    Again, not calling for any intervention. Public foreign aid is usually a boondoogle.

    Tuck:If they wind up not doing it in a way that makes them wind up looking like Europe, so what? Why is that a bad thing?

    That’d be fine with me.

    • #11
    • April 1, 2016, at 2:33 PM PDT
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  12. Tuck Inactive

    Tuck: “For God’s Sake, Please Stop the Aid!

    Best quote from that article:

    “Unfortunately, the Europeans’ devastating urge to do good can no longer be countered with reason.”

    That’s what a Conservative plan for Africa sounds like.

    • #12
    • April 1, 2016, at 2:33 PM PDT
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  13. Dave of Barsham Member

    Bruce Caward:

    Front Seat Cat: If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, if you give him a fishing pole and show him how to fish, he sustains himself.

    If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he will vote for Democrats who will force you to keep giving him free fish.

    I thought it went “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, his wife will never see him again…”

    • #13
    • April 1, 2016, at 2:38 PM PDT
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  14. Tuck Inactive

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: …Again, not calling for any intervention. Public foreign aid is usually a boondoogle….

    The Green Revolution was financed in large part by the US Government, in partnership with leading Progressives in the US (many of them Republicans, of course) and the United Nations.

    You picked the wrong example, I’ll presume, if you’re not calling for intervention or public foreign aid.

    That’s why I found this so irksome. :)

    I will say that the Green Revolution was one of the big successes of the Progressives, but it also led directly to the current plague of the metabolic syndrome around the world. Big government programs always have their unintended consequences.

    • #14
    • April 1, 2016, at 2:41 PM PDT
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  15. Dave of Barsham Member

    Tuck:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: …Again, not calling for any intervention. Public foreign aid is usually a boondoogle….

    The Green Revolution was financed in large part by the US Government, in partnership with leading Progressives in the US (many of them Republicans, of course) and the United Nations.

    You picked the wrong example, I’ll presume, if you’re not calling for intervention or public foreign aid.

    That’s why I found this so irksome. :)

    I will say that the Green Revolution was one of the big successes of the Progressives, but it also led directly to the current plague of the metabolic syndrome around the world. Big government programs always have their unintended consequences.

    So “Yay, we won’t starve to death but now we’ll all get fat…” Sowell is rarely wrong, it really is all about tradeoffs.

    • #15
    • April 1, 2016, at 2:47 PM PDT
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  16. Tuck Inactive

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: Well, I said “you,” not “we.” “One” works fine. I am not calling for any government action.

    This paragraph:

    “If you couple this with the slow social improvements in the continent, as well as the spectacular improvements we’ve made against some of its natural scourges (even while holding back our heaviest weapons against the biggest killers), millions more Africans might be able to have the stability and resources to build better, more just, and more prosperous societies.”

    The implication, as I read this, is, “just a little more help from us and they’ll be all set.”

    Stopping the help entirely is the best thing we could do for Africans, just as it would be for African-Americans, and for the exact same reasons.

    • #16
    • April 1, 2016, at 2:51 PM PDT
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  17. Tuck Inactive

    LesserSon of Barsham: So “Yay, we won’t starve to death but now we’ll all get fat…” Sowell is rarely wrong, it really is all about tradeoffs.

    LOL. Fat wouldn’t be so bad, if it didn’t come with diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and all the rest of the metabolic syndrome.

    • #17
    • April 1, 2016, at 2:53 PM PDT
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  18. Dave of Barsham Member

    Tuck:

    LesserSon of Barsham: So “Yay, we won’t starve to death but now we’ll all get fat…” Sowell is rarely wrong, it really is all about tradeoffs.

    LOL. Fat wouldn’t be so bad, if it didn’t come with diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and all the rest of the metabolic syndrome.

    true-story-new

    • #18
    • April 1, 2016, at 3:02 PM PDT
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  19. Tuck Inactive

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: …including human trials of a new strain of GMO cooking bananas that contain additional beta carotene, which metabolizes into Vitamin A.

    You will be happy to hear that this was, at least originally, a privately-funded banana:

    “In 2005, with the backing of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dale began experimenting with ways to add beta-carotene, a nutrient the human body uses to produce vitamin A, to the East African Highland cooking banana, a staple in the Ugandan diet.”

    I just had to go look and see. ;)

    If you want to get annoyed, think about the fact that this banana is undergoing human safety trials while kids are malnourished. Why not just feed some monkeys the bananas for a while, and then give them to the kids?

    • #19
    • April 1, 2016, at 3:16 PM PDT
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  20. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy WeivodaJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: You may be disappointed on that. Wheat — all varieties, even the most ancient — is a human made hybrid and a great many crops are unregonizable compared to their ancient counterparts.

    Corn, too. No one knows how many centuries it took South American Indians to breed corn from what used to be grasses. Someone who wants to eat food as it existed before humans took up agriculture has got their work cut out for them.

    • #20
    • April 1, 2016, at 3:49 PM PDT
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  21. Tuck Inactive

    Herbert E. Meyer:Rwanda — cite of one of the greatest atrocities in modern history — now is growing at an annual rate of 8 percent.

    Like, wow….

    They apparently have a very conservative leader who’s trying to wean the country off foreign aid.

    • #21
    • April 1, 2016, at 3:55 PM PDT
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  22. Tuck Inactive

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: Well, RoundupReady crops are one variety of GMOs*, but — as you say — that’s just one variety of them. As regards Golden Rice and these bananas, this is quite literally the same chemical that makes carrots orange.

    From that Scientific American article I posted above (about the Gates Foundation) it turns out that they found another variety of banana that had high beta-carotene levels. Since the bananas we eat are all sterile (they’re clones, basically), the only way to selectively modify them is to use genetic modification techniques. You can’t use traditional breeding techniques.

    Moving a gene from one banana to another is far less concerning than adding botulin toxin genes, for instance.

    • #22
    • April 1, 2016, at 4:01 PM PDT
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  23. Front Seat Cat Member

    Bruce Caward:

    Front Seat Cat: If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, if you give him a fishing pole and show him how to fish, he sustains himself.

    If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he will vote for Democrats who will force you to keep giving him free fish.

    That is funny – it should be a slogan!

    • #23
    • April 1, 2016, at 4:32 PM PDT
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  24. Tuck Inactive

    Randy Weivoda:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: You may be disappointed on that. Wheat — all varieties, even the most ancient — is a human made hybrid and a great many crops are unregonizable compared to their ancient counterparts.

    Corn, too. No one knows how many centuries it took South American Indians to breed corn from what used to be grasses. Someone who wants to eat food as it existed before humans took up agriculture has got their work cut out for them.

    Yeah, the GMO people are worrying about the wrong thing. Standard hybridization is far more dangerous. Wheat-related diseases affect ~7% of the population, and the dangerous genes were crossed in to increase pest resistance. We’re a pest. The latest, most harmful hybridization was done as part of the Green Revolution, in part. That’s how they increased the yields.

    There is an original version of wheat that’s still available, Tom, it’s called Einkorn, and it’s lacking the additional, problematic genomes. Even people with the most severe gluten intolerances can eat it, although it’s not totally problem-free.

    LOL. People forget that eating wheat was punishment. Read Genesis. Want to make God turn up his nose? Offer him wheat.

    • #24
    • April 1, 2016, at 4:38 PM PDT
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  25. Front Seat Cat Member

    All good points – so I hate to be a thorn – it is the right thing to do to help feed these countries that have nothing. But we keep trying to improve nature (generally speaking), but our bodies have not been able to adapt to the “new and improved” version of wheat, corn, soy etc.

    I suffer from food allergies and wondered why I had all these awful symptoms all my life – it was process of elimination, but the concerns are real. Different cultures have been conditioned for eons to eat the food grown in their climate only. Europe will not accept GMO food from the states, nor will they allow their seed crops to cross-breed with GMO seeds for good reason. Studies have concluded that GMO corn does not break down in the stomach for a long time and causes gastric distress. Soy was frowned on in the 1940’s as a food.

    It seems that organic farming requires less pest control and chemicals. Even the bee population is in trouble thanks to pesticides and GMO crops. To make matters worse, seed companies have been selling to farmers seeds that are sterile for years, so plants cannot reproduce seeds, so they are forced to ….buy more seeds. Heirloom seeds and plants are coveted.

    I understand when you are starving, food is food. But there are legitimate concerns regarding the food we are consuming these days.

    http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/allergies-and-gmos/

    • #25
    • April 1, 2016, at 4:53 PM PDT
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  26. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. StephensJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Front Seat Cat:There is a saying somewhere that separates the liberals from conservatives – here’s a version: If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, if you give him a fishing pole and show him how to fish, he sustains himself. I think it applies here.

    As far as the GMO story, it needs the right marketing? Many confuse it with the Round Up Ready Monsanto mess, as well as introducing additions into our food system such as what you describe, where the source of the addition can come from something that causes an allergy to some people. Strange things like introducing a fish gene into a tomato to provide an additional element like Vitamin A would not work for people allergic to fish. It could even be life-threatening.

    I am a purist first, and like to think that God’s original product is the best. But there are also battles against crop diseases and pests etc. that require chemicals and new varieties. We are experiencing that here in FL in the citrus industry. It is great to read a message of hope for a continent that has had so much suffering – thank you!

    So, don’t eat Strawberries, beef, corn, wheat, rice, pork, pretty much anything that you don’t go out and kill yourself, or eat in its original wild state (cannot do that with cows at all).

    It was all modified, just the slow way.

    So by the way, was your avatar. Not as it evolved at all.

    • #26
    • April 1, 2016, at 5:53 PM PDT
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  27. iWe Reagan
    iWeJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Front Seat Cat: Even the bee population is in trouble thanks to pesticides and GMO crops.

    This is simply untrue. The bee population is stable – despite all the scare stories.

    The data is very clear: GMO food is nutritious. If it were not, life-expectancies would be falling, not the opposite.

    Front Seat Cat: I suffer from food allergies and wondered why I had all these awful symptoms all my life – it was process of elimination, but the concerns are real.

    The latest evidence suggests is that food allergies come in part from living more hygenic lives, and from not being exposed to food at very young ages.

    Like polio, it is clean living that creates the problem. Not improved food crops.

    • #27
    • April 3, 2016, at 3:44 PM PDT
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  28. iWe Reagan
    iWeJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Front Seat Cat: To make matters worse, seed companies have been selling to farmers seeds that are sterile for years, so plants cannot reproduce seeds, so they are forced to ….buy more seeds. Heirloom seeds and plants are coveted.

    I see nothing wrong with this. If the seeds are a bad deal, farmers will not buy them. The seed companies cannot force farmers to buy their seeds, after all.

    • #28
    • April 3, 2016, at 3:45 PM PDT
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  29. Tuck Inactive

    iWe: …If it were not, life-expectancies would be falling, not the opposite.

    That’s a fair point, but looking at life-expectancy is a very misleading indicator.

    Say GMOs caused increased disability at the end of life, but did not reduce over-all life expectancy, which is primarily driven by infant mortality numbers.

    GMOs would therefore be considered bad, even though they don’t lead to an immediate decline in life expectancy.

    (I’m not saying GMOs are having that effect, btw, but just pointing out that you’re not using the correct measurment.)

    • #29
    • April 3, 2016, at 3:58 PM PDT
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  30. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. StephensJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Tuck:

    iWe: …If it were not, life-expectancies would be falling, not the opposite.

    That’s a fair point, but looking at life-expectancy is a very misleading indicator.

    Say GMOs caused increased disability at the end of life, but did not reduce over-all life expectancy, which is primarily driven by infant mortality numbers.

    GMOs would therefore be considered bad, even though they don’t lead to an immediate decline in life expectancy.

    (I’m not saying GMOs are having that effect, btw, but just pointing out that you’re not using the correct measurment.)

    We live younger longer. We have new end of life issues because we live longer. If we cure cancer, people will die off from something else.

    • #30
    • April 3, 2016, at 4:37 PM PDT
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