2023 Year in Review – A Win for Science
2023 Year in Review – A Win for Science

2023 Year in Review – A Win for Science

From a science perspective, the 21st century started strong. The Human Genome was newly sequenced, offering glimpses of future cures and treatments. Products developed through biotechnology were undergoing trials in many countries and were rapidly adopted following commercialization. Twenty years ago, the future for innovation and technology seemed bright.


The Dark Ages

Then came the Dark Ages. From 2003-2023, political and public agendas were dominated by activist disinformation. Technologies that were increasing crop yields, reducing chemical use, benefiting the environment and biodiversity, as well as improving farm profitability, were disparaged by environmental activist organizations. An excellent example of the effort to deliberately deceive the public can be witnessed in the Greenpeace banners that were used in Africa to scare people into opposing genetically modified crops by saying that consuming a GM food product would make people infertile. Clearly, ethics and morality are not strong character attributes for those employed by Greenpeace, as stating GM foods cause sterility is a deliberate lie.

Examples of misinformation on Greenpeace banners


The Enlightenment

Activist environmental non-governmental organizations (eNGOs) have successfully influenced numerous food insecure countries into rejecting safe, yield enhancing technologies, over the past 20 years. However, governments and policy makers are beginning to turn their backs on these activist eNGOs. A small flicker of flame emerged from the darkness four years ago, when Nigeria boldly turned its back on European Union-based eNGO campaigns of disinformation by approving the commercial production of insect tolerant GM cowpea. Nigeria’s action created a technology tsunami of sorts as numerous other African countries similarly turned their backs on EU-based eNGO messaging. Ghana approved GM cowpea in 2022, Kenya removed its ban on GM crops saying they were essential for improved food security and Malawi and Zambia are approving GM crop varieties.

Fed up with malnourishment and nutritional deficiencies, government leaders and policy makers throughout Africa have begun pushing back against eNGO campaigns, instead turning to science for solutions. This pushback is occurring not only in Africa, but Asia and Latin America as well. In 2022, Filipino farmers began growing GM Golden Rice, while India approved GM mustard in 2023, the first GM crop approval since 2003. In Latin America, Honduras and Guatemala are in the process of implementing regulations that will allow for the commercialization of gene edited crops. One after another, countries are openly rejecting eNGO messaging in favour of scientific evidence and safety.


European Science Renaissance

Perhaps nowhere has the rejection of eNGO disinformation been more evident than in Europe this year. In July, the European Commission released a discussion document calling for the removal of regulatory barriers on the commercialization of some new crop varieties developed using gene editing. For the past 20 years, the EU has had a draconian regulatory system that has approved but one single GM crop, which was produced for two years and then abandoned as it took 13 years to receive regulatory approval and the technology was outdated. EU eNGOs have been vociferous in attempting to spread disinformation about the risks of current mutagenic technologies, in spite of the fact that mutagenesis technology has been safely used to develop crop varieties in Europe since the 1930s. Virtually all of the food crops consumed by Europeans have been developed through the use of mutagenesis technology.

In November, the European Commission unilaterally approved the renewal of glyphosate use for a 10-year period. The Commission relied on robust empirical assessments of the use and impacts of glyphosate in reaching their decision. EU eNGOs spend months and millions of euros aggressively lobbying against this decision, spreading falsehoods and trying to pass biased activist reports as robust, peer-reviewed evidence.

Also in November, the EU rejected a cornerstone of the proposed Green Deal, which called for a 50% reduction in the use of agricultural chemicals. The Green Deal is also known as the Farm to Fork Strategy, additionally calling for a 20% reduction in fertilizer use and a tripling of organic agriculture. The Green Deal is now in shambles, as EU Parliament elections will be held in early June 2024 and, to ensure the Green Deal was implemented prior to the election, the various elements of the Deal need to have been introduced into the EU Parliament in November. At this point, no aspect of the Green Deal has been successfully introduced.


eNGO Annus Horribilis

In 1992, Windsor Castle caught fire, causing Queen Elizabeth II in her year end address to refer to the year as annus horribilis. 2023 can certainly be classified as annus horribilis for eNGOs. In spite of hundreds of thousands of hours invested in lobbying and campaigning, not to mention millions of dollars spent on these activities, these eNGOs have suffered failure at virtually every turn. There could be no better news for humanity.


Sound Science Leads the Way

While it might be a tad early to say that the globe has turned the corner on activist disinformation, government decisions from around the world strongly suggest that transition is underway. Advances in gene editing that provide increased crop yields, improved nutritional value, and greater resilience in the face of climate changes are clearly being viewed by governments as solid and safe technologies to approve and invest in. Gene editing therapies for improving human health are just beginning to be approved for use, which pose to radically alter social acceptance of biotechnology.

In the middle of the 18th century, science and innovation resulted in the Industrial Revolution. Nearly 300 years later, science and innovation are poised to lift the world out of the Dark Ages perpetuated by eNGOs. The innovative discoveries and reliance on sound science as the basis for government decisions and policies signals the dawn of a better year ahead.