WHY WOULD THE IRISH PROTEST FAMINE-PROOF POTATOES?
By Dennis T. Avery
Can the modern Irish have forgotten the biggest disaster in their history? A million Irish men, women, and children starved because the late blight disease suddenly destroyed the vital potato crop. Millions more Irish lost their homes and farms and wandered the roads, subsisting on tree bark, weeds, and whatever else they could find. One million Irish emigrants boarded what became known as “coffin ships” (sailing ships too often infested with typhus and cholera), fleeing Ireland for the hope of better lives in the U.S.A. and Canada.
Even today, Ireland is dotted with “famine cottages” — little two-room stone houses, whose thatched roofs have long since rotted away. Their walls still stand, however, as grim reminders of one of history’s biggest crop disease disasters.
Ever since 1845, plant breeders have been urgently seeking blight-resistant potatoes. Potatoes produce more food value per acre than any other crop, and they are rich sources of vitamin C and other micronutrients. Countries such as China and Bangladesh in East Asia and Rwanda in the Central African highlands have become more and more dependent on potatoes to feed their increasingly dense populations.
But the late blight has continued to worsen. Chemical sprays have been less and less successful as the blight acquired resistance, and a virulent new strain of the blight appeared in 1994. American potato growers have recently had to spray their potato crops as many as 12 times per season. In warmer climates like Mexico, up to 25 sprays have been needed. Organic farmers have had to use heavy applications of toxic copper sulfate, preventively.
For the past 50 years, a genetic solution has been in hand — but unusable. A gene for late blight resistance had been found by plant explorers in a wild Mexican potato relative, Solanum bulbocastanum, which apparently evolved along with the late blight microorganism. Unfortunately, plant breeders could never cross-breed the wild potato relative’s blight resistance into a domestic potato.
In the past decade, researchers finally seized the problem by the scruff of its DNA and inserted the resistance gene directly into the domestic potato, using biotechnology. The University of Wisconsin, the University of California -- Davis, and Wageningen University in the Netherlands have all released blight-resistant varieties. “So far, the plants have been resistant to everything we have thrown at them," says Dr. John Hellgeson, who led the Wisconsin research team.
The Irish protestors say biotech potatoes would ruin their export market for potatoes — but Ireland is not a major potato exporter. The protestors say the blight-proof potatoes would put Irish farmers at the mercy of big corporations. However, blight-resistance patents are held by public universities. Chemical corporations make the pesticides, such as metalaxyl and copper sulfate, on which potato growers currently depend. With resistance built-into the potato, they’d be less dependent on chemical solutions.
Totally missing from the Irish potato protests is any empathy for the millions of their ancestors who died or fled because of the late blight, compassion for the farmers currently trying to grow potatoes in the face of virulent new late blight spores, or sympathy for the million Rwandans who hacked each other to death in 1994, primarily for fear the country’s limited farmland and dependence on blight-susceptible potatoes would lead to famine.
For a hundred years, the Irish condemned the English overseers for exporting Irish grain, while the Irish starved. Now, in a grim irony, the Irish are trying to prevent a famine solution for themselves and billions of poor people around the world.
At the next Irish potato protest, however, somebody should park a sound truck playing the haunting Irish folk songs recalling the desperate wanderings and continuing torments of the Irish potato famine’s millions of victims.
Science, Ethics, & Human Health
Dennis T. Avery is a senior fellow for Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. and the Director for Global Food Issues
(www.cgfi.org). Formerly he was a senior analyst for the United States Department of
State. Readers may write him at Post Office Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421. Email: email@example.com
Africa: Black Africa *
Africa: North Africa *
American Government 1
LINKS TO PARTICULAR ISSUES & SUBJECT MATTER CATEGORIES
TREATED IN THE PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE, U.S.A.:
American Government 2 * American Government 3 * American Government 4
American Government 5 * American Politics * Anglosphere * Arabs
Arms Control & WMD * Aztlan Separatists * Big Government
Black Africa * Bureaucracy * Canada * China * Civil Liberties * Communism
Congress, U.S. * Conservative Groups * Conservative vs. Liberal
Constitutional Law * Counterterrorism * Criminal Justice * Disloyalty * Economy
Education * Elections, U.S. * Eminent Domain * Energy & Environment
English-Speaking World * Ethnicity & Race * Europe * Europe: Jews
Family Values * Far East * Fiscal Policy, U.S. * Foreign Aid, U.S. * France
Hispanic Separatism * Hispanic Treason * Human Health * Immigration
Infrastructure, U.S. * Intelligence, U.S. * Iran * Iraq * Islamic North Africa
Islamic Threat * Islamism * Israeli vs. Arabs * Jews & Anti-Semitism
Jihad & Jihadism * Jihad Manifesto I * Jihad Manifesto II * Judges, U.S. Federal
Judicial Appointments * Judiciary, American * Latin America * Latino Separatism
Latino Treason * Lebanon * Leftists/Liberals * Legal Issues
Local Government, U.S. * Marriage & Family * Media Political Bias
Middle East: Arabs * Middle East: Iran * Middle East: Iraq * Middle East: Israel
Middle East: Lebanon * Middle East: Syria * Middle East: Tunisia
Middle East: Turkey * Militant Islam * Military Defense * Military Justice
Military Weaponry * Modern Welfare State * Morality & Decency
National Identity * National Security * Natural Resources * News Media Bias
North Africa * Patriot Act, USA * Patriotism * Political Culture * Political Ideologies
Political Parties * Political Philosophy * Politics, American * Presidency, U.S.
Private Property * Property Rights * Public Assistance * Radical Islam
Religion & America * Rogue States & WMD * Russia * Science & Ethics
Sedition & Treason * Senate, U.S. * Social Welfare Policy * South Africa
State Government, U.S. * Subsaharan Africa * Subversion * Syria * Terrorism 1
Terrorism 2 * Treason & Sedition * Tunisia * Turkey * Ukraine
UnAmerican Activity * UN & Its Agencies * USA Patriot Act * U.S. Foreign Aid
U.S. Infrastructure * U.S. Intelligence * U.S. Senate * War & Peace
Welfare Policy * WMD & Arms Control
Africa: Black Africa *
Africa: North Africa *
American Government 1
POLITICAL EDUCATION, CONSERVATIVE ANALYSIS
POLITICS, SOCIETY, & THE SOVEREIGN STATE
Website of Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
An Online Journal of Political Commentary & Analysis
Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr., Editor