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Is Greenpeace condemning the Amazon rain forest?

By Dennis Avery
web posted April 24, 2006

Greenpeace is warning Europeans that eating chicken McNuggets will fuel more deforestation in the Amazon rain forest. Greenpeace is "blockading" ships in European harbors with its little rubber boats, and McDonalds outlets with members dressed in chicken suits to protest feed imports from Brazil.

They claim soybeans for European chicken feed are coming "direct from the heart of the Amazon."

That's true, if you count a few million tons of soybeans floating down the Madiera River, an Amazon tributary. But those beans weren't grown in the Amazon, they're just being barged through to a seaport.

Actually, Greenpeace should be thankful that Brazilian scientists have developed acid-tolerant soybean varieties that grow successfully on millions of acres of acid, brushy "cerrado" on Brazil's central plateau. Cerrado is not rain forest. It's scrub land. Some of the cerrado is near the Amazon rain forest.

Fortunately, those former wastelands are now helping provide better diets for millions of kids around the world because of high-tech plant breeding—instead of clearing huge tracts of the actual rainforest.

Greenpeace should also extend their thanks to the chemists who developed modern weed-killers, and the farmers who used the herbicides to invent the newest, most sustainable farming system in history—no-till. The rolling volcanic soils of Brazil's central plateau couldn't be farmed for long with the plow because of massive erosion. With no-till, however, they are sustainable for the long term. No-till fights soil erosion, humanity's biggest long-term sustainability threat, to a standstill.

Unfortunately, Greenpeace urgently opposes no-till, and most other high-yield farming systems. They demand organic farming, which rejects nitrogen fertilizer and chemical weedkillers and the pesticides that offer safest, most effective plant protection available.

If the world gave up the 80 million tons of nitrogen taken from the air each year our crop plants would need the manure from 5–7 billion additional cattle. The Amazon rain forest—and all other world forests—would have to be cleared for cattle forage.

"Growing more crops and trees per acre leaves more land for Nature," says Dr. Norman Borlaug, the famed plant breeder who's credited with saving a billion people from starvation. "We cannot choose between feeding malnourished children and saving endangered wild species. Without higher yields, peasant farmers will destroy the wildlands and species to keep their children from starving. Sustainably higher yields of crops and trees are the only visible way to save both." Dr. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

The next 40 years are the critical period for the world. Human numbers will begin to decline about 2040, due to improved food security and plummeting birth rates in the developing countries. The peak population, however, may be 9 billion, up 40 percent from the current 6.3 billion. Even more important, the number of affluent people demanding high-quality diets and more pet food will soar from about 1 billion to 7 billion. The demand of world farm production will more than double.

Nothing Greenpeace has done with their cherished rubber boats is helping to sustainably double crop yields. The real question is whether or not the Greenpeace campaigns against farm chemicals, biotechnology, and other high-yield farming strategies will succeed in condemning the rain forest they claim to protect.

As with cockroaches, it isn't what Greenpeace members eat, it's what they mess up.

Dennis Avery is a senior fellow for Hudson Institute in Washington, DC and the Director for Global Food Issues (www.cgfi.org). He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. Readers may write him at Post Office Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421.

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