I know a bit about another of the Guardian‘s 50 People Who Could Save the Planet. That’s Tewolde Egziabher, who runs Ethiopia’s environmental protection agency. He has been a virulent campaigner against agricultural biotechnology. At the negotiations on the Biosafety Protocol in 1999, he took a lead position in favor of massive restrictions on this technology, especially for developing countries. He was nominated for the Guardian‘s “honor” by Vandana Shiva — another anti-biotechnology activist.
His views were widely disseminated on the internet by anti-biotech activist groups. In a paper I wrote about the Biosafety Protocol, I quoted this comment from him about the negotiations, which appeared then on the Third World Network’s website (it’s no longer posted).
“The USA delegation kept insisting that all genetic engineering did was mix genes from different individuals, which is what sexual reproduction does, and which is thus as old and as well tried as life itself. This is the basic thinking behind â€˜substantial equivalence’: when my wife’s genes and my genes mix to give us a child, that is considered the same as when the scientist, at the same time, introduces the gene for snake venom into the egg that will become our child. Our venomous child would then be considered substantially equivalent to my wife and me. Suppose the child bites my wife while suckling?”
He has done a lot to ensure that many developing countries are needlessly afraid to take advantage of this technology, which could increase their crop yields, allow some crops to be grown in inhospitable soils, and lead to less intrusion into forests and wildlife habitats.