The French bid to keep the Iraqi people under the thumb of Saddam Hussein collapsed in failure, but another equally misanthropic Gallic international project is still thriving: suppressing innovations that make it easier for poor countries to feed their people and support their farmers.
This war on genetically modified crops and foodstuffs is as irrational, self-serving and appallingly unconcerned about the plight of Third World people as the French position on Iraq. The ideals that once made France a beacon, "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite," were long ago eclipsed by a different ethic: What's French for "Please, don't bother us with your tiresome mass graves or empty stomachs"?
It is the Bush administration that is again challenging France's self-interested cynicism. At issue is a European Union ban, largely driven by France, on genetically modified agricultural products. Bush took aim at it in a speech Wednesday at the Coast Guard Academy, telling Europeans they "should join -- not hinder -- the great cause of ending hunger in Africa."
Genetically modified crops have higher yields than ordinary crops, and nearly miraculous qualities of resistance to disease, pests and drought. They are, in short, a boon to farmers everywhere, but especially to those in Third World countries growing in marginal conditions.
There is no serious scientific debate over the safety of genetically modified food. As Gregory Conko of the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute points out, even the European Union can't doubt its safety anymore. The EU environment minister a few years ago called the ban "illegal and not justified."
In many cases, genetically modified crops are safer than ordinary crops, since the modifications in them are more precise than those made in breeding with wild species. There are also advantages to the environment. One is sheer productivity, which cuts down the area necessary for cultivation. Genetically modified crops can also require less pesticides and less plowing, meaning less runoff.
What should be an ongoing revolution in agriculture, however, has been stymied by the European Union. There is a global system of food production and distribution, and when Europe -- a big, premium market -- demonizes and shuns certain products, it has a ripple effect all over the world.
The United States has slowed its approval of genetically modified crops, because growers worry that mixing new genetically modified crops into the commodity stream will freeze them out of the European market. And it's not just the United States.