Like it or not, GM crops will feed the world

Author Michael Pollan

Author Michael Pollan

Author Michael Pollan, one the high priests of the small food movement, will appear at Veterans Memorial Hall in Grass Valley tonight to preach the gospel to a local congregation of brethren who strive to be organic, range-free, gluten-free, no preservatives added foodies.

Of course, his message might not be so well received by the proprietors and employees of our many local restaurants. Pollan’s latest effort to light the way for the masses, “Cooked: A Nature History of Tranformation,” explores how deferring to corporations and chefs in lieu of preparing meals at home is detrimental to human health.

Still, he will find an enthusiastic and receptive audience who opt for the organic and range-free, embrace the locavore approach to acquiring their food  from small sustainable farms, and can pay a premium price that shows the economic gap between  them and the Grocery Outlet crowd.

I call this the small food movement because it will feed just a small portion of the world’s population, something its proponents don’t care to admit or acknowledge. Whether we like it or not, mass production of food is the only way to avoid mass starvation in the world.

Since 1968, the world’s population has grown almost 90 percent from 3.7 billion to about 7 billion, and is predicted to grow another third by 2050. Luckily for those of us who value peace on this planet, food production has grown at an even faster pace so that purely natural famines are almost completely unknown.

Much of this success can be credited to (the horror!) genetically modified crops, which are now planted on a quarter of the world’s farm land by over 17 million farmers. More than 90 percent of those farmers till just a few acres in developing countries.

GM crops have helped ensure food security and bolster incomes for farmers, and better GM crops are in the pipeline. Billions of people are leading longer, healthier lives since the commercialization of GM foods over 17 year ago.

You would think that after 17 years, any problems from eating this food would have surfaced. But every respected scientific organization that has studied the issue–the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the World Health Organization, among others–have found GM foods to be safe for humans and positive for the environment.

But that hasn’t stopped its opponents from conjuring up images of “Frankenfood” and reminding people that Monsanto, the largest producer of GM seeds in the U.S., is also the inventor of Agent Orange. I presume that means that GM seeds are the Agent Orange of eating.

Some of the people who dismiss GM reseach also criticize climate-change skeptics for trashing that science, but anybody who believes in climate change knows it will impact the food supply. According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

“Climate change will reduce median (crop) yields by 0 to 2 percent per decade for the rest of the century…These projected impacts will occur in the context of rising crop demand, projected to increase by 14 percent per decade until 2050.”

People have been breeding crops–genetically altering them–since the dawn of agriculture, and today’s techniques for modifying plants are new ways of doing the same thing. Lock-step opposition to “corporate profiteering” and “Western colonialism” won’t feed the billions of people in the developing world.

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2 Responses to Like it or not, GM crops will feed the world

  1. With 7 billion people and more coming every second, the notion that there is a magic bullet… that Anything can be produced and distributed in enough quantity to “feed the world” without massive loss of biodiversity and environmental degradation is, at best, terribly naive. In both the long run, GMO food and other irresponsibly produced food is harming – not helping – the situation. We need to be addressing population.

    • ag101board says:

      Until we can convince people to have fewer children, we need to feed the people who populate the earth. The alternative is total chaos. The organic movement is good in theory, but it won’t feed the world.

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