A reasonable question arises from people who are either on the fence about their position on genetically modified foods or are outright in favor of them. The question revolves around the problem of how we will be able to feed an estimated 9 billion people by 2050. Big Ag has capitalized on this question and claim they have the answer. The chemical industry, obviously in the quest for more profit, also invokes the argument that only through chemically dependent genetically engineered food can we solve this conundrum. As it stands, just under a billion people, world wide, are hungry, and this despite the fact that we produce enough food to feed everyone. I would propose, as have many others, that production of GMOs fosters hunger rather than alleviating it, particularly in developing countries, and as noted by The World Hunger Education Service, “the principal underlying cause of poverty and hunger is the ordinary operation of the economic and political systems in the world. Essentially control over resources and income…based on military, political and economic power that typically ends up in the hands of the minority, who live well, while those at the bottom barely survive, if they do.”
Monsanto’s website states that “the world’s population is growing [and] to keep up with production farmers will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than in the last 10,000 years combined.” Syngenta’s website claims that “we develop new, higher yielding seeds and better ways to protect crops from insects, weeds and disease.” The global seed and pesticide companies also insist that organic farms constitute an inefficient, fringe method of farming. Among other studies, however, one started by the Rodel Institute in 1981, called the Fair System Trial, has produced findings that discredit this belief. “The first FST research found that crop yields from organic and synthetic/chemical farms are similar in years of average precipitation. It also found that organic farm yields are higher than those of chemical farms during droughts and floods, due to stronger root systems in organic plants, and better moisture retention in the soil, which prevents run-off and erosion. The most surprising finding of all has been that organically farmed soil stores a lot of carbon – so much, in fact, that if all the cultivated land in the world were farmed organically it would immediately reduce our climate crisis significantly.”
A 2008 report released by the International Assessment of Agriculture Science and Technology for Development, a multinational effort fronted by the World Bank, concluded that modern agriculture would have to shift rapidly away from industrialized systems and toward sustainable, small-scale, diversified farming systems in order to meet the challenges of population growth, hunger, environmental degradation and climate change. Diversified farming precludes monoculture crops and CAFOs. Essentially, crops are planted and livestock raised concomitantly, which results in ways that replenish rather than deplete natural ecosystems. Diversified farming involves growing different crops together, planting cover crops, and planting trees and shrubs with crops and livestock. The result of these practices are pest and disease control, water purification and erosion control.
As far as encouraging diversified farming in developing countries, Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has pointed to evidence that diversified farming methods outperform chemical fertilizers in producing greater yields for subsistence farmers. “We won’t solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations, Dr. De Schutter says. “The solution lies in supporting small-scale farmers’ knowledge and experimentation, and in raising incomes of smallholders so as to contribute to rural development.” Moreover, much of the available farm land world wide is increasingly devoted to feed and fuel crops. As reported by Jonathan Foley in his article, “The New Food Revolution” for National Geographic, 45% of global crop calories are used for feed and fuel. North America, most of Latin America and Europe devote well over 50% of their farmland to feed and fuel crops. And much of genetic engineering research in food is devoted to meeting the commercial needs of food processors rather than the needs of poor consumers. Add to that, as has been pointed out repeatedly, technologies foisted upon third world farmers are not affordable. Legislation supported by Monsanto and others forces farmers to purchase seeds, denies them the right to save and exchange seeds, and also requires the purchase of chemical herbicides and fertilizers. By threatening the livelihoods of poor farmers, GMOs can only increase food insecurity.
That political will is essentially what’s behind the inequitable distribution of food is an ancient problem, and the key force contributing to hunger. According to Business Week, “the issue isn’t so much that we can’t grow enough. Rather, existing food supplies are so poorly distributed that those hundreds of millions have too little for their own health, while 2 billion have too much.” The USDA recently reported that the U.S. throws out 31% (133 billion pounds) of consumable food, much of that meat, poultry and fish. Rather than rely on GMOs to feed the world, which they can’t, a better concentration of our energy should focus on reduction of waste, more efficient distribution and governmental subsidies for sustainable agriculture. And instead of simply abetting the demand for more meat in economically emerging countries such as India and China, better nutritional education in schools should also be government supported. Increasing support and encouragement of industrial farming, which inevitably involves the use of greater amounts of toxic chemicals and an unsustainable use of water, will only exacerbate food insecurity world wide.
As a footnote, 15% of Oregon households in 2014 are food insecure, and as a nation, 17.5 million families, or one in seven, were food insecure last year. The march to continue increasing industrial farming is evident as Big Ag strives to quash GMO labeling campaigns. In Oregon, so far, Monsanto has spent $1.5 million against measure 92, Pepsi $1.4 million, and Kraft Foods $870,000. If these companies were truly interested in working to feed the hungry, perhaps they would have considered more productive ways to invest their money.
Recipe of the Week
I had a craving for garbonzo beans, and developed this simple stew. It’s important to buy locally grown lamb.
Garbonzos, Lamb and Rosemary
1 lb lamb leg steak
1 onion, chopped
6 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tbls fresh rosemary, minced
1 28 oz. can organic whole tomatoes, pureed
5 cups homemade chicken stock
2 cans organic garbonzo beans, rinsed
1 cup red wine
2 tbls olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the lamb and cook until slightly brown. Add the rosemary and garlic and stir in for about 1 minute. Add all the wine, lower the heat to medium high, and simmer until the wine has almost evaporated. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garbonzo beans, tomatoes and stock and simmer on medium until the meat is tender, about 1.5 hours.