Answering the corporate-political voices which advocate GM crops as the solution to ‘world hunger’

21 Apr

And asking if the developing world, as it moves towards adopting the standard American diet, will see its destructive nature and pull out.

mark bittmanDr Brian John, of GM Free Cymru, draws attention to an article by Mark Bittman (right), an American food journalist, author, and columnist for The New York Times. It opens:

“It’s been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy spoke of ending world hunger, yet . . . the situation remains dire. The question “How will we feed the world?” implies that we have no choice but to intensify industrial agriculture, with more high-tech seeds, chemicals and collateral damage.

“Yet there are other, better options. Something approaching a billion people are hungry, a number that’s been fairly stable for more than 50 years, although it has declined as a percentage of the total population . . . Feeding the world” might as well be a marketing slogan for Big Ag, a euphemism for “Let’s ramp up sales,” as if producing more cars would guarantee that everyone had one”. It doesn’t work that way”.

The United States has a percentage rate of hunger close to that of Indonesia

usa hunger       Bittman’s points summarised:

  • The world has long produced around 2,700 calories per day per human, more than enough to meet the United Nations projection of a population of nine billion in 2050, up from the current seven billion.
  • There are hungry people not because food is lacking, but because not all of those calories go to feed humans (a third go to feed animals, nearly 5% are used to produce biofuels, and as much as a third is wasted, all along the food chain).
  • Chemical Concern adds that many landless people have too low an income to buy available food.

The current system is neither environmentally nor economically sustainable

  • It is dependent on fossil fuels and routinely resulting in environmental damage,
  • geared to letting the half of the planet with money eat well while everyone else scrambles to eat as cheaply as possible,
  • will become scarcer for the poor, because demand for animal products will surge, and they require more resources like grain to produce;
  • there is not the land, water or fertilizer — let alone the health care funding — for the world to consume Western levels of meat.

We must stop assuming that the industrial model of food production and its accompanying disease-producing diet is both inevitable and desirable.

Bittman: Let’s at last recognize that there are two food systems, one industrial and one of small landholders.

“The small-holder system is not only here for good, it’s arguably more efficient than the industrial model”.

etc group logoHe points out that according to the Ottawa based ETC Group, the industrial food chain uses 70% of agricultural resources to provide 30% of the world’s food, whereas what ETC calls “the peasant food web” produces the remaining 70% using only 30% of the resources. An ETC poster:

etc poster

Bittman continues: “(Though) high-yielding varieties of any major commercial monoculture crop will produce more per acre than peasant-bred varieties of the same crop, by diversifying crops, mixing plants and animals, planting trees — which provide not only fruit but shelter for birds, shade, fertility through nutrient recycling, and more — small landholders can produce more food (and more kinds of food) with fewer resources and lower transportation costs (which means a lower carbon footprint), while providing greater food security, maintaining greater biodiversity, and even better withstanding the effects of climate change.

“Yet obviously not all poor people feed themselves well, because they lack the essentials: land, water, energy and nutrients. Often that’s a result of cruel dictatorship (North Korea) or war, displacement and strife (the Horn of Africa, Haiti and many other places), or drought or other calamities. But it can also be an intentional and direct result of land and food speculation and land and water grabs, which make it impossible for peasants to remain in their home villages. (Governments of many developing countries may also act as agents for industrial agriculture, seeing peasant farming as “inefficient.”) . . .

“The result is forced flight to cities, where peasants become poorly paid laborers, enter the cash market for (increasingly mass produced) food, and eat worse. (They’re no longer “peasants,” at this point, but more akin to the working poor of the United States, who also often cannot afford to eat well, though not to the point of starvation.) It’s a formula for making not only hunger but obesity: remove the ability to produce food, then remove the ability to pay for food, or replace it with only one choice: bad food . . .

“Supporting, or at least not obstructing, peasant farming is one key factor, but the other is reining in Western-style monoculture and the standard American diet it creates . . .

“But if the standard American diet represents the low point of eating, a question is whether the developing world, as it hurtles toward that nutritional nadir — the polar opposite of hunger, but almost as deadly — can see its destructive nature and pull out of the dive before its diet crashes. Because “solving” hunger by driving people into cities to take low-paying jobs so they can buy burgers and fries is hardly a desirable outcome”.

Read the full article here:


One Response to “Answering the corporate-political voices which advocate GM crops as the solution to ‘world hunger’”

  1. Peter Evans April 22, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    This is a brilliant article – its fact are delivered with intelligent examples and statistical observations. As a whole, it explains its case exceedingly well. I shall circulate this as widely as possible – it is proposterous that the motives to enrich companies and their shareholders, despite being seriously flawed, have currently got the upper hand in the debate. Such is the power of those controlling the financial wealth of the world.
    Bringing out the truth is not always enough however. Motivating the public in any country is a horendous task but it is one that has to achieved if there is to be a significant and lasting change of direction sadly. Yet it has to succeed if millions of lives are to be saved or abject poverty avoided.

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