Here are some crazy statistics:
- According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in a 2011 report, about 25% of the world’s agricultural land is now highly degraded. The Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that climate change is going to further exacerbate the problem.
- According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 70% of global water use is used in agriculture. However, the share of water is going to dramatically drop to 40% by 2050.
- By 2001, the FAO food price index more than doubled its level from 2000-2002. We’ve now had the longest cyclical rise in food prices in the last 50 years.
- As population continues to grow, food supply demand will continue to rise and therefore prices will continue to rise while supply will continue to decline.
Taking these statistics into account, we know we have to do something as the dismal future looms ahead. The GMO proponents feel they are doing something to help the situation. According to these groups, some of the benefits of GMOs include:
- Increased crop yield
- Increased nutrition in existing crops (read about the GM anthocyanin tomatoes)
- Improved food production efficiency
- Improved shelf life (about 60-70% of all processed foods you buy have GMO)
- Decease resistant crops (read about the late blight resistant potatoes)
- Pest resistant crops
Those seem like some pretty cool benefits! While some of these characteristics can be achieved using traditional or classical breeding methods (as they’ve been doing since the beginning of agriculture), not all crops are easily bred for the desirable traits. The late blight resistant potatoes are an example of this.
However, the GMO community is trying to tell us that using biotechnology and genetically modifying crops is the same as cross breeding (the practice of thousands of years). It is not the same. And the claims of sustainability due to decease resistance and pest resistance may or may not prove out. Many of the GM crops are developing new and improved insects and deceases which could be strike one against sustainability. During a time when we are learning about antibiotic resistance, we should consider the same with our food supply.
There are also indications of the following:
- GE crops require more water and can not depend on rainwater
- GE crops are more susceptible to secondary pests
- GE crops depend on the chemicals developed by the bioengineer companies and therefore, crops become more costly
So, the questions of sustainability are a lot more complicated than the GMO community would have us believe. However, one of the biggest issues might actually be – not whether or not GMOs can help the world’s food ills, but rather, if we rely on GMOs, are we going to ignore the myriad of OTHER proven techniques to sustain a quality food source (ie: urban vertical farming as just one example in my mind)?
If we use seeds as our sole solution to the problems in food production, we must also consider that these seeds are going to be patented (yes, corporations can actually now own food sources!) and study all the potential problems that will bring. Those problems could go a lot way to mitigate any potential gain to sustainability.
I could go on for pages citing studies on both sides of the sustainability argument – there are many. However, trying to weed through these studies to find which ones are flawed, which ones are “industry funded” and which ones are put forth solely with an agenda in mind, is almost an impossible task! Suffice it to say that we are ALL for safe and effective methods for feeding the world in the coming hard times. However, I am not nearly as convinced that GMOs are a long term effective and safe method.
Obviously, technology plays an ever increasing role in the quality of life and its ability to improve quality of life. However, just because genetic engineering is technology doesn’t make it the be all and end all solution. Further, there are other technologies being developed that might not have the potential risks involved with GE. But that being said, there very well may be a place for GE in a comprehensive solution to the world’s food problems. IMHO, however, if we do use GE as a part of our plan, it should be for the benefit of our species and NOT for the benefit of a corporation. I do not ever want a corporation owning any part of the human condition.
Next week – GMOs and food labeling.