17 Apr

Is GMO The Best Answer For World Hunger?

by GMO Skeptic


There is wonderful news about food. A United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report released recently says

Global markets for most foodstuffs are characterized by abundant supplies and less uncertainty than in recent years, a situation reflected in FAO’s Food Price Index falling to a four year low. Major exceptions are markets for animal-based products, which are expected to sustain a 1 trillion dollar world food import bill for the fifth year in succession. (PDF file: Food Outlook — Biannual Report on Global Food Markets)

We wonder if some of the credit accrues to GMO crops. Although the report does not mention this, nor does it separate genetically engineered food from traditional. However, one of the claimed benefits of GMO technology is increased crop yield. Ready or not, GMO’s silent coup on the world’s food supply continues. For example, in August, Vietnam allowed the use of four varieties of genetically modified maize for animal feed, although farmers still need special permits to grow them.

Indisputably, increased crop yields help raise the overall food supply and may contribute to reducing hunger. However, a question naturally arises. Are increased yields resulting from GMO technology the best answer?

Why Is The World Hungry?

According to FAO, global hunger continues its decline, with about 805 million people chronically undernourished in 2014, down more than 100 million over the last decade, and 209 million lower than in 1992. Percentage-wise, the prevalence of undernourishment plummeted from 18.7 to 11.3 percent globally and from 23.4 to 13.5 percent for developing countries during that period.

Prevalence of undernourishment: the percentage of the population whose food intake is insufficient to meet dietary energy requirements continuously

The world is making steady progress toward combating hunger. Factors contributing to this progress include wealth increases from industrialization of large swathes of Asia, increased acknowledgement of the problem by affected nations, and greater efforts by Western nations to address the problem. For instance, U.S. foreign aid continues to make a substantial contribution to reducing world hunger despite ongoing Republican attempts to exterminate the program.

But why is there still hunger at all in the world? After all, this is the 21st century. Great thinkers of the past predicted hunger would no longer exist in the future. But the future is here, and so still is hunger. The reason is simple. Paraphrasing Apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy: The love of money is the root of all hunger.

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist. (Dom Helder Camara)

Is There A Food Shortage


That was easy, wasn’t it? Of course, that was just the Reader’s Digest© version. The truth is, the world produces more than enough food to feed every human being on the planet and then some. As mentioned earlier, 11.3% of the population is chronically undernourished. But we don’t have a food quantity problem. We have a distribution problem. Complicated by finances and politics.

Each year, 30 percent of global food production is lost after harvest or wasted in shops, households and catering services. This represents 750 billion USD in terms of producer or farmgate prices, going up to almost a trillion US dollars of trade value of food every year – half the GDP of Italy! (FAO — If we had to pay the bill to nature, what would food waste cost us?)

Nearly three times as much food as is needed to feed the world’s hungry is wasted. That is a thoroughly disgusting statistic, one we should all be ashamed of. But wait! There’s more!

Impact On Climate Change

Once again our friends at the UN have studied the issue in detail. The following excerpt from Food Wastage Footprint lays out in stark detail the damage unfettered food wastage inflicts on our planet.

Without accounting for GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions from land use change, the carbon footprint of food produced and not eaten is estimated to 3.3 Gtonnes of CO2 equivalent: as such, food wastage ranks as the third top emitter [of C02 globally] after USA and China.

Globally, the blue water footprint (i.e. the consumption of surface and groundwater resources) of food wastage is about 250 km3, which is equivalent to the annual water discharge of the Volga river, or three times the volume of lake Geneva.

Finally, produced but uneaten food vainly occupies almost 1.4 billion hectares of land; this [land tied up in producing food wastage] represents close to 30 percent of the world’s agricultural land area. (PDF file — Food Wastage Impacts on Natural Resouces)

(Emphasis and clarification added by EdG)

GMOs To The Rescue! (Not!)

Much like conservatives’ answer to every fiscal problem is “more tax cuts”, GMO evangelists’ answer to every food problem is “more GMOs”. According to this World Bank press release issued exactly 17 years ago today,

Bioengineering of Crops Could Help Feed the World

Crop Increases of 10-25 Percent Possible

Bioengineered crops — changing the nature of plants by adding or removing DNA — could improve food yields by up to 25 percent in the developing world and help feed the 3 billion people to be born over the next 30 years, says a report by a top-flight scientific panel convened by the World Bank and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Genes can be inserted into the major food crops, including rice, corn, wheat, potatoes, cassava and others to make them resistant to pests and diseases without the need for chemicals, or make them resistant to drought, cold, heat and other hostile conditions. Genes can also be inserted to increase the food content of crops — increasing the amount of starch in potatoes and protein in rice, for example, says Bioengineering of Crops, a report prepared for the World Bank and CGIAR.

“The challenge of feeding an additional 3 billion human beings, 95 percent of them in the poor developing countries, on the same amount of land and water currently available, requires a dramatic transformation of rural economies and intensified agriculture,” says Ismail Serageldin, Chairman of CGIAR and World Bank Vice President for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development, who commissioned the panel that wrote the report. “All possible tools that can help promote sustainable agriculture for food security must be marshaled, and biotechnology, safely deployed, could be a tremendous help in that fight.” (World Bank’s Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research)

They present a cogent, solidly-reasoned argument. In fact, their answer to the world’s hunger problem may very well increase food production. But it does nothing to reduce food wastage, and it does nothing to reduce climate change. In fact, it will increase greenhouse gas emissions.

What kind of answer is that? More waste, to supplement the existing waste? More greenhouse gases to increase existing global warming?

It makes far more sense to focus our efforts on stopping food wastage, which has the huge side benefit of reducing agriculture’s contribution to global warming. A win for the dinner plate and a win for the planet. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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