Are my food choices aggravating world hunger?
To grow food, you need fresh water, healthy soil with adequate plant
nutrients,and viable seed that can adapt to climatic conditions. This
latter ability arises from bio-diversity, that is, an abundance of
different genes in the pool, so that the hardiest ones for given
conditions can survive.
amount of water on the planet is not becoming less, but to keep water
where we need it, we need to combat climate change. Some water is best
kept in ice packs at the poles, to cool the planet and reflect incoming
sunlight. Other water needs to fall as snow and collect in glaciers, to
provide melt water over dry summers at lower elevations. And some water
must fall as rain, over the growing season.
as we’re beginning to understand, climate change contributes to extremes
of weather: too much rainfall all at one time, or too little over the
growing season. Just as in the case of energy, we need to invest in water
management technology and infrastructure. This may mean storing water and
moving it around. Most of all, we need to address human activity that
contributes to climate change.
until WWII, farmers around the world used traditional (organic) methods,
often driven by animal labor, to till the soil. Crop rotation was used to
fix nitrogen in the soil (via legumes such as beans and soy beans) and use
it for cereal crops, such as corn and wheat, in the next season. Stubble
and animal manure were turned back into the soil to fertilize and
texturize it. Lime might be added to sweeten it. There were varying
degrees of success, and some areas of the world experienced food
the advent of modern farming, heavy labor was increasingly provided by
fossil fuels, with petroleum-based fertilizers as a by-product. Research
produced pesticides, to reduce crop loss, and hybrid strains with greater
yields. These two worked hand-in-hand, as hybrids were often more
susceptible to pests and required heavier use of pesticides. Crop rotation
was discontinued in favor of concentrated cash crops.
of organic farming noted that intensive farming, with fertilizers and
pesticides, often killed the natural organisms in the soil and left a
hard, sterile clay unsuitable for agriculture without the additives. At
the same time, farmers using these chemicals began to show increasing
health problems. But the demand for cheap, abundant food – along with
idealistic notions of the Green Revolution ending world hunger -- drove
the petro-chemical revolution in farming.
Most farmers and gardeners were delighted with improved seeds provided by large seed companies, though farmers often found costs increasing for hybrid seed stock and the chemicals it might require. Nonetheless, the burpless cucumber and the low-acid tomato were seen as welcome additions to the table.
the late 20th century, however, technology opened a Pandora’s
box … the genetically manipulated organism (GMO). Gene splicing allowed
the best traits of certain organisms to be selected and concentrated. Some
scientists even found they could place animal characteristics in plants
and vice versa, to solve some particular agricultural challenge, e.g.
disease resistance. Before long, though, odd side effects were noted from
some crops. A strain of corn used in breakfast cereal might produce
allergic rashes in people who consumed it.
that, there were other new developments. Monsanto, one of the
seed/chemical giants, produced a ‘terminator’ seed. Planted once it
would produce a lovely crop. But the crop, while edible, would produce no
viable seed for the next year. Ergo, any farmer who planted it once, would
have to buy seed from the company again the next year. Since farmers in
poor countries often save seed to plant the following year, purchasing
seed drove them out of business. Worse yet, once the ‘terminator’ was
in their fields, bees and other pollinators would carry the gene to other
plants. And the farmer in the end, might find none of his plants, or even
wild species in surrounding areas, would produce viable seeds. The alarm
was sounded. GMO might be more dangerous than ‘pest resistance’ or
‘increased yield’ were worth.
seed and other GMO companies pressed governments for permission to market
their products, protest mounted to prevent it. We are still at that
crossroads. GMO is here to stay, whether we perceive it as good or bad. It
is in wide use in the US, although mostly banned in EU. Still, strains
will ‘leak’ out from fields and research facilities. Not all GMO are
‘terminators’ but the myriad, possible long-range effects are not
known. If there were “good” GMO, they would help solve a lot of food
related issues. They could also mean massive indenture to the seed
companies that hold patents on surviving strains. In this atmosphere of
distrust, whether deserved or not, Monsanto has become a catch-word for
‘evil corporation’ among food activists.
HELADA members would say: Focus on better research and environmental
impact studies of GM organisms rather than a blanket rejection of the
technology. Bring the technology to government organizations and smaller
companies, so that it is not dominated by a few huge, agribusiness
corporations. In the meantime, hold off on approving GMO!
few of us would say: Wanna try some of the seeds I’ve grown on my
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