The public is told by experts that we need GMO to feed the world’s people because this patented corporate technology will solve world hunger. The latest media spin is linking climate change and the need for GMO to help secure food production. Who are these experts and what evidence do they have to support this?
If this argument is broken into simple macro pieces for us to digest, I would do it this way. We have 7.2 billion people now, in 233 countries, in 6 major geographical areas.
Taking generally accepted stats at face value – that 870 million people that are hungry, undernourished or starving – most of them are in Africa and Asia. It’s hard to find accurate numbers for many reasons. Various organizations and government bureaucracies have diverse agendas. As well, there is the subjectiveness of the terminology. When is there hunger? At what point are you starving? The opposite side is, when do we have enough food or when are we eating in excess? It is a very subjective thought process. Sitting here and typing this, I could now imagine that depending on your personal situation, that the phrase “enough food” would differ. There are more than enough calories to feed everyone when all of the world’s food is added up and divided by the number of people (2700 calories/person/day). The big obstacles are poverty, wars and distribution.
I also need to add a few more elephants into the room, such as food waste, biofuels and poor uses of land potentials. Last, but not least, is the whole farm animal debate and how much feed they eat. So, adding the numbers up, it looks like there is already more than enough food for everyone if total food production was really the only reason.
Now for some ugly truths! In the well fed western world (US, Canada, Western Europe, etc.) the statistics show that we waste 30 to 40% of all the food that is produced. That is a huge number! It adds up something like this:
- The farmer has small inevitable harvesting losses, weather factors and poor grades that leave products unsaleable in western markets.
- Farmer and commercial storage losses to things like spoilage, shrinkage and some pests as well.
- Processor food losses like quality control, best before dates, old donuts! etc.
- Grocery store food waste losses. We all know what they toss out!
- Restaurants, homes and refrigerator losses.
Incredibly, this all adds up to 30 to 40% of all we consume. Now compound that with how many of us over eat, and it looks even worse.
One thing that caught my attention is that underdeveloped countries waste a huge amount of food as well. They tend to have poor storage. With warmer climates you get faster spoilage and bigger problems with pests (insects and rodents) contaminating the food. Guess what? Some estimates are easily as high as 40% loss of food for them as well. This is lost food for the ones that can least afford to lose it. When I take time to think of this fact, it sounds very plausible knowing how tricky it is to store food in hot or damp climates with poor infrastructure.
In war torn countries, people are starving mostly because the farmers are driven from the land because of various types of politics. Generally speaking, their hunger is not because of the lack of food producing ability. GMO will not solve that one either.
With the broad overview of the issues above, I don’t see any argument necessitating the need for GMO technology and the inherent freedom strangling patents that come with them. There are countless ways to improve the “food system”. How about less waste, less wars, empowering poor people, and efficient use of land for starters.
When I add all this up, I have to come to a huge obvious conclusion… Mankind doesn’t have a food production problem. Mankind has a food management issue.