ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  6 November 2000


This succinct article by Stokely Webster on the ‘Feeding the World?’ theme recently appeared in Greenpeace Business (God knows what Tony Trewavas would make of that!).

It provides an excellent intro to the issue. For more on this topic see the ngin ‘Feeding the World?’ section:

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GM crops - force feeding the world

“Seeking a technological food fix for world hunger may be the most commercially malevolent wild goose chase of the new century.”
-  Dr Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet

“If anyone tells you that GM is going to feed the world, tell them that it is not.”
- Steve Smith, Novartis, March 2000

Feeding the world is an argument increasingly used to justify the continued development of GM. Monsanto has claimed that 'slowing its acceptance is a luxury our hungry world cannot afford'. But rather than asking how we can find a morally acceptable use for GM crops, we should be asking: what are the root causes of hunger? What is the best way to meet a growing population's food needs while preserving the environment on which we all ultimately depend? These questions lead to a very different conclusion.

Behind the argument that GM is vital to feed the world is an important assumption - that the cause of hunger is a combination of two things:

- too many people
- and too little crop yield.

The truth is, although about a third of the worlds children suffer malnutrition, nearly 80% of them live in countries with food surpluses.  In India (which accounts for more than a third of the worlds hungry) grain silos overflow with nearly 50 million tonnes of surplus grain.

A major cause of hunger is that too many people are too poor to buy the food that is available. In a world where free trade is accorded a higher priority than people's right of access to food, the existence of 800 million malnourished people is irrelevant unless their need is backed with cash.

The solution lies not in feeding the world but allowing the world the means to feed itself. Food security - the ability of a community to feed itself consistently on a diverse diet - is a complex problem that will not be solved overnight: it depends on people having access to land and money. GM can provide neither.

GM crops pose the threat of irreversible harm to the environment and agricultural biodiversity - the real basis of food security. This technology and the system it maintains increase dependence on expensive chemical inputs, such as weed killers, and single food crops, such as rice, which deny people a balanced diet.  They also increase dependence on the companies and countries that supply the technology and the loans to pay for it. GM crops could speed a downward spiral of unsustainability.

To properly address hunger, support is needed for sustainable farming that meets the needs of the local people and environment.  Successive studies have documented the social and environmental benefits of sustainable, low-input and organic farming in both the North and the South. These offer a practical way of restoring agricultural land degraded by industrial ‘Green Revolution’ farming, and empowering small family farmers to combat poverty and hunger. Sustainable agriculture leads to better soil, varied, locally grown food and increased yields. GM technology only serves to divert resources away from these more appropriate solutions.

In short, GM is the wrong answer to the real problem.  A technical ‘fix’ to economic and social problems like poverty is no solution at all, but further entrenches the very forces that cause hunger and environmental destruction in the poorer countries.  The widespread adoption of GM agriculture could perversely lead to more hungry people - not fewer.

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