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Science + Food = the End of Hunger?

By - Oct 1 2014

GMO seeds - smallWhat if there was a way to slow the impact of climate change, dramatically increase the production of safe, nutritious food, all while feeding the world’s poorest people?  What if by this same means we could have a profound impact on their health and income?

What if it required a little applied science to help us get there?  The same science that was utilized to develop insulin, consumed daily by millions of diabetics, and responsible for keeping tens of thousands of people alive?

I am referring to genetic modification, which, when applied to our food instead of our medicine, sends folks into an immediate pro or anti-GMO camp and becomes associated with large multinational corporations.

What if you learned that GM seeds are so important to global food security that a network of nonprofit CGIAR research institutions are working on traits related to nutrition and climate change adaptation?  And what if you learned one of the UN’s sustainable development goals—SDG2 to be precise—is to “End hunger, achieve food security and adequate nutrition for all, and promote sustainable agriculture through the use of higher yielding bio-fortified crop varieties…” because it is that important to our ability to feed a population of 9.6 billion in 2050?

Still don’t want your dinner mixed in a petri dish?  Doesn’t sound safe? Since GMO’s were introduced, trillions of servings of food have been consumed with not a single documented case of any person becoming ill as a result.  Americans have actually been eating GM products safely for nearly two decades.

Think organic is safer?  Recently there was a US salmonella outbreak of products with peanuts, identified with two federally-certified organic manufacturing plants.  The rules governing organic foods actually have nothing to do with food safety.  Whether produced conventionally, organically, or using GMO’s, all food in the United States at least is equally safe for consumption.

Let’s consider some facts:

  • A USDA study found that pesticide use on corn crops has dropped 90% since the introduction of genetically-modified Bt corn.
  • According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, Bt farmers spend at least fifteen per cent more on crops, but their pesticide costs are fifty per cent lower. Since the seed was introduced, yields have increased by more than a hundred and fifty per cent.
  • Reports from China indicate that harmful aphids have decreased, and beneficial insects have increased, in provinces where GM cotton has been planted.
  • One recent study found that farmers in 128 Indian villages increased their yields by more than 25% using GMO seeds, with the most marginal farmers reaping the greatest benefit.
  • According to a recent study by the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology, there has been a sevenfold reduction in the use of pesticide since the introduction of Bt cotton; the number of cases of pesticide poisoning has fallen by nearly ninety per cent.

It is true that most of the GM crops today were designed to meet the needs of industrial farmers, but that is rapidly changing.  It is also true that GM crop production is not the “be all end all solution” to global food insecurity, and should not be promoted at the expense of other forms of production that may be better suited to a particular crop or community.  But given its capacity to have a major impact on malnutrition and access to safe, affordable food, it is a significant part of the solution.   So we must ask ourselves, what is the human cost of our GMO opposition?

Consider this:  More than a hundred and ninety million children under the age of five suffer from vitamin-A deficiency, causing blindness and painful death. Yet Golden Rice, enriched with vitamin A, has been banned as a GMO.  Two economists recently examined the impact of this ban. They calculated that the absence of Golden Rice in the past decade has caused the loss of at least 1,424,680 life years in India alone.

Isn’t it time we took another look at our resistance to GMO’s, however noble?  Partnering with foundations, universities, research consortiums, and multinationals can help change the dialogue to identify concerns, address them, and harness the potential of GMO’s.  The lives of millions may depend on it.

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3 Responses to “Science + Food = the End of Hunger?”

  • Liz :

    I would love to share this post on Facebook, but I am continually cautioning people against believing statements that claim to be supported by scientific evidence but don’t cite the actual studies. Please cite your sources so that I can share this in good conscience!

    • Erica Chicola :

      Hello Liz, thank you for your interest in our post.

      Please note that IDB only posts blogs supported by fact. They are not cited here only because 1) there were too many articles and publications to cite, including recent articles in National Geographic and The New Yorker magazine in case you wish to confirm, and 2) it’s a blog whose opinions are the authors. We invite you to share this on good conscience, and appreciate your comment.

  • Virene Inga :

    A toda esta explicación, donde queda el daño que hace estos productos al medio ambiente.

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