Can biotech food cure world hunger?
Posted: October 28th, 2009 - 8:24am
Source: New York Times
Science and technology combined with expanded use of plant nutrients and better plant protection and water management by highly motivated farmers produced the Green Revolution, which avoided mass starvation and helped millions out of poverty and hunger. However, the job is not done.
Many millions of people do not have access to sufficient calories and many more suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. Most of them are in rural areas and would benefit from productivity increases in agriculture. Furthermore, the world population will grow by more than two billion over the next 40 years.
Food supply is too important to be the plaything of these prejudices. If there is not enough food we know who will go hungry.
Genetic modification is analogous to nuclear power: nobody loves it, but climate change has made its adoption imperative. As Africa’s climate deteriorates, it will need to accelerate crop adaptation. As population grows it will need to raise yields. Genetic modification offers both faster crop adaptation and a biological, rather than chemical, approach to yield increases.
Opponents talk darkly of risks but provide no scientific basis for their amorphous expressions of concern. Meanwhile the true risks are mounting. Over the past decade global food demand has risen more rapidly than expected. Supply may not keep pace with demand, inducing rising prices and periodic spikes. If this happens there is a risk that the children of the urban poor will suffer prolonged bouts of malnutrition.
African governments are now recognizing that by imitating the European ban on genetic modification they have not reduced the risks facing their societies but increased them. Thirteen years, during which there could have been research on African crops, have been wasted. Africa has been in thrall to Europe, and Europe has been in thrall to populism.
Genetic modification alone will not solve the food problem: like climate change, there is no single solution. But continuing refusal to use it is making a difficult problem yet more daunting.