BLOG: The Big, Friendly, Green Giant: GMOs
I'm presenting you readers with a challenge and a probable answer. An answer that some may consider to be overwhelmingly wrong, absurd, and downright terrifying in our field of practice. By the end of this, many of you may be saying, "Megan, girl, you must be downright crazy." However, my challenge to you is this: prioritize the problem at hand and consider the most important part of the answer.
Now that the foreword is complete, we get down to the nitty-gritty, the main event, our big friendly, green giant: GMOs. This may be the point where many of you want to chase me down with pitchforks and light me on fire, just by hearing me call GMOs "friendly" at all. However, I'm playing devil's advocate for the GMOs and seeing them beyond the controversy. I'm looking more intricately at the potential they serve for agriculture and for global food insecurity. And let me tell you, the future looks pretty bright. GMOs could ultimately decrease world hunger and cure global agriculture mis-haps. So, put down the pitchforks, and let's look at some facts.
Currently, more than 1/8 of the world's population suffers from chronic hunger. That's one billion people on this earth. That number is expected to increase even more with population on the rise and expected to reach nine billion people by 2050. That will require a 60% boost in agriculture production. My thoughts when seeing that number: Umm, is this real life? Even worse, research suggests that continual climate changes will impact crop production in countries that suffer most from food insecurity, by reducing staple crop yield. Oops. Not Cool Robert Frost (kid president, anyone?). To make matters even more straining is that areas most affected by food insecurity are those areas that have highest fertility rates and the highest population growth (e.g., Africa and Asia).
The realization that population growth is creating worldwide food stress is mind-blowing to me. Where do we put these people? Where do we put the food to feed these people? Answer: great question. We don't know where to put food to make the quantity needed to feed a global population of nine billion. The fact is, the world is becoming more urban, and rapidly. You may be thinking, "Cool! I like cities!" Well, me too. But guess who doesn't like big cities? Food security. Urban residents may have a wider variety of food selection, and possibly even greater access to food selection. Yet, with no land to farm, this access diminishes significantly. Poor families in urban areas continually spend large portions of their little income on food. Low incomes and high food prices don't equal anything but greater risk for malnutrition and hunger.
Okay, I know you're probably thinking, "Great soapbox on global hunger and population growth, Megan. Now can you just tell me how you think GMOs could solve this problem?" I would love nothing more. Let's Begin.
Agriculture has strong ties to the planet (and strong ties to feeding the people on it). It uses 60% of available land on earth and 70% of fresh water resources. To be able to double food production within the next forty-or-so years, we must double land and water availability. Ain't gonna happen. So, how do we make things more efficient with climate change patterns impacting the availability of natural resources needed to make agriculture work? Even better, how do we ensure people get healthy nutritious food while increasing agriculture yield to meet the demands of a growing global population?
Sure, there may be many outlets to this answer. But, to me, GMOs seem to provide an easy solution to the posed questions. Companies like DuPont, Syngenta, and Monsanto are working towards improving the face of agriculture. This is done through breeding and biotechnology. Simply put: this is a matter of seed improvement. Not creating monster eggplant or alien corn. The seeds produced in biotechnology are strong-er, resistant to disease, and can withstand tough environmental changes. These seeds are designed to produce as much crop as possible with the littlest need and amount of land provided (ring a bell with decreasing available land to farm?). They are being made for countries that are hot, humid, dry, what have you! They are there to give people something to eat, in lands once thought to be ungrowable! Of course, this thought requires proper farm management through proper tillage, planting depth, and planting population. But I won't get too Nebraska Ag on you with that talk, but focus on what this means for reducing food insecurity problems globally.
The seeds in question by DuPont, Syngenta, and Monsanto use natural resources to their maximum potential (e.g., soil, water, and nitrogen)-in turn, decreasing environmental stress. Additionally, these seeds are being made to maximize nutritional value, something we should value as members of a field concerned with things of the like. Soybean, wheat, and broccoli seeds are being developed to provide the greatest nutritional benefits possible whether that's through antioxidants, iron, healthy fats, or iodine content: micronutrients that tend to be lacking in food insecure nations. Economically, these seeds have the potential to reduce crop costs for local farmers in nations by decreasing pesticide and herbicide use, and by delaying crop ripening. They are hardy and show increased yields. Things needed to provide sustainable crops to populations in need.
I realize there is controversy surrounding the topic of GMOs, whether they are safe for consumers to eat. We as professionals must realize that extensive research is done on each seed before it is put on the market. The current research indicates no third arm developments on people that eat GMO crops.
Thus, I turn back to my original priority statement at the beginning of this entry. I'm choosing to prioritize feeding starving nations. These technologically advanced seeds have the potential to increase nutrition in populations, decrease economic bur-den, and maximize land availability (which if you remember is rapidly decreasing). Until further research shows unavoidable side effects that negate any part of this blog in using GMOs to aid in food insecurity reduction, I'm prioritizing that GMOs could serve as a possible solution in world hunger.
Those are my thoughts. Please don't chase after me with a pitchfork, throw eggs at my car, or tee-pee my apartment. I'm begging you. But what will you choose to prioritize?