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Do We Need GMOs to Feed the World? Refuting The Myth that Biotech Will Help End World Hunger

do we need gmos to feed the world

This argument is repeated over and over again all across the internet as a reason why organic food is not a viable option to feed the world’s population or as a justification for GM crops(genetically modified). Some people are referring to the rising global population as a whole when they say this, while others emphasize feeding the poor in third world countries.

This argument is really just repeating propaganda by biotech companies like Monsanto who want to make their genetic engineering sound appealing. They have been pushing this idea for 20 years as this excerpt from one of their advertisements shows:

…many of our needs have an ally in
biotechnology and the promising
advances it offers for our future.
Healthier, more abundant food. Less
expensive crops… With these advances
we prosper; without them we cannot
thrive. As we stand on the edge of a new
millennium, we dream of a tomorrow
without hunger… Worrying about
starving future generations won’t feed
them. Food biotechnology will.
– Monsanto European Advertising Campaign, 1998

So do we need GMO crops to feed the world? Do organic crops not produce enough food to meet this demand?

This question is based on the assumption that increasing food production will solve world hunger. So to get to the root of the issue, the real question we need to ask is; will increasing food productivity eradicate hunger?

(I am not addressing the health dangers of GMOs in this article specifically, but you can read about that here.)

Why do so many people go hungry in the world?

I know we are asking a lot of questions, but here is another. What is the biggest cause of hunger in the world today?

The answer is poverty, NOT a lack of food.

That’s right. There is more than enough food in the world today to feed everyone.

In 1999 enough grain was produced globally to feed a population of eight billion people (six billion inhabit the planet in 2000), had it been evenly distributed or not fed to animals. Seven out of ten pounds of grain are fed to animals in the USA. Countries such as Brazil, Paraguay, Thailand, and Indonesia devote thousands of acres of agricultural land to produce soybeans and manioc for export to feed cattle in Europe. By channeling one-third of the grain produced world-wide to needy people, hunger would cease instantly (Lapp et al.. 1998). ”

The Case Against Agricultural Biotechnology by Miguel A. Altieri

(Miguel Altieri is a Chilean born agronomist and entomologist. He is a Professor of Agroecology at the University of California, Berkeley in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.)

If the food that is currently available were to be evenly
distributed among the 6.4 billion people on the planet
(providing each individual with a minimum intake of 2,500
calories), there would still be a surplus left for 800 million
people. The problem, therefore, is not of production, but
clearly of access and distribution. It involves more of politics
than technology, with biotechnology having virtually no role
to play.

– Devinder Sharma, President of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, New Delhi, India

from the book Feeding or Fooling the World? Can GM Really Feed the Hungry?

Today we grow enough food to feed 10 billion people, easily feeding the world population of 7.5 billion. Clearly we have more than enough food for everyone, but millions of people still go hungry which brings us back to the issue of poverty.

The people going hungry do not have enough money to buy food, do not have access to food, or do not have access to the resources to grow their own food.

Oh okay well then all we need to do is send third world countries money right?

Wrong.

I’m going to let Ron Paul answer this one:

We should ask ourselves a simple question: Why is private capital so scarce in Africa? The obvious answer is that many African nations are ruled by terrible men who pursue disastrous economic policies. As a result, American aid simply enriches dictators, distorts economies, and props up bad governments.

We could send Africa $1 trillion, and the continent still would remain mired in poverty simply because so many of its nations reject property rights, free markets, and the rule of law. As commentator Joseph Potts explains, western money enables dictators like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to gain and hold power without the support of his nation’s people. African rulers learn to manipulate foreign governments and obtain an independent source of income, which makes them far richer and more powerful than any of their political rivals. Once comfortably in power, and much to the horror of the western governments that funded them, African dictators find their subjects quite helpless and dependent.

Potts describes this process as giving African politicians the “power to impoverish.” The bottom line is that despite decades of western aid, more Africans than ever are living in extreme poverty. Foreign aid simply doesn’t work. Despite this reality, western political leaders who offer to increase aid are always praised for their compassionate and progressive policies. 

…Americans have the freedom to do everything in their power to alleviate African suffering, whether by donating money or working directly in impoverished nations. But government-to-government foreign aid doesn’t work, and it never has. We should stop kidding ourselves and ignore the emotionalist pleas of rock stars. Suffering in Africa cannot be helped by delusional, feel-good government policies.” – taken from What Should America Do for Africa? by Ron Paul

So we learned that the real cause of hunger is poverty and now we understand that the main cause of poverty in these third world countries is corrupt government.

…deep underlying political, economic and social problems
prevent the just distribution of food, even if enough is
produced. The reductionist approach of these quick fixes is
ignoring bigger underlying problems which constrain farmers
from achieving higher agricultural yields. Access to land and
capital, unstable market prices, poor infrastructure like farm-
to-market roads and post-production facilities are problems
that need to be addressed.
MASIPAG, Special edition of Suhay, the official newsletter of MASIPAG, May 2000.
Farmer/Scientist Partnership for Development, Philippines

I’m not going to pretend that I have all the political and economic solutions for these countries. The main point of this article is to refute the myth that GMO crops will solve the world hunger problem.

My opinion is that the best shot we have to help these hungry people is for private individuals and organizations to go directly to them and give them what they need to produce their own food and repair infrastructure.

If we have enough food, where is it going?

Since I have seen this argument come from people mostly residing in the United States, let’s examine the food being produced in the U.S. right now and who it is feeding.

Most of America’s food exports don’t even go to poor countries

The Environmental Working Group published an article titled Think U.S. Agriculture Will End World Hunger? Think Again. in which they offer the following statistics:

Only half of 1 percent of U.S. agricultural exports last year went to 19 nations, including Haiti, Yemen and Ethiopia, that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization determined had very high or high undernourishment. The value of U.S. food exports to the top 20 wealthy destinations was 158 times the exports to the 19 most seriously undernourished countries.

Even more striking, between 2004 and 2013, U.S. exports and food aid combined contributed between only 2 to 4.4 percent of the food supply of those 19 undernourished countries.

EWG found that 86 percent of American agricultural exports in 2015 went to 20 of the world’s wealthiest export destinations, including Canada, China, Mexico and the European Union.

We are told that GMO crops will increase yields which will help feed hungry people, yet we are only feeding a small percentage of these people right now when we could do much more.

In addition to that fact, the U.S. also wastes as much as half its produce due to consumers demanding “blemish-free produce”(not caring much about nutritional value). This causes farmers to leave as much as 25% of produce in the field and retailers to reject shipments of produce if they find any unsightly marks on the food.

The rest of the wasted food is simply uneaten, spoiled, leftover food thrown away by consumers.

I’m sure those hungry people in Africa and India would have no problem eating that food with a “blemish” on it.

Is the “increased yields” claim for GMO crops even true?

We already know that there is plenty of food in the world to feed everyone, but let’s examine the “increased yields” claim to see if it’s even true in the first place.

Do GMO crops increase yields and reduce pesticide use?

First of all, pro-GMO advocates will try and say that biotech companies never promised “increased yields”, but rather their genetically engineered seeds would help prevent crop loss due to weeds and pests. Honestly there is not much difference in those statements. The biotech companies are still saying that their crops will yield more than non-GMO crops.

Second, there is plenty of evidence proving that GMO crops have failed to deliver on the increased yields promise. Even the New York Times admitted this last year (which caused them to get attacked harshly). This doesn’t stop GMO advocates from attacking organic farming and falsely claiming that organic cannot compete.

A 30 year study conducted by the Rodale Institute proved that organic crops produce yields equal to GMO crops and even outperformed conventional in times of drought and flood.

As far as the reducing herbicide use claim goes, this was completely refuted by Chuck Benbrook, research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources who published a paper in the peer-reviewed Environmental Sciences Europe in which he stated:

Herbicide-resistant crop technology has led to a 239 million kilogram (527 million pound) increase in herbicide use in the United States between 1996 and 2011…

So much for the “reduced herbicide usage” claim.

I can hear the pro-GMO cheerleader now, “You must think that farmers are stupid. They know how to make smart business decisions. They wouldn’t waste their time with something that didn’t work.

Well up until the 2014 farm bill was passed, farmers who grew corn and soy got a check directly from the government because those crops were subsidized. Now after the 2014 farm bill, the subsidy checks have stopped, but that doesn’t mean the incentive to grow corn and soy is gone. Now these farmers get insurance policies on their crops so if the prices drop they get compensated.

Well guess what? Here’s the headline last year(2016) from Bloomberg:

Farmers Get Biggest Subsidy Check in Decade as Prices Drop

Farmers will earn less than half what they did just three years ago, before global surpluses sent commodity prices plunging. Corn and soybeans, the biggest U.S. crops, are so cheap that farmers are expecting to lose money on every acre they plant this season.

The farmers are losing money on corn and soy, yet they still grow it because they know that they will get bailed out. There is an over abundance of these crops which causes prices to drop, yet they will not diversify. Instead they stick to this industrial monoculture scheme to make money with no care for how it affects people’s health or the environment.

What do the countries with poor and hungry people think about GMO crops?

Oftentimes in America people live in a bubble and are ignorant of the perspective of people living in other countries, especially the perspective of people like farmers in Africa. Let’s hear see what they have to say about this issue:

“We…strongly object that the image of the poor and hungry from our countries are being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environment friendly, nor economically beneficial to us.
We do not believe that such companies or gene technologies will help our farmers to produce the food that is needed in the 21st century. On the contrary, we think it will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and the sustainable agricultural systems that our farmers have developed for millennia and that it will thus undermine our capacity to feed ourselves.“
“Let Nature’s Harvest Continue!”, An invitation to stand in solidarity to resist gene technology, Response to Monsanto from Delegates from 20 African Countries to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN

It doesn’t sound like they are too fond of the idea of using GMO crops to “feed the world”.

Then there was also a petition which calls for a ban on GMOs on the African continent, endorsed by more than 400 organizations across Africa representing farmers, indigenous peoples and civil society groups which was submitted to the African Union for inclusion as an agenda item at the January 2013 Summit of the African Union.

Here is a quote from the petition:

We, the undersigned, members of civil society organisations from across the African continent, hereby call for an immediate and complete ban on the growing, importing and exporting of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on the African continent.

Then there are the Indian farmers who grow the GMO Bt cotton crops committing suicide because their crops failed to live up to expectations.

Devinder Sharma says in his talk “Farmer Suicides and the Global food crisis: A Story not told” that the biggest problem facing agriculture is not technology or the availability of imports, but the income of the farmers. This is why they commit suicide in India and GMO crops have offered a false hope which let them down.

Next we have some quotes from Million Belay, who is co-ordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and Ruth Nyambura who is advocacy officer of the African Biodiversity Network, which in 2012 co-released the film Seeds of Freedom(must watch).

These quotes are from their article “GM crops won’t help African farmers” in The Guardian:

It is a myth that the green revolution has helped poor farmers. By pushing just a few varieties of seed that need fertilizers and pesticides, agribusiness has eroded our indigenous crop diversity. It is not a solution to hunger and malnutrition, but a cause. If northern governments genuinely wish to help African agriculture, they should support the revival of seed-saving practices, to ensure that there is diversity in farmers’ hands.

But GM crops pose an even greater threat to Africa’s greatest wealth. GM companies make it illegal to save seed. We have seen that farmers in North America whose crop was cross-pollinated by GM pollen have been sued by the GM company. About 80% of African small-scale farmers save their seed. How are they supposed to protect the varieties they have developed, crossed and shared over generations from GM contamination? This will be a disaster for them.

As Esther Bett, a farmer from Eldoret in Kenya, said:

“It seems that farmers in America can only make a living from GM crops if they have big farms, covering hundreds of hectares, and lots of machinery. But we can feed hundreds of families off the same area of land using our own seed and techniques, and many different crops. Our model is clearly more efficient and productive. Mr Paterson(The UK’s environment minister) is wrong to pretend that these GM crops will help us at all.

That about sums it up.

One more thing…

The United Nations also agrees that industrial agriculture is not the way to feed the world. The U.N. released a report saying that small scale organic farming is what we need to feed the world.

Conclusion

Corporations don’t want to feed the world, they want to control the seeds and make money from selling their poisonous chemicals. This ridiculous joke of a myth helps to prop up the notion that these corporations actually care about starving people instead of profit and power.

Help to bury this myth once and for all by sharing this article with your friends and family.

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