Tuesday, July 08, 2008

GMOs are N O T the Solution to the Current Global Food Crisis

In the current game of political football, as the world's leaders meet to discuss the means by which the current global food crisis might be solved, there seems to be a growing momentum building around support for a solution based on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The suggestion is that the world's industrial seed companies (e.g. Monsanto, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland) should develop new genetically modified strains of food crops able to produce higher yields in the face of shifting global climates brought about by global warming.

Haven't we been here before? Aren't GMOs a major part of the reason we have gotten to this point?

The Green Revolution of this past half century came about as a response to the last global food crisis. It was centered on the use of high-yield GMO seeds, the liberal use of soil and water polluting artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, large-tract, mechanized, industrial agriculture, high density irrigation using mechanical pumps and water drawn from both increasingly polluted surface water and and dangerously over extracted groundwater sources, an energy-intensive global food distribution system. It was based on the industrial production of food and the building of a global industrial dependence through the supplying of food to the world's poor, rather than supplying to them the ability to produce their own food. And ultimately it created the current global food crisis through allowing, even encouraging, a tripling of the world's population from a little more than two billion to the current 6.6 billion with a new U.S. (300 million people) added to the population every year.

So what's the problem? The problem is that the Green Revolution was and continues to be dependent on the constant availability of cheap energy, especially cheap oil. GMOs are a high-tech solution to a natural problem. And high-tech means high energy consumption.

A problem cannot be its own solution. We cannot solve the current global crisis caused by the Green Revolution by doing more of the same. Those high yields on which the Green Revolution was based come at the expense of tremendous loss of life-supporting topsoil through erosion and overcropping, and the irreversible destruction and drawdown of both surface water and groundwater (aquifers) sources. It has led to the unsustainable destruction of forests critical to the planet's ability to balance the climate, and critical to the planet's water cycle, atmospheric cycle and carbon cycle. To seek to solve those problems with even more industrial agriculture and even higher yields, which will undoubtedly require higher uses of petrochemicals and water and the higher loss of critical topsoil, is no solution at all.

Most importantly, the Green Revolution was, as mentioned above, dependent on abundant cheap energy. A key part of the reason the current crisis has developed as that the world's oil supplies are declining at a rate that has pushed us toward various alternative fuel sources. The most critical of those, of course, is biofuels which have directly contributed to the current, escalating global food crisis. To move forward into a future that will be even more deprived of the cheap abundant energy on which the Green Revolution depends with a strategy that will perpetuate that agricultural need of cheap, abundant energy is taking the crisis of today, pushing it out a couple of decades and transforming it from a crisis into a catastrophe.

The Green Revolution has already allowed - almost demanded - the global human population to push into serious overshoot. There is not enough global agricultural capacity to support the present global human population, let alone the additional human population that would result from a second Green Revolution. To attack the current global food crisis without also addressing the very sensitive and complex problem of human overpopulation and the need for global population control is to offer no solution at all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"To attack the current global food crisis without also addressing the very sensitive and complex problem of human overpopulation and the need for global population control is to offer no solution at all."

I couldn't agree more. I'm about to write a graduate paper on this exact point. If you can think of any resources that I should check out to round out my argument that would be much appreciated. I probably have enough material but I could always use more.