Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What do GMOs Have to do With World Hunger?

The objective of this part of the 21 day World Hunger series has been to shed light on the dangers or potential health risks of genetically modified foods in our food supply.  Under the guise of mass production to feed the world's hungry, Big Agra has artificially and genetically altered staple crops like corn and soybeans.  And while this seems to be a noble cause, the introduction of genetically modified organisms or GMOs into our food supply may have far-reaching negative consequences.  Given the mounting research indicating that more testing and studying needs to be done before we unleash these foods into the global food chain, we need to start asking some very important questions.

1) Is it really fair to subject starving or undernourished people to possibly more health risks by feeding them GMOs?
2) Big Agra GMO crops decimate the soil and environment through the use of pesticides and should Big Agra companies like Monsanto be allowed to rape and pillage both the earth and its people?
3) Should Big Agra be given the green light to continue to corner the market on GM seeds?

I think the resounding answer here is NO!

As mentioned on my article on Day 9 of the World Hunger series, From GMO Chemistry Set to Table, the attempts of Big Agra companies like Monsanto, DuPont, BASF, Bayer, and Syngenta and a handful of others have resulted in a "Failure to Yield."

I'll say it again:  FAILURE TO YIELD.

Which means that the basic premise of using genetically modified food to grow more, faster, and better to solve the world's hunger problems has failed-- and huge.   Not only has Big Agra failed to solve the world's hunger problem, it has put farmers out of business and millions and millions of our lives us at risk-- not to mention the environmental impact.  The constantly emerging GMO-related health issues since 1996 are a leading indicator that Big Agra and their GMOs are clearly not the answer to world hunger.

But, before we get to possible solutions, let's dispel some myths.  According to the Institute for Food & Development Policy, there are several myths surrounding world hunger.  One of the most common myths is that there are just too many people:

Birth rates are falling rapidly worldwide as remaining regions of the Third World begin the demographic transition—when birth rates drop in response to an earlier decline in death rates. Although rapid population growth remains a serious concern in many countries, nowhere does population density explain hunger. For every Bangladesh, a densely populated and hungry country, we find a Nigeria, Brazil or Bolivia, where abundant food resources coexist with hunger. Costa Rica, with only half of Honduras' cropped acres per person, boasts a life expectancy—one indicator of nutrition —11 years longer than that of Honduras and close to that of developed countries. Rapid population growth is not the root cause of hunger. Like hunger itself, it results from underlying inequities that deprive people, especially poor women, of economic opportunity and security. 

Another popular myth is that there is just not enough food to go around:
Abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world's food supply. Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with 3,500 calories a day. That doesn't even count many other commonly eaten foods - vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish. Enough food is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day worldwide: two and half pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of fruits and vegetables, and nearly another pound of meat, milk and eggs-enough to make most people fat! The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food. Even most "hungry countries" have enough food for all their people right now. Many are net exporters of food and other agricultural products.

Okay, so what is the solution?  I don't believe there is one simple answer and I don't claim to have it.  And as mentioned on Day 9 of this series, it is complex.

Some of my fellow Conducive Chronicle writers are specially exploring solutions to world hunger.  You can read the research on urban farming, seed sharing and other solutions by clicking this link.

Perhaps the solution lies with us.  You and me.  And our friends, neighbors, social groups, etc.  Here are some ideas:

1) We can eat less.  Really.  This may touch a nerve, but a quick look around will tell you that most of us eat plenty more than we need.  In the U.S., the average daily caloric availability (food available to us to eat) is over 3600 calories.  That's about 1200 more than an "average" adult needs to sustain.
2) Choose organic foods over GMO foods.  (see How to Avoid the GMO Bad Nasties).
3) We can waste less.  We really could feed the world's hungry with the food we waste.  According to anthropologist Dr. Timothy Jones, the United States throws away just about half of the food it produces.  HALF.
4) Give to local food banks.  Feeding America has provides a search tool to help you search to find your nearest food bank to donate food to those who are hungry.  In 2008, there were 49.1 million people in the U.S. living in food insecure households.  16.7 million of them were children.  So hunger isn't necessarily far away, it's all around us.
5) Urge our elected officials to get on board and actually DO something to 1) stop Big Agra from poisoning us all with their GMOs and 2) engage the geo-political food system to help get food where it needs to go-- not to whomever has the most money or lobbying power.  Check them out here:

U.S House of Representatives
U.S. Senate

21 Days for World Hunger
Day 1
Day 2 Focus on Hunger: Interview with Vandana Shiva
Day 3 Cambodia: Portrait of Hunger
Day 4 A Mindful Approach to Food Fosters Compassion for the World's Hungry
Day 5 How Does Mindful Farming Help Solve World Hunger
Day 6 Sustainable Vegan Farming Practices Empower the World's Hungry
Day 7 Food Deserts and Urban Farm Markets
Day 8 Vandana Shiva and the Navdanya Farmers Network
Day 9 World Hunger: From GMO Chemistry Set to Table?
Day 10 The Generational Consequences of GMOs
Consider purchasing a World Hunger: Be the Solution Tee.  Proceeds from the shirt will go to Navdanya, the Small Planet Institute Fund the International Fund for Africa.  All tees are sweat free and available in organic cotton. To see the selection of World Hunger tees at Conducive’s Humanitarian & Human Rights Tee store, click here.


  1. It's important for us to be educated consumers of our food. Americans have let GMOs slip into our diet with barely a whimper. GMOs affect our bodies, our biodiversity, the family farmer (in particular organic, and seed savers), and farmers in developing nations.

    It is absolutely essential that farmers in developing nations be able to save the seeds from their crops. "Donations" from big ag get these farmers sucked into the vicious GMO, pesticide cycle.

    I wrote about how to become an educated food consumer at http://plainandsimpleme.wordpress.com/2010/10/03/big-ag-threatened-by-extremists-a-k-a-educated-eaters/

  2. I am a bioscientist and have recently begun research in genetic engineering. Please don't treat GMOs as evil when they are not. They were a noble idea ruined by corpotate greed. While I agree that it is unfair for third-world farmers to be unable to save seeds, GMOs were not created to "rape and pillage" anything. They were created with the noble intentions of increasing yeilds. Also, please keep in mind that humans have been gentically engineering life for ten milenia through seletive breeding. While not as specific as using a gene gun, the results have been drastic. Stawberries carry eight copies of their DNA in every cell thanks to seletic breeding. Bananas a sterile and only reproduced by clippings thanks to selective breeding. The tea cup poodle and the Saint Bernard were created by humans with all the same precision and dedication of modern genetic engineering. Had any of this been done in a lab, it would seem to be the stuff of science fiction. Please respect my beautiful art and science.