Originally published on http://ecoanthropologist.blogspot.com/ on June 9, 2015.
In the 1970’s, the developed ‘first world’ unleashed a new agricultural development agenda upon the developing ‘third world.’ It was supposed to end world hunger and eliminate poverty by replacing small traditional farming practices with modern industrial agriculture; creating dependency upon big machines and petroleum based fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and commercially produced seeds. It was called the Green Revolution even though it had nothing to do with eco-consciousness or sustainability.
I saw the results of this Green Revolution during my Peace Corps service in Zambia (2009-2011) where I experienced the cycle of debt as farmers struggled to buy these now much needed synthetic inputs and commercially produced seeds every season. I saw crop outputs declining and people relocating from the exhausted soils of the southern region of Zambia because our industrial agricultural system depletes the soil instead of nourishing it. It seems this Green Revolution didn’t work and made things worse for the people it was supposed to help. Perhaps intentions were good, but the technology of industrial agriculture didn’t end world hunger.
Now, a second Green Revolution is under way; however, this time it isn’t industrialization which will end hunger, it is the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO). The genetic manipulation involved in creating GMOs is not the same as the selective breeding and hybridization farmers have been practicing for thousands of years because traditional practices use natural processes to modify genes already existing within the plant’s genetic code. GMOs introduce completely new genes from a different species requiring a sophisticated laboratory. GMOs won’t nourish the soil either and still rely upon applications of toxic pesticides and herbicides which will continue to run-off into our water. We will keep doing more of what doesn’t work, polluting ourselves and our environment, while people still go hungry. GMOs represent a shallow solution to a problem that really requires a fundamental shift in how we do things. When we look at problems like world hunger, our first reaction is to think there isn’t enough food! So the solution seems to be we must grow more food! However, in reality, we already have more than enough food being grown and produced. Look around. How much food is thrown away on a daily basis? How much food do grocery stores throw away? If we are throwing away so much food, clearly we have more than enough. And with so much food being thrown away, why are so many people hungry here in the United States? If industrial agriculture and GMO technologies are the solutions to world hunger, why do we have hunger here in the developed world? Obviously in our current economic system, people aren’t allowed to eat the food unless they have enough money to buy it. The problem is actually our current system of distribution and a lack of access to the food we already produce. It is as simple and complex as that.
Understanding this, it is easy to conclude that GMOs will not end world hunger, but could in fact perpetuate hunger while creating a slew of potentially devastating unintended consequences. We must never forget the primary motivation of any corporation, as required by our current economic system, is to make a profit for its shareholders at any cost; not to benefit humans or the planet. Are we sure we want a small handful of corporations, under these conditions, to have ownership of genes and so much control over our food supply? Are we sure we want to allow corporations to tinker with inserting genes from completely different organisms into our crops for profit? Is all of this risk while increasing the wealth and power of corporations under the guise of saving the world really what we want? Or is there another way that will better benefit people and planet?
So, what are some solutions to this problem? Check out my next blog, Instead of GMOs!
Sources and things to check out:
Bell, M.M. (2004). An Invitation to Environmental Sociology, 2nd Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
Dr. Mercola. (2013, April 27). GE Trees May Be Even More Damaging to the Environment than GE Foods. [Web Article]. Retrieved From http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/04/27/ge-trees.aspx
Harper, C. L., Jr. (2003). Environment and Society: Human Perspectives on Environmental Issues, 3rd Ed. Prentice Hall.
Kenner, R. (Director). (2008). Food, Inc. USA: Participant Media.
Kelly, M. (Accessed 2015, March 12). 100 years ago, people were eating things that most of us will never taste. So what happened? Upworthy. [Web Article]. Retireved from http://www.upworthy.com/100-years-ago-people-were-eating-things-that-most-of-us-will-never-taste-so-what-happened?c=upw1
Kunau, J. Howerton, J. Kucinich, E. (Producers) & Seifert, J. (Director). (2013). GMO OMG. USA.
Ramsey, F. (Accessed 2015, March 12). 3 vile myths too many food companies are shoving down our throats. Gross. Upworthy. [Web Article]. Retrieved from http://www.upworthy.com/3-vile-myths-too-many-food-companies-are-shoving-down-our-throats-gross?c=click
Take Part. (2014, December 1). Seeds of Change. Take Part. [Web Article]. Retrieved from http://www.takepart.com/video/2014/12/01/seeds-change?cmpid=foodinc-fb
Three Americas, Inc. (Producers) & Schehl, E. (Director). (2009). A Silent Forest: The Growing Threat, Genetically Engineered Trees. USA: Create Space Studio. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUUYaTz0Brg