Energy & Environment

If GMOs are not the answer, then what is?

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We live on a finite planet with a human population of 7.2 billion, a number that is increasing by almost 100,000 per day. Given that the world population is expected to increase by another 2 billion people over the next 50 years (in addition to the 1 billion who are currently undernourished), and that food will have to be produced on fewer acres of land with less water, there is a fundamental question that must be asked and answered: If agricultural technology and scientific advances including genetically engineered crops — often referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) — are not the answer, then what is?

I submit that the only way the world will be able to feed itself in the future, while reducing the environmental impact on natural resources, is by embracing sound science and the full use of technology, including modern agricultural biotechnology. While we will need to use all of the tools in the toolbox, continuing to develop food crops that produce more, of better quality, on less land with less water, must be part of the equation.

{mosads}I teach a class at Tarleton State University in Texas on agriculture, energy policy and political science. My students teach me something new every Monday night. Your children and grandchildren are smart, perceptive and challenging. In other words, they have done a very good job of overcoming the hereditary and environmental upbringing we have given them!

In discussing the political controversy surrounding GMOs, a fundamental question has arisen. Why are so many in the anti-hunger community continually associated with the so-called environmental community that is against the use of technology? Given the scientific consensus regarding the safety of foods derived from GMOs, why put a cost on those least able to afford it in order to satisfy a political agenda? Product labeling, for example, should only focus on GMO-free products, not the other way around. Much in the same way that some of us desire the label “organic”: Those foods might cost more, but those that want it can afford it. Not to mention that a profitable niche market has developed around organics that, at last count, was approaching 5 percent of the market.

Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is another misguided policy, especially if, for example, you are concerned about feeding the poor or the cost of school lunches. Sure, a few producers may benefit (not their industries), but certainly not the poor or the hungry! We live in an international marketplace, whether we like it or not. Trying to suggest to consumers that where their meat comes from represents a health and safety concern above and beyond the product itself is a terrible, protectionist idea that cannot possibly benefit producers or consumers — especially the poor.

As I observe the budget process in Congress, I am fascinated by the rhetoric of some who believe they can balance the budget, increase defense funding, meet the infrastructure needs of our country, and cut taxes. My Tarleton class almost did it — they did raise taxes. I congratulated them on their work and the hard decisions they made, and then told them I had some bad news: None of them would be reelected in 2016! Also worth noting: they did take a surgeon’s scalpel to the programs for the poor, but not a meat axe.

Which led to the conclusions of my class that inspired this article: Regulations that impose costs on our food and energy producers have a disproportionate effect on the poor. We will either balance our federal budget over the next 10 years or the marketplace will do it for us. A new political coalition of the anti-hunger community, the biotechnology community, the food and energy community, and the environmental community should be formed, one that will explore how technology must play a role in the future of our survival. The emphasis of this coalition should be on helping the less fortunate of the world. That final thought was summed up by one young lady’s question in my class: “Isn’t that what we are taught every Sunday morning?”

Stenholm is a former U.S. representative from Texas, serving from 1979 to 2005. He is currently a senior policy adviser at Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC.

Tags Agriculture COOL Country of Origin Labeling Genetically modified organism GMO hunger organic

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