"GE Technologies will solve world hunger"
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Genetic Engineering Technologies Will Not Solve World Hunger
A major theme of supporters of biotechnology is that genetic engineering of food is necessary to help solve world hunger.
However, a report from the Panos Institute suggests that in fact, solving world hunger and food shortage is more of a political problem3.
Friends of the Earth point out an important factor that
many people in the world are suffering
from malnutrition and hunger because they cannot afford to buy food4,
not because it is unavailable.
As highlighted in the poverty and hunger5 part of this web site, most of the causes of hunger are found in global politics, rather than issues of agriculture and technology (though of course those causes do exist too). As a result, a variety of groups and people are questioning the motives behind biotechnology as the political causes of hunger appear to be ignored.
from Food First makes the observation that
[m]ost innovations in agricultural biotechnology have been
profit-driven rather than need-driven and it questions whether GE technology will really ensure food security,
protect the environment and reduce poverty in the developing world. And with GE Food being an expensive technology,
that does not help the case, either. Also, in some cases, it has been noted that some GE crop yields are
less than conventional crops7.
As noted by Inter Press Service9
(April 24, 2000),
one of today's great injustices ... is the irony that those who feed the world [agricultural
workers] are often least able to feed themselves. As also pointed out in the same article, 1.3 billion people
work in agriculture.
While many biotech companies claim that genetically engineered foods will help alleviate hunger and increase food security, their acts of patenting the knowledge and food that has been developed over centuries itself may be a threat to food security10.
Amory and Hunter Lovins are quite blunt about this aspect:
If biotech industry is serious about solving world hunger, it is poorly attacking symptoms only
What is also equally important to bear in mind is that the promise of technologies such as genetically enhanced foods, or any other technologies that could help solve the effects of poverty, such as hunger, cannot be an end in itself. If it is, then the root causes of hunger would continue and the exploitive practices could continue, further increasing disparities between rich and poor. While the rich would be able to provide some rest bite from the hunger through such technologies, they would maintain, even increase, the developing nations' dependencies upon them.
Biotechnology aside, even with increased production in recent years due to the Green Revolution and use of industrial inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides, while more people have been fed, world hunger has still been high, even in wealthy countries. Simply increasing food production is not the only answer, as there are many political, economic and social factors that play a part. Indeed, solutions do not necessarily require additional production, as much as addressing political and economic causes of inequality and hunger, as Peter Rosset explains:
If biotech corporations are really addressing world hunger through genetically engineered food, then they are only attacking symptoms and not causes of world hunger. And it is a poor offensive too, because it doesn't recognize the root causes, which includes poverty and the inability to afford food or distribute it because of things like certain international politics and economic policies.
Furthermore, as John Robbins points out, biotechnology companies do not appear to be actually investing in technology and crops that would really address food shortages. Instead, they are concentrating on livestock feed:
Richard Robbins, Professor of Anthropology at State University of New York is also worth quoting, summarizing why food is produced in the first place (bulleting and spacing formatting is mine, text is original):
Therefore, even with genetically engineered food, people would still not be able to afford it or have it distributed appropriately. Hence, while even an altruistic or valiant effort, it would be a large waste of capital, resources, manpower and the industry. Instead, outcomes would include more profits for the biotech and chemical companies involved in this. Dependency upon these companies would increase too for the use of their patented technologies. Unfortunately though, these outcomes are also enough for such corporations and the biotech industry to expend vast amounts of capital, resources, and manpower that is suggested here as being wasteful, while appealing to our concerns about world hunger.
For sure, there is potential in biotechnology. However, as we see above, this potential, as well as for feeding the world, can also be used to increase profits. Sometimes these two things overlap, but often not. Hence, while perhaps biotechnology should not necessarily be shunned, and more research and testing is needed, the political and economic emphasis and direction of biotechnology research also needs to be seriously addressed so that it is actually productive for society, not wasteful.
As the highly regarded scholar, Frances Lappe Moore suggests, the debate itself, on safety issues of biotechnology, is a distraction15 from the real causes of hunger which include the lack of democratic accountability, and the urgent need to address them.
For more information, as well as the links above, visit the following, where you will find an additional set of links to other web sites and reports on these issues:
- For some of the root causes of hunger (i.e. root causes of poverty), visit this web site's section on
Causes of Poverty
- In particular the Poverty and Hunger16 part.
- This web site's look at Human Population
- In particular the Population and Feeding the World17 part.
- What ITDG describes as risking a major threat to future food security18 is a series of articles looking at the impact of patenting plant genetic resources used in food production.
- Genetic Engineering of Food Crops for the Third World: An Appropriate Response to Poverty, Hunger and Lagging Productivity?19 by Peter Rosset provides a good look at the various issues.
- Is GE Food Safe?
- "GE Technologies will solve world hunger"
- Food Patents—Stealing Indigenous Knowledge?
- GE Food Media Coverage
- Functional Foods—the next wave of GE foods
- Terminator Technology
- Monsanto—a major player in GE Technology
- Public Concerns and Protests on GE Food
- Genetically Engineered Food Links for more Information
- World hunger related links for more information
(Note that listed here are only those hyperlinks to other articles from other web sites or elsewhere on this web site. Other sources such as journal, books and magazines, are mentioned above in the original text. Please also note that links to external sites are beyond my control. They might become unavailable temporarily or permanently since you read this, depending on the policies of those sites, which I cannot unfortunately do anything about.)
- 'Feast or Famine? Food security in the new millennium', Panos Media Briefing No. 20, October 1996, http://www.panos.org.uk/global/reportdownload.asp?type=report&id=1000&reportid=1042
- 'Genetically Modified Food', Friends of the Earth Briefing, June 2001, http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/gm_food.html#Footref36
- Miguel A. Altieri and Peter Rosset, 'Ten reasons why biotechnology will not ensure food security, protect the environment and reduce poverty in the developing world', Institute for Food and Development Policy, October 1999, http://www.foodfirst.org/progs/global/biotech/altieri-11-99.html
- Catherine Lazaroff, 'Farmers Stung as Consumers Reject Transgenic Crops', Environment News Service, September 24, 1999, http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/sep1999/1999-09-24-07.asp
- Thalif Deen, 'Agriculture Workers Too Poor to Buy Food, Say Unions', Inter Press Service, April 24, 2000, http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/apr00/00_20_003.html
- 'Treaty to protect world's major food crops agreed - but fight to protect their genes from patenting goes to new level', ITDG, July 2001, http://www.itdg.org/html/whats_new/plant_genetic_resources_a.htm
- Frances Lappe Moore, 'People, Not Technology, Are the Key to Ending Hunger. The debate over biotechnology is a tragic distraction', LA Times, June 27, 2001, link is to repost from CommonDreams.org, http://www.commondreams.org/views01/0627-01.htm
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