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
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
Food and agriculture goes to the heart of our civilizations. Religions, cultures and even modern civilization have food and agriculture at their core. For an issue that goes to the heart of humanity it also has its ugly side.
This issue explores topics ranging from the global food crisis of 2008, to issues of food aid, world hunger, food dumping and wasteful agriculture such as growing tobacco, sugar, beef, and more.