Both in the U.S. and around the world, the human civilization is facing a grave crisis when it comes to the food supply. The human race has found itself in a dire position in which the citizens of countries all across the globe are unable to access and afford sufficient amounts of the types of foods that provide the nutritional value needed to lead a healthy life. In the U.S., families struggle to put food on the table for their loved ones, and all too often the food they can scrape together doesn’t provide the nutrients they need.
This has led to a drastic increase in obesity and other related health issues for Americans. Around the world the story is similar, with shockingly high numbers of people afflicted by malnourishment and famine. It is clear that this trajectory cannot be maintained and that drastic measures must be taken to correct these transgressions. This is where the use of biotechnology, combined with other extreme reformations, can help restore order to the human diet.
In the food industry, advancements in science have given rise to biotechnology, which allows scientists to make genetic changes to the plants and animals that humans depend on as key food sources. While there are many benefits of biotechnology, there are still a great deal of people who oppose it. One such opponent of the use of biotechnology is Frances Moore Lappe. In her essay “Biotechnology Isn’t the Key to Feeding the World” Lappe explains why she believes biotechnology is not the best way to solve the world’s hunger and nutrition problem.
Lappe states, “…I was stunned to learn that the experts – equivalent to the biotech proponents of today – were wrong. They were telling us that we had reached the Earth’s limits to feed ourselves, but in fact there was more than enough food for us all” (294). Lappe is stating that because there is already enough food on earth, biotechnology does not need to be part of the solution because she believes that the solution is possible without it. Lappe goes on to explain, “Hunger, I learned, is the result of economic ‘givens’ that we have created, assumptions and structures that actively generate scarcity from plenty. Today this is more, not less, true” (294). The economic givens that she is referring to stem from capitalism. Lappe is arguing that biotechnology will not help solve the problem because the issue comes down to supply of money on the part of consumers, not the supply of food. Lappe goes on to state, “We are shrinking the world’s food supply for one reason: The hundreds of millions of people who go hungry cannot create a sufficient ‘market demand’ for the fruits of the Earth. So more and more of it flows into the mouths of livestock, which convert it into what the better-off can afford. Corn becomes filet mignon. Sardines become salmon” (294-295). As Lappe has illustrated, businesses are more concerned with making money than being efficient. Feeding the poor simply isn’t profitable, so people go hungry. Another issue with this, besides the fact that it is unfair and unjust, is how extraordinarily inefficient it is. Lappe explains that a large majority of the nutrients fed to livestock is wasted and is not returned to humans when consumed (294). By using so much otherwise edible food for the purpose of raising livestock humans are wasting food that could be used to feed countless people. This, combined with the large amounts of water also needed to harvest livestock, is a recipe for wasted resources. Lappe ties up the argument by urging that the conversation around biotechnology, and the obsession with the most efficient means of production, is taking the focus away from taking actions against the real issue (295).
Lappe is absolutely spot on in almost every aspect of her argument. Indeed, she was and still is correct that the world is currently capable of producing enough food to feed all of its inhabitants (Lappe 294). She’s also correct that it’s not a lack of food that is the problem, but a lack of money on the part of consumers. As Lappe puts it, “Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but by a scarcity of democracy” (296). It is true that biotechnology does not address the issues of injustice she is bringing up.
Even though Lappe is correct in her arguments, the social reform she calls for may not be enough. Although the world currently has enough food to feed everyone, with the population growing as fast as it is it’s only a matter of time until the food supply is stretched too thin to feed everyone. In order to bring about the truly revolutionary change necessary, Lappe’s ideas used in conjunction with the advancements of biotechnology offers a more substantial approach. In the article “Biotechnology applications in food processing and safety” Sundarraj et al. agree on the merits of biotechnology and explain its numerous benefits. The authors state, “Biotechnology is the scientific field that offers the greatest possible [solution] to stop hunger today and help avoid mass hunger in the future” (Sundarraj et al. 1). One of the benefits of biotechnology is it can allow crops to grow in conditions that would usually be uninhabitable for those crops. The authors explain, “Through biotechnology, scientists can enhance a crop’s resistance to diseases and environmental stresses, allowing crops to be grown in moderately unproductive and unsuitable land” (Sundarraj et al. 1). The ability to grow crops in areas that would usually be uninhabitable for them would be very valuable for poorer nations who live in harsher climates and the increased resistance to diseases would ensure higher yields by reducing the amount of food wasted. Biotechnology can also be used to enhance the nutrients in crops. The authors explain, “Recent developments in biotechnology will allow the making of more nutritious, safer, tastier, and healthier food” (Sundarraj et al. 1). The authors describe how biotechnology has given humans the ability to increase the vitamin content in foods such as tomatoes so that they carry more of the key nutrients that the human body needs to stay healthy (Sundarraj et al. 2). The increased nutritional value that biotechnology can offer would go a long ways towards combatting malnutrition around the world. In addition to the potential benefits, biotechnology has already shown great promise and been utilized with enormous success. The authors write, “In 2012, more than 80% of US corn and cotton were developed through food biotechnology…” (Sundarraj et al. 2). As this statistic shows, biotechnology has already proven its worth, because otherwise it would not be utilized on such a large scale. Biotechnology can also be used with animals in addition to plants. Unlike traditional selective breeding which takes multiple generations of livestock to achieve, biotechnology can allow this process to be accomplished in only one generation (Sundarraj et al. 2-3). In regards to the safety of biotechnology, the authors explain that one need not worry because they are regulated just as closely as any other food is; with the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and United States Department of Agriculture all keeping a close eye on foods produced using biotechnology and providing checks and balances to ensure the integrity of these foods (Sundarraj et al. 4).
Despite all these benefits, opposition still exists, largely because many people associate the word “natural” with “healthy”, and therefore assume that foods that utilize biotechnology are not healthy because they are not naturally occurring. But the stigma around foods produced using biotechnology is largely unwarranted. In his article “Biotechnology: Putting an End to World Hunger” Michael J. Centrone discusses a few of the many benefits of biotechnology and provides evidence that disproves the objections raised by the opponents of it. Centrone explains that biotechnology has allowed scientists to increase the iron content in rice, which would help combat the iron deficiency faced by nearly four billion people (Par. 9). Another valuable and unique benefit of biotechnology is that it allows scientists to integrate vaccines into food. Centrone states, “Agricultural biotechnology also yields medicinal benefits. Researchers have developed a vaccine for the hepatitis virus that can be taken via banana consumption, negating the need for injection vaccines that require extensive storage and sterilization” (Par. 10). The ability to administer vaccines through food would be an extremely valuable asset, especially in poorer countries. Finally Centrone alleviates any concerns on the safety of biotechnology by explaining how it is supported by many scientists from all over the world. Centrone states, “Nearly 2,300 scientists from around the world – including respected Nobel prize-winners – have signed a petition organized by Dr. C.S. Prakash, director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University, strongly endorsing the environmental and nutritional safety of foods modified through agricultural biotechnology” (Par. 14). With so many reputable scientists from all over the world advocating for biotechnology it is quite difficult to take seriously claims that it is unhealthy for humans.
With all these benefits and few apparent drawbacks, it only seems logical that humans should utilize these advancements in technology. Opponents of biotechnology such as Lappe claim that biotechnology cannot solve the worldwide issue of hunger because the root of the problem lies in the unfair distribution of food and not the amount of food produced. While this position has its merits, the reformation of distribution alone is most likely not drastic enough to completely solve the problem. Then there is also the fact that the current food supply will not always be enough to feed everyone in the world even if it is distributed fairly. Thus, the ability of biotechnology to increase crop yields in poor countries and enhance the nutritional value of foods presents a strong alternative that can be supplemented by the reformations called for by advocates such as Lappe. That is not to say that humans should blindly accept all foods that utilize biotechnology as healthy. Instead it should be viewed in a similar way as advancements in medicine. That is, humans should utilize it since there are clear and undisputable benefits, but at the same time closely monitor it as well with the help of scientists and researchers to make sure that there are no negative effects. With a combination of social reformation in the distribution of food and the utilization of biotechnology, humans have the ability to swiftly and realistically solve the world’s hunger crisis.