New Zealand Grows No GMOs: Food & American Public Policy, Part 4

: Economics
: Campaign Finance & Elections
: Education

The US recently unveiled their new version of the and have called it: . I think this food plate is much better than the pyramid, but I won’t get into that in this post. I’ll talk about my opinion about “diets” in an upcoming post. In this post, I’ll be talking about food policy.

One of the main clues that there is something not completely right about the food policy in the US is some of the alarming documentaries. In 2004, there was . An alarming look at what it’s like to eat strictly a diet for 30 days, with little exercise (less than 2.5 miles of movement a day). At the time, McDonald’s did not have as many healthy choices as they have on the menu today, but as is pointed out in the film, salads can actually have more calories than the burgers (if cheese and dressing are added).

In 2005, there was . This was a difficult film for me to watch. It illustrates some of the unsightly practices of industries that use animals, but since this post is about food policy, I will direct you to the part of the film that explains the unnecessary harm that humans inflict upon animals for food production. While the film advocates veganism, I’m not suggesting you take up this practice, but after watching the movie, I’d be surprised if you didn’t at least consider it.

In 2008, there was . This is probably the most poignant movie with regard to food policy. This movie breaks down the unsustainable (both economically and environmentally) practices of food corporations like , , , and . If you eat meat (and don’t buy organic), there’s a good chance that it’s from one of these companies. Most effectively, the documentary explains that the reason food production has become what it is today, is due in large part to the boom of fast food in the 1950s. An increased demand  for food put pressure on companies to make more food — faster. And so this is what we have today.

One of the things that frightens me the most about the information found in documentaries like these have to do with (or any biological patent, for that matter). Companies like Monsanto, seeds in the lab and then patent the seed they’ve created. From there, they then sue (usually, successfully) farmers who use seeds that are similar to the ones that they’ve now patented. So, these farmers who know nothing of Monsanto and their created seed are going about their business doing what they do and are then, all of a sudden, told they have to stop using the seeds they use (because they are infringing on the patent rights of Monsanto).

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I think there’s something wrong with food policy when a company that creates a seed can legally sue (and win) against a farmer who uses the original and natural seed. The seed that came from the environment. Doesn’t that seem a little strange to you?

Like in my previous posts in this series, I don’t think there needs to be any grandiose solution to fix the problem. While the problem may be widespread (as in the other posts), the solution needn’t be overly complicated. Of course, these simple solutions aren’t necessarily as easy to implement as they are to envision. With regard to food policy, a simple solution I see is to . It may sound a bit extreme and unfeasible, but is it really feasible to continue to ingest these scientifically engineered foods? Do we really think that there are nearly as many nutrients in lab-created food as there are in “naturally-occurring” food?

European Countries that Have Banned Genetically Modified Foods in at Least One Part of the Country

Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Macedonia, Malta, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK: England, UK: Scotland, and UK: Wales. (As of September 2010: )

In all, there are nearly 40 countries on that list. The site where I got that information from also has a of Europe that are at least partially GMO-free.

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Europe is often touted as being ahead of the North America when it comes to things like these, but how about New Zealand? From :

No genetically modified crops are grown commercially in New Zealand. No fresh fruit, vegetables or meat sold in New Zealand is genetically modified.

That’s right! No genetically modified food in New Zealand! It’s possible. It’s possible to have an entire country that does not produce food that has been genetically modified. Granted, New Zealand is smaller in terms of population than much of the rest of the world ( countries ranked by population based on country’s estimates and the UN), but this is still quite an accomplishment and dare I say, example, for the rest of the world. If New Zealand can do it, we can, too!

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11 responses to “New Zealand Grows No GMOs: Food & American Public Policy, Part 4

  1. Well written post, but I have to disagree. The flaw in the reasoning here is that only the effects of banning GMOs on a limited scale is considered. GMOs can be completely banned with minimal downside in New Zealand because less than five million people live there. More than eight million people live in New York City alone. Presumably, you would want to see GMOs abolished world wide. However, doing so would cause a massive food shortage. Food would be more expensive in the rich world. There would be famine in most of Africa and parts of South America and Asia.

    The Economist did a special report about how to feed the world: http://www.economist.com/node/18200606. As it illustrates, scientific alterations to food often multiply the yields of food by a factor of three or four. Without those alterations, there would be massive food shortages. Also, as the same report illustrates, scientific modifications generally increase the nutritional value of the food.

    Admittedly, modern food production is generally not very kind to animals. However, a fair argument that all GMOs should be banned would weigh the benefits of kindness to animals against the reality that such a ban would result in the starvation of millions of people.

    • Thanks for your comment. (Interesting tidbit: Before writing this post, I didn't know that NZ had that kind of a ban in their country and I lived there for a few months!)

      You're absolutely right. Banning GMOs is quite an extreme position and you're right — I didn't adequately represent the repercussions of eliminating the only source of food for some parts of the world. Truthfully, I don't think that a complete elimination of genetically modified foods is feasible (by the end of the week) or by the even by the end of this year. There would be uproar from many corporations and countries. And like you've said, it's the only source of food for some regions of the world. However, I do think that it's possible to transition from GMOs to non-GMOs. Of course, it likely couldn't happen quickly (unless there was a coordinated effort, especially from food corporations).

      I don't remember where I heard this [probably in a documentary] (or who it was from): "We don't have a food shortage problem, we have a food distribution problem." There was then some statistics about how much food the world has versus how much food the world needs. I wish I could find the/an article. What it amounted to was that there was more than enough food on the planet, but that the food wasn't getting to the places that needed it.
      ~

      A few more things…

      Can Organic Farming “Feed the World”? – Article from a prof at UC-Berkeley in 2000 explaining that it is possible to 'go completely organic.'

      Can Organic Farming Feed Us All? – I like this one for a quote:

      "The only people who think organic farming can feed the world are delusional hippies, hysterical moms, and self-righteous organic farmers. Right?

      Actually, no. A fair number of agribusiness executives, agricultural and ecological scientists, and international agriculture experts believe that a large-scale shift to organic farming would not only increase the world's food supply, but might be the only way to eradicate hunger."

      and finally… Organic farming can feed the world, U-M study shows.
      ~

      With Love and Gratitude,

      Jeremiah

    • GMOs DO NOT INCREASE YIELD. This has been proven. They DO INCREASE the use of patented weed killers which are known to cause birth defects and cancer. Small sustainable local food production is what is needed and it is what the whole world used to have. GMOs are good for only one thing; to make money for the corporations that made them. And those corporations do NOT have the good of humanity in mind! The only thing they care about are increased profits.

      Thousands of farmers in India have killed themselves over Monsanto and it's GMO crops. While not so bad as that in the US hundreds of farmers have been sued for patent infringement by Monsanto and gone bankrupt. WHY? Because they saved and planted their own seed which they did not know was contaminated by nearby GMO crops. And Monsanto just goes around taking field samples so they can sue those farmers and PUT THEM OUT OF BUSINESS; ON PURPOSE.

      If I could, I think I would move to NZ!

      • Hi Mary,

        Thanks for your comment. I think what Suszek was trying to say is that through science, we could develop food that could increase yield (and help to feed the world).

        In certain parts of the world, local food production isn't as easy or accessible as it is in North America.
        ~

        "GMOs are good for only one thing; to make money for the corporations that made them. And those corporations do NOT have the good of humanity in mind! The only thing they care about are increased profits."

        I can hear your sentiment that GMOs, at this point, might seem to be more about profits, but I would bet, from the outset, (and maybe even actually in the lab), scientists are really more interested in "saving the world" than making profits. I don't know this to be the case, but from the scientists I've met who do research, they're kind of like the (union worker) in a way. They really are fighting the "just cause."
        ~

        And again… I hear your sentiment about Monsanto going after farmers with organic seeds. This is a disheartening story for me.

        If you do make it out to NZ… it's a lovely place!

        With Love and Gratitude,

        Jeremiah

  2. To my surprise, I am not able to easily locate strong criticism for the studies that you have cited. So, I can't say that I am convinced that organic farming is the best way to feed the world. However, I will say that the proposition deserves significantly more consideration than I initially gave it credit for.

    I do think that organic farming advocates have a tendency to dismiss hunger problems a bit too quickly. You have accurately pointed out that we do not have a food shortage problem, we have a food distribution problem. However, there is still a problem. There are people out there who do not have access to food. So, any change to the global food structure (such as a wide-spread switch to organic farming) should be viewed (at least partially) in the light of whether it would help or harm the starving people problem.

    There is a food distribution problem primarily for two reasons: cost and transportation. Both problems are simple to define, but hard to solve. The cost problem is that (for better or worse) we live in a world where products go to where the money is. For that reason, people in the rich world purchase about twice as many calories worth of food than they need. Much of that is eaten, the rest is thrown away. So, when studies show that the world produces enough food to feed the world, those studies assume that the rich world only consumes what is necessary. However, that is not reality. So, unless the world adopts some sort of communist-esq food rationing system, in which everyone is given what they need, the current amount of food produced is not enough to feed the world when modern markets are considered. If more food were produced, world-wide prices would decrease, and more people would have access to food.

    Regarding the transportation problem, I have a friend who currently lives in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo. There, it is extremely difficult to travel from the political capital to the financial capital (Pointe Noire) of the same country (because of insufficient roads and railroads). This illustrates the transportation problem. In Africa, nearly 50% of food that is produced spoils before people can consume it, largely because there are insufficient roads/trains to get it to market on time.

    One way to solve the transportation problem is genetic engineering. Researchers are working on ways to develop seeds that produce crops that do not spoil as quickly. Admittedly, that research has not yet solved the problem. However, there is a reasonably strong possibility that it could do so in the future. So, my concern is that widespread use of organic farming would choke off that type of research. Since that research could help solve the distribution problem, feed more people, and give small farmers in poor countries a better chance at earning a living, there is a pretty strong argument for giving it a chance to succeed.

    • Thanks again for your well thought out comment. I appreciate it!

      "So, any change to the global food structure (such as a wide-spread switch to organic farming) should be viewed (at least partially) in the light of whether it would help or harm the starving people problem."

      I think this is fair. Any good proposal (public policy, business, etc.) would include an assessment of all possibilities.
      ~

      "There is a food distribution problem primarily for two reasons: cost and transportation. Both problems are simple to define, but hard to solve."

      I don't know if I would say they are hard to solve. I don't mean to be semantical, but I think there are a great number of solutions to these problems, but probably not necessarily solutions that everyone would agree on (I'll explain in direct responses later on).
      ~

      "The cost problem is that (for better or worse) we live in a world where products go to where the money is. For that reason, people in the rich world purchase about twice as many calories worth of food than they need. Much of that is eaten, the rest is thrown away."

      Not that I expect you to have the answer to this question, but: shouldn't we do something about this? I understand that the product follows the money, but I think this is a fundamental problem with the developed world. Why should the developed world have twice the food that it needs? Simply because it has the money? I think an appropriate starting place is something you mention later on: "unless the world adopts some sort of communist-esq food rationing system…" While, I know that it's going to be hard for certain developed countries to agree to something like that, I think that a conversation with this as an initial talking point is worth having.
      ~

      "So, when studies show that the world produces enough food to feed the world, those studies assume that the rich world only consumes what is necessary. However, that is not reality."

      Yes, this is a way in which statistics can be misconstrued/misinterpreted to represent a potentially superficial position. On its face, the world does produce enough food, but like you've said – most of that is for the developed world.
      ~

      "If more food were produced, world-wide prices would decrease, and more people would have access to food."

      This is an interesting point with regard to economics (driving the price of food down by "flooding the market"), but I don't know that the Earth could support more harvesting. It's also possible that more food production might not have much of an effect on the cost of food.
      ~

      "This illustrates the transportation problem. In Africa, nearly 50% of food that is produced spoils before people can consume it, largely because there are insufficient roads/trains to get it to market on time.

      One way to solve the transportation problem is genetic engineering. Researchers are working on ways to develop seeds that produce crops that do not spoil as quickly. Admittedly, that research has not yet solved the problem. However, there is a reasonably strong possibility that it could do so in the future. So, my concern is that widespread use of organic farming would choke off that type of research. Since that research could help solve the distribution problem, feed more people, and give small farmers in poor countries a better chance at earning a living, there is a pretty strong argument for giving it a chance to succeed."

      I hear you on the argument for science — give them a chance to solve the problem. I'm not entirely sure which side of this debate I would land. I think it's important that we better ourselves through scientific inquiry, but I don't know that creating food in a lab is the best thing for us. Given the transportation problem (by itself), I would think the most efficient way of doing things would be to just take the money that would have gone into scientific research (to create longer-lasting food) and build the infrastructure to get the food to places like Brazzaville. I understand that most companies probably wouldn't want to foot that bill, but this is touching on a larger issue of the global community.

      In today's current economic climate, it's probably not feasible to expect (or ask?) any country/company to build infrastructure to allow for the supply of food to impoverished areas. I'd like to think that we're moving to a place (as a species) where there won't need to be a time in limbo where there are people in need — there will just be a country/company that steps up and fills the void. In a world like that, money probably isn't held in as high esteem as it is today. Maybe we're moving towards a world like that. I'd sure like to think so.

      With Love and Gratitude,

      Jeremiah

    • PS Everybody in the world was fed by organic farming until the beginning of the 20th century and there is not any reason it cannot feed everyone and at the same time use less oil and other resources.

      • While this may be true (that people were all fed by organic farming until the 20th century), there were a lot less people on the planet at this time. As well, I don't know that "everyone" was fed. I don't have the statistics in front of me, but I don't think the "starving children" thing just started out of nowhere in the middle of the 20th century.

        With Love and Gratitude,

        Jeremiah

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