GM isn’t feeding the world

Genetic modification (GM, also called genetic engineering, GE) hasn’t yet done much to increase farm yields. More has been achieved by selective breeding and by other non-GM techniques, some of which are biotechnological.

So says Geoffrey Lean at the Telegraph in his thoughtful article ‘The inconvenient truth about GM’.

Anyway, as Mr Lean mentions, simply growing more food may not solve hunger. I think that’s a crucial point, sometimes ignored by those who get excited by technofixes. Edward Carr urges us to do food security differently. You can see more on this topic under my ‘food’ tag.

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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9 Responses to GM isn’t feeding the world

  1. EqFe says:

    Interesting article, not a surprise unfortunately, there’s no profit in feeding poor people.

    • argylesock says:

      Cynical, but perhaps correct.

      There are scientific issues too. As I’ve mentioned before, some of the GM crops involve getting into an ‘arms race’ with evolving pests or disease organisms. I see a parallel with antibiotics. Perhaps future historians will look on our times as the ‘age of antibiotics’ and as the ‘age of GM’, after both of those technofixes have stopped being useful. Now I’m the one who sounds cynical!

  2. Moth says:

    With GM playing a minor role, the techno-junkies will jump on NASA’s food printer; http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/05/24/nasa-funded-3d-food-printer-could-it-end-world-hunger/

    George Jetson!

    • argylesock says:

      You may be right! But they’d have to make the fake-food look a bit less unappetising. Better, sort out the real causes of hunger.

      If the Mars colonists prefer not to eat triangles of reconstituted powder, they could grow fresh salads https://argylesock.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/space-cakes-and-martian-greenhouse/

      I’d never heard of the Jetsons but goofle has just showed me what they are.

      • Moth says:

        Maybe that’s why they’ve been supplying shoppers those disgusting sugar cereals, if you can call them that – fruit loops etc – all these years; to prepare us for such foods..?

        Sci-fi has long suggested food machines. In principle, it’s sensible. People would be forced to get over phobias / taboos with food. Food could come in whatever form and whatever flavour with the required balanced nutrient content… But still, this is sci-fi.

        • argylesock says:

          Yes it is. But anything new in science or technology starts out as fiction or dreaming. Somebody (Einstein?) said that the most exciting word in science isn’t ‘Eureka’ but ‘Hmm…’ Somebody else (Darwin) was off his face on laudanum. Neither of those great thinkers was hungry.

          I’m still inclined to the view that nobody in the world has to be hungry. What a lot of great people there’ll be when everybody eats.

          Talking of which, sugary cereals have done much damage haven’t they? I think (without having researched it properly) that when the N American maize and wheat industries needed more customers, in the mid 20th century, there was a successful campaign to change people’s view of what’s normal food. At breakfast, in particular. When I’ve been in the States, I’ve been shocked to see people thinking that it’s normal to start the day with syrup-drenched waffles, iced donuts and cupcakes. Here in Britain our supermarkets usually have a whole aisle labelled ‘morning goods’ containing carbohydrate foods and almost no protein. I think that’s a major factor in the rich world’s obesity problem.

          When I read books only a few decades old – my collection of novels, my mother’s collection of cookery books – I notice that people (unless poor) used to start the day with real food. Eggs. meat, fish and cheese. Talking of which, I’m about to have breakfast now. Boiled eggs 🙂

          • Moth says:

            From what I understand, a lot of it started with Kelloggs cornflakes. It was a novel idea that simplified breakfast.

            I’m fairly boring myself for break; quick oats, soy milk and Greek yoghurt. I stick with a basic rule; start with a minimal processing as possible and make it yourself.

            I’ve heard similar about the US. I’ve heard that bread is even full of sugar there and just doesn’t go bad (whatever they put in it). China too seems to only have very sweet bread, I’ve found.

            Certainly most things start as fiction. Just look at Arthur C Clark’s work to see just how much fiction became reality. I am simply hesitant, if not pessimistic , when we produce enough calories to feed the world, but much goes to waste, while we insist growth – which includes population – only makes the situation worse.

            • argylesock says:

              Have you spent much time in China? I’ve never been there but I work with a lot of Chinese students and academics. Must ask about their breakfasts. I wonder how much truth there is here http://www.china.org.cn/english/Life/35510.htm where, I notice, breakfast foods are described containing plenty of protein and vegetables.

              Greek yogurt is a protein food, as I’m sure you know. Goofle has just told me that a typical serving contains 15-20g of protein, equivalent to about 3 eggs.

              • Moth says:

                I’ve been to China once, for about 3 weeks in central China – Sichuan, saying for the most part in Dujianyan.

                They are a more varied breakfast. For carbs, they have a plain rice broth. Otherwise it seemed to be dumplings, steamed meat buns etc. Most of the food we had was veg and meat in various sauces, regardless of the time of day and we were with locals… But China is very diverse. How it is in Sichuan is no measure of how it is elsewhere.

                Love the food, however.

                I have a natural Greek yogurt, with a handful of ingredients, using low fat milk etc. I couldn’t tell you off hand the content of much in it. I find, however, that it keeps me going better than most other breakfast foods I’ve had in the past.

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