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Feeding a growing world

February 3, 2011
The recent decision by the US Department of Agriculture to permit the use of genetically-advanced alfalfa has provided a starting point for some online activists to spread misinformation about our nation's food supply. It’s important to keep arguments and opinions grounded in fact and not fear. For example, one recent blog post suggests that the goal of those who seek to produce a safe and sustainable supply of food is, "...the extinction of human health on this planet..." While this charged rhetoric could play a role in driving traffic to the "Jen's Whole Foods Cooking Blog" - it does nothing to educate the public about the facts.

The plain truth is that United States has the safest, most plentiful, most affordable food supply in the world. We also have the freedom (and the luxury) to choose food products that are branded with “organic,” “natural,” “locally grown,” and other process-verified labels.

But as food prices hit all-time high, now is not the time to discriminate against large-scale agriculture and literally take food out of people’s mouths. Consider that one of the primary drivers of the political unrest in the Arab World right now is a lack of food.

Less than one percent of American cropland is farmed organically. This is because organic practices can’t be implemented on a large enough scale to be considered “sustainable” as in “capable of maintaining their productivity” and “commercially competitive.” Organic practices, while virtuous, only provide food for a small percentage of consumers in developed nations.

While some in our country oppose technology, the simple fact is, we couldn’t feed the 300 million people in this country (and billions of others around the world) without modern agriculture practices. Indeed, biotech crops have been eaten by consumers for more than 15 years by billions of people.

The safety of biotech-derived food products has been thoroughly addressed by the international scientific community. Scientific authorities such as the National Research Council of the National Academies and the American Dietetic Association have concluded that foods with biotech-derived ingredients pose no more risk to people than any other foods. The National Research Council has also documented that, in addition to their safety, biotech crops contribute positively to farm sustainability in the United States, due to their positive environmental impact and economic benefits to farmers.

The debate around food production is always lively, and one that should be had. Consumers deserve information that’s based on scientific research so they can form opinions based on facts, not fear. And, if a technology is based in science, has been deemed safe, is environmentally-friendly, and helps farmers feed world's growing population, why isn’t it worth pursuing?

If you want to read more on this issue, also read the article Let's Restart the Green Revolution by the WSJ.