Friday, January 18, 2008

One Minute Down, Six to Go?

This whole blogging thing has certainly put a bit of craziness into my life. I just got off the phone with BBC Worldwide's show,"World Have Your Say." The podcast should be available here so you can hear my awful voice trying to get a word in edgewise.

The topic was whether or not to produce food for the world at any cost using any technology, or to do something more sustainable and safe. Their focus was on issues such as GMO foods, conventional agriculture methods, and animal welfare and cloning.

My bit was just long enough (one minute of fame) to interject that studies show organic methods over the long term have a higher yield and less detriment to the soil quality than conventional agriculture. Here is a link to that research for those who are interested. And here. And here.

Now, it will take time to implement sustainable agriculture systems in developing countries, but in the meantime, giving those countries cheap food has not been effective in at least one large-scale study in treating malnutrition. The food in the study, an enhanced peanut butter, was produced in the African country of Malawi. Treatment allowed malnourished children to remain at home, not in a hospital as with conventional treatments, and was successful in 89 percent of the critical cases in comparison with a previous treatment success of 50 percent. So, better food works better, and it can be produced in country. Peanut butter is not the long term best either, but getting good nutrition in place until the foods can be produced is saving lives.

Which begs the point, if we are able to save lives using foods like this, without the untested extremes, why not use these good foods now and take the time to put in the right solution for the people and the planet?

These improved short-term solutions are important for the immediate need, while long term, sustainable solutions can be reached. The solutions need to allow farmers in the countries to produce the foods, providing income and self-sufficiency to fuel a better economy. Tough to do with the AIDS crisis and war in the backdrop. Going to take time and global effort.

Other food production ideas discussed on the show included the recent approval by the FDA of cloned animal meat and milk for human consumption. Well, based on the FDA's politics, ties to special interest and "stellar" track record, I wouldn't be touting their stamp of approval.

The long term safety of cloned animal products was tested for a whopping three and a half months by feeding the products to other animals. Further, there isn't a huge benefit to the process that limits the gene pool, is extremely expensive and not very successful for the animal's survival as a fetus (high fetal mortality rates) and sometimes a hazard to the surrogate mother. Nature was doing just fine, with a better track record and selective breeding as it was. This just allows certain companies to patent the genes just as has been done for corn and soy, and make more profits. It's not a hunger solution.

GMO crops? Well, given that we are headed for tremendous climate change, I can't see how limited gene pools and monoculture is going is going to do much to save our butts. The gene pool, and diversity of plants as well, need to be able to survive these kinds of changes. Diversity is the only intelligent response.

So, there's what I would have said, given a chance to interject my opinions.


Dictatore Generale Max Maximilian Maximus I said...

Was great to hear your opinions! Will download the podcast & listen again.

To see my comments you may go back to the BBC blog where they may be available by tomorrow. They are in 'awaiting moderation' status & were typed & posted after the debate ended.

You blog looks interesting, I'll be back to study it in detail later.

Dictatore Generale Max Maximilian Maximus I

cube2theRight said...

Congrats on the interview, and I can't wait to listen to it. Completely agree on needing to address both the short term and long term aspects as separate parts of the question.

The only point I have is to say that the question boils down to saving lives. While I'm not up on all the research, the latest does support the hypothesis that sustainable, and even organic, can generate as good or better yields in the studied circumstances. However, if the opposite were to be true, and GM cloned hybrid Beefcorn could save one additional human life in the long term (keeping all the consequences in the equation), I would be for the Beefcorn.

Its about human life, and while we need to think in the long term, we shouldn't close ourselves off from options because of dogma. The organic option is supported by current data, but as additional data comes in and agricultural science advances, I hope we stay open to it.

Rachel said...

good job on the interview, B! I'll go and download it now.

The Expatriate Chef said...

Yep, it is about saving lives. Frankly there is enough food produced in the world right now to do that, and the peanut butter example shows how better food solutions do more for the immediate problem. Which indicates it's a cost and effort issue not a lack of food that is the hold up, my thoughts. We'd all have to give more to do more. Wouldn't it be great if we could/would/did that?

I'm hoping that the long term can be sustainable for all of us and we should work toward that since all of our survival does depend on a healthy planet.

Raj said...

Thanks for bringing some sanity to the debate, Beth. The GM lobby is determined to muddy the waters. I was particularly taken with Val Giddings, a man whom the BBC introduced as a geneticist, but who is in fact a vice president at the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Not something he thought worth mentioning. But then questions about the distribution of food aren't the ones that we're meant to be asking....

The Expatriate Chef said...

Thanks, Raj, you stood your ground in there. I wasn't real clear on what the debate was supposed to mean, was it just getting GMO versus non-GMO on the line and having a go? Doesn't do much to focus on the real issue, which is feeding people sustainably and making better use of the food we do have to meet needs and save lives. Glad you were on the line and thanks for watching my back on the organic point.

Shaping Youth said...

B, was this the same one that Rebecca Scritchfield was on? I'm still out of town at the Ca. healthy eating summit in Sacramento, so haven't gotten to listen to it yet, but would love to post w/you both and link to it??? Kudos on getting your voice out there! yay!

Anonymous said...

Amy, B -

Yes this is the show I was on... and I was called "condescending" by the main guest... love it. At least a caller came to my defense at the end of the episode!

All I was trying to say is don't talk about GMOs solving world hunger without at least acknowledging that there are programs out there now that work to keep people nourished and out of the hospital.


Expatriate Chef said...

Well, the "main guest" was the chief lobbyist for Monsanto. That explains a bit.