Any More Food?

Two old friends called a week ago to talk about food. No, not recipes, food. John Vendeland and Steve Savage are consultants in agriculture, and they foresee a slowly unfolding disaster in food supply. The world population is growing, and according to projections will peak in the next 50 or 60 years. We need to grow more food to feed billions of new lives. John and Steve know a whole lot about food production. They point out that increasing agricultural production is a slow process. You can’t just invent a better wheat and produce it worldwide next year. Innovation depends on multiple crop cycles, if only to increase the supply of seed.

They say that current trends suggest a big food shortfall is coming, and that it will hurt the poorest and most vulnerable citizens on the planet. They worry that several trends are holding back agricultural innovation.

On the left, they see a romantic preoccupation with organic farming, which will never be sustainable. They see the paralyzing power of the precautionary principle. They see an active dislike of corporations that provide much of the investment and invention in agriculture. They see distrust of science. Such forces have restricted research in genetically modified food to just a handful of major crops in a few major markets. That means the most powerful tool in the 10,000-year history of agriculture is currently not addressing some of the most pressing needs on the planet.

On the right, they see a similar distrust of science and technology, a dreamy hope for home gardening, and an unwillingness to contemplate the impact of global warming, which they believe will force us to innovate much more quickly as climates shift. It distresses both John and Steve that some of their fellow Christians most vocally distrust science and deny global warming.

For them, these are not just interesting questions. They have moral dimensions.

If you are interested in getting into the details, go to Sustainablog.com and search for Steve Savage articles. He’s posted a great many lively and not-too-technical articles on various issues related to food. You might start on this one on 700-year-old technology in agriculture.

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2 Responses to “Any More Food?”

  1. Chase Says:

    In addition to population growth, I think income growth (with subsequent increases in demand for meat, which requires more grain) is another source of pressure on the food supply.

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