Meeting food demand by 2050

By Don “Doc” Sanders

You readers must admit that all of the facts and hype over a projected two billion world population increase — to a total of nine billion people by 2050 — gives pause for concern. I know it did for me. That’s because to feed all those people, we’ll have to increase food production by 50%.

After a year or so of my own research and discussions with others, I believe that agriculture will meet this demand. However, I offer one caveat: producing enough food is one thing but distributing it to everyone is another.

I still remember the stories in the past of governments locking up grain in warehouses — even though their citizens were starving from a drought and famine — because the food was produced from genetically modified crops. It’s time to get over such fears. I believe biotechnology and other technology is going to be part of the solution to feeding our fast-growing world. Here are some reasons I am confident of this:

• Glyphosate-tolerant corn (Round-up Ready) is being used in Africa to combat the infamous witch weed. Witch weed is a parasitic weed that attaches to the corn stalk, sucks the nutrients from the plant and ultimately kills it. This strategy has been highly successful.

• Barley that formerly required six waterings to grow a bumper crop has been genetically modified to produce high yields on just one watering.

• Rice is a staple in many third world countries. Through biotechnology it has been “beefed up” with iron, vitamin A and vitamin D. Now children who formerly had life-threatening deficiencies can enjoy improved health.

• Right here in the good old U.S. of A., dairy farmers have made tremendous strides in improving productivity. In the 1940s, it took 24 million cows to produce enough milk for our country’s 160 million citizens. Since then, the American population has nearly doubled — to 315 million. But thanks to innovative dairymen, a mere 8.5 million dairy cows supply our milk needs. In fact, those cows are so productive, they’re creating a milk surplus, compounding the economic woes of dairy farmers. The environmental crowd that chants the sustainability mantra should celebrate the cow’s amazing productivity. Yet they blame cows for global warming, despite the fact today’s dairy farms have just over a third of the cows milked back in the ‘40s.

Americans are blessed that our forefathers had the foresight to establish an agency to test new science and new drugs for efficacy and safety before allowing them to be released for use. This agency is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Most of the world’s countries lack an organization like the FDA, but would likely benefit from it.

Countries that don’t develop protocols for reviewing and approving new technologies will be left behind. The European Union (EU) is a perfect example of this. The European Parliament, the Union’s lawmaking body, voted to ban all biotechnology related to genetically modified organisms (GMO). Each of the EU governments spends millions of dollars in testing every year to ensure that all grain purchased from the U.S. is free of GMO seed. While their government is frittering away their time in GMO isolation, the EU has gradually shifted from being a net exporter of agricultural products to a net importer. Unfortunately, the EU will ultimately be left behind, with its citizens unable to afford food.

I salute American agriculture for its ability to adapt and meet the challenge. Now if we could only get our federal government in synch.

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