Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Drought: The Genetically Engineered Food Debate!

The Great Drought of 2012 wears on across the American corn belt adding to the misery of the current soft patch in the sluggish economic recovery.   As the economics of drought emerge again, the question being debated by farmers, producers, academics, and consumers is "Do we combat drought with innovation in conventional agronomic practices, or do we look to agri-biotech to boost global food production?"

Genetically engineered foods can create plants with the exact traits needed for a desired purpose.  Plants can be engineered to withstand disease, drought, cold weather, pests, and poor soil conditions.  These enhancements reduce the risk of crop failure and
offer price stability to the world aggregate supply of grain. Plants can be enhanced to add nutritional values to help the malnourished of the world.    These are the benefits of agri-biotech. 

Concern about unintended consequences is the majority counter-argument which has been losing the debate over the past decade.  The effects of cross-contamination, allergens, unknown effects on humans, and the economics of seed cost are most often cited as reason to view genetically engineered food with caution or not at all. 
As CFO for a food producer, I witness first hand every day the volatility of the food supply.  Charts like this mean prices for food around the world are going to increase.

The demand for 40% of corn grown in America to meet USA ethanol mandates will put pressure on the livestock industry that needs corn for feed.  Livestock will then look to other grains for feed.   Demand for corn and grains then raises prices which is good for farmers.  The downside is when crops fail, families around the world pay more for food, for protein, and for fuel.  This causes the greatest suffering in the poor and developing nations of the world that depend on importing grains for food. 

Are genetically modified plants the answer to volatility, hunger, and famine?  Do we work for innovation in conventional agronomics or biotech?  Let the debate begin!

Monsanto Presentation on Drought Tolerant Corn

The Debate Over Genetically Modified Foods (Action Bioscience)

GMO drought-tolerant corn over-promises: plant scientist (Reuters)

Genetically Modified Food May Be Making You Fast (FastCo)

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