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Food Security from the Tractor Seat

Last week’s headlines announced the arrival of higher food prices with more increases to come because of widespread drought in California and Texas.  Talk of climate change and its effect on food production in some circles has taken on a new sense of urgency.  But among all the handwringers, one common characteristic stands out.  They are all against technology.

But just as Malthus has been proven wrong time and time again because of technology and its applications by our farmers and ranchers, continued research and extension will meet the future needs of the world IF it is allowed to be developed and used.  Biotechnology and GMO’s have been, and will continue to be, vital to the world as it attempts to feed a growing population.

For example, a recent study of the poultry industry commissioned by the American Egg Board concluded that it took 32 percent less water to produce a dozen eggs today compared to 1960.  Using egg production technology of the 1960’s, it would require 78 million more hens, 1.3 million more acres of corn, and 1.8 million more acres of soybeans.  These and many other examples consistently show how technology helps conserve water, lower food costs, and improve the overall environment.

Now, I pose a simple question to those of us who are concerned about global food security: How is the world going to feed itself over the next 50 years on less land and with more expensive water?  That in and of itself poses a significant obstacle, but without continuing to challenge our best and brightest minds and allowing them to find and develop the technological solutions, I submit it will be impossible.

For all of the controversy over the nutrition title of the Farm Bill regarding spending, did any side ever stop to consider that the higher cost of food will most assuredly have a very adverse effect on those of us least able to afford what we are eating today, and that SNAP and school lunch dollars will not go as far in the future as a result?

If we deny the rest of the world the use of current and future biotechnology, they will not be able to feed themselves.   I hope we can provoke a discussion between the hunger community and the environmental community that is so opposed to GMO’s to answer a simple question:  If not with technology, how will the world feed itself?  The answer cannot be organic, albeit completely acknowledging that it is a growing and profitable market that might eventually provide for 10 percent of the world food needs of those who prefer and can afford the higher prices!

The hunger community must begin to give more sincere attention to how the world can feed itself now and in the future; step one is embracing sound science and biotechnology.

Former Congressman Charlie Stenholm represented the 17th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives for 26 years. He was a member of the House Agriculture Committee throughout his career, serving as the Committee’s ranking Democrat for his last eight years in office.

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