By Anna Lappé
With all due respect, Nina Federoff’s New York Times op-ed reads like it was written two decades ago when the jury was still out about the potential of the biotech industry to reduce hunger, increase nutritional quality in foods, and decrease agriculture’s reliance on toxic chemicals and other expensive inputs that most of the world’s farmers can’t afford.
With more than 15 years of commercialized GMOs behind us, we know not to believe these promises any longer.
Around the world, from the Government Office of Science in the UK to the National Research Council in the United States, to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, there is consensus: in order to address the roots of hunger today and build a food system that will feed the future, we must invest in “sustainable intensification”—not expensive GMO technology that threatens biodiversity and locks us into dependence on fossil fuels, fossil water, and agrochemicals. And that’s never proven its superiority, even in yields.
By definition, sustainable intensification means producing abundant food while reducing agriculture’s negative impacts on the environment. Water pollution from pesticide run-off, soil degradation from synthetic fertilizer use, are just two examples of the cost of industrial agriculture. (And, mind you, nearly all of the GMO crops planted today rely on synthetic fertilizer and pesticides.)
Sustainable farming has many other co-benefits as well, including improving the natural environment by increasing soil carbon content, protecting watersheds and biodiversity, and decreasing the human health risks from exposures to toxic chemicals. In its policymaker’s guide to sustainable intensification, the FAO states clearly that the “present paradigm” in agriculture–of which Federoff’s beloved GMOs play a starring role–“cannot meet the challenges of the new millennium.”