Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Watching the News

I've been paying attention to how the media are covering the emerging world food crisis, and it's not a pretty or predictable picture.

Sunday evening I just let the tv run and ended up in the late news on my local ABC affiliate. They mentioned the world food crisis, and then had some talking head comment that there was really no crisis, it was just a matter of getting the food to the people who need it. Where did they get that clip? 1975 archives? The US approach of food aid - trickle down food? - was not sustainable then - why would it be now?

Then last evening my local Fox affiliate had a clip of a demonstration against rising food prices in South Africa, and said, in the 30 seconds allowed, that rising population, drought exacerbated by global warming, and conversion of agriculture lands to growing fuel crops were the main reasons. Who would have thought that Fox would get some of the story right, even if in capsule form?

Meanwhile the NY Times business pages on Monday had an article suggesting that rising prices, particularly for wheat, may make genetically engineered crops more attractive. Global markets - the reluctance of so many other countries to buy our gm crops - had caused Monsanto to abandon the quest for gm wheat. This parallels what I know from folks in the rice growing areas of this diocese. But no longer.

What appalls me about this is that it is a short term solution to a long term issue which will exacerbate global poverty (because of the integrated control through patents and marketing of the company that develops the seed) and affect genetic diversity.

The article even suggests that one might grow gm wheat to increase yields now, and then somehow return to non-gm wheat later. Who are they kidding? Any crop which is wind pollinated (we have corn as an example) can become genetically polluted worldwide before you know it; and experiments have demonstrated backcrossing between rape/canola and its wild cousins.

I'm no luddite. There are reasons to hybridize, to extend the range of crops and increase yields, for example. We will probably need to do some work on staple crops here and there around the globe as populations increase and the climate changes. This will be part of working for sustainable agriculture in the great variety of local climes and soils. But there is no global silver bullet, and there will be no going back from genetic pollution. Diversity lost is lost for good.

But hey - what did I expect - look where this article appeared.


It all reminds me of a line from at the Ecumenical Roundtable on Science, Technology and Faith. Larry Rasmussen said, "If you don't think ecological debt is different from other kinds of debt, try making more adamah (topsoil).

Meanwhile, the BBC notes that Britain and the rest of Europe have high biofuel targets contributing to the global rise in food prices. They include a clip of El Presidente Evo Morales calling for an end to the capitalist system and the use of crops to produce energy in Latin America - from the UN conference on indigenous people.


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