Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Biotech Food and Political Stability

The NY Times Room for Debate section ran this article: Can Biotech Food Cure World Hunger? It's an incredibly thought provoking article on the sustainability and necessity for biotech food in developing countries. Some of the commentors are for the use of genetically engineered and modified food sources to help eliminate food incesurity and a few are against it. The arguments on both sides are sound. The trouble I'm having though is that everyone seems to have overlooked a major factor in the food security argument. Politics plays an immensely huge role in the success or failure of an agricultural effort, technologically enhanced or not.

Developing countries are particularly susceptible to the flux of government and its impact on charitble efforts. In countries where food instability a worst, often there is political turmoil as well. Corrupt leaders, political unrest, scare tactics, and common hucksters can all hinder efforts for change. Simply put, whether or not genetically modified foods are introduced to new climates or whether the agricultural systems are overhauled is not what will determine the success or failure of the program. Its whether or not the program can be sustained over time by the people of that particular country. Access to healthy and affordable food won't come from the type of food being used, but the system of distribution. If biologically engineered food is being introduced, but the people of that nation are prevented from gaining access to it, or if the government of that nation blocks the growth of a program, then food instability will continue to be an issue. If the farms are being abandoned due to the political climate, then the food source no longer matters.

Frankly, I think that genetically modifying food to be more tolerant to a range of climates is a wonderful idea. The wine industry has had incredible success with this. The vines of Europe would have long ago been destroyed thanks to aphids imported from America if it weren't for the ingenuity of scientists who grafted the vines to rootstock tolerant to the aphids. The same idea applies to the question of biotech food and food stability. But first we need to fix the system causing the source of the instability. Food can be made more healthy in a variety of ways, of which science is only one, but first it must be made available to the people. 

I know that isn't really the purpose of the debate featured, but I felt that the issue needed to be addressed in conjunction with it. Food stability is an issue that is ecological, political, and economic in its nature. Simply focusing on one facet of the dilemna is short-sighted at best. The problem is too complex to resolve without considering the complexities of a multi-dimensional system.

What are your thought? Biotech or organic? And how would you address the political or economic climates to strengthen the program?

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