[Comment: The task was to critique a futures-oriented
article in the form of a letter to the journal's editor. I chose one from
The Futurist by Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro extolling the single
virtues of genetically modified crops. The first section is the 'working'
for the letter.]
- Genetically modified crops will be the only means of feeding the
world's growing population.
- There are 800 million malnourished people in the world today.
- People are starving because the world doesn't produce enough food.
- There are no other means to increase crop yield.
- Alternative Evidence A
- Of the world's 800 million malnourished people, 36 million of
them are in the USA (US Department of Agriculture). 36 million people
is the same proportion of US population as 800 million is of the
entire world, indicating that all malnourished people are suffering
due to maldistribution rather than lack of supply.
- "Ethiopia was a net exporter of food during its famine." (Louise
Jury, The Independent, 1998-07-25)
- Alternative Assumptions A
- People are starving because they're too poor to buy food and because
distribution needs improvement.
- Alternative Evidence B
- "Today the world produces 4.3 pounds of food per capita.² (Peter
Rosset, New York Times, 1999-09-01) In 1995 average daily
food consumption per capita in the United States was 2.9 pounds
(United States Department of Agriculture figures, August 1997).
- "Over the past 35 years, global per capita food production has
outstripped population growth by 16 percent." (John Vidal, The
- Index of world food production per capita, 1984-86=100:
(World Resources 1998-99, World Resources Institute)
- On 45 large African projects crop yields were increased by 50-100%
for 75,000 farmers using methods such as giving people ownership
of land, planting diversified crops, composting, saving water, manuring,
seed banks. The Deccan Development Society near Bangalore increased
yield by more than 50% in 40 villages over 10 years. (John Vidal,
The Guardian, 1999-06-19)
- Alternative Assumptions B
- There are alternative methods of increasing yield.
- Alternative Inference
- Increasing equality and using other farming techniques will help
feed the world's growing population.
While Robert B. Shapiro is correct in suggesting we need to find better
ways to feed our increasingly crowded world, he is wrong in implying that
biotechnology is the sole solution.
It is correct to state, as Mr. Shapiro does, that there are 800 million
hungry people in the world although to assume these people are hungry
because we do not produce enough food is false. According to the US Department
of Agriculture 36 million of these people are in the United States, a
land far from chronic shortages of food. Similarly, even countries with
extreme starvation may have enough food; Ethiopia, for example, was still
a net exporter of food during its dreadful famine according to a 1998
article by Louise Jury of the London Independent.
Right now we produce more than enough food to comfortably feed everyone
on the planet, and Joseph Stiglitz, the World Bank's chief economist,
has stated that food production outstripped population growth over the
past 25 years (according to the World Resources Institute it has continued
to do so in recent years). While biotechnology will no doubt play a part
in continuing this trend while world population increases into the next
century, the need to make sure this produce reaches those who most need
it is more important.