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In Context #15 (Spring, 2006, p. 7); copyright 2006 by The Nature Institute

Will Biotech Feed the Hungry?
Looking Closer to Home / A Commentary
Craig Holdrege

On our planet with nearly six billion people, 840 million are undernourished. Proponents of modern industrial agriculture believe genetically engineered crops hold the promise of a new green revolution, a revolution that will bring higher yields and nutritionally enhanced crops to developing (third-world) countries.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a report in 2004 describing how biotechnology can "help significantly in meeting the food and livelihood needs of a growing population." Since the FAO is known for its multifaceted efforts to empower small poor farmers in the third world, this endorsement of agricultural biotechnology, which is currently driven by a few giant multinational companies, came as a surprise to many.

It also generated a wave of opposition. An open letter to the FAO's director, Jacques Diouf, signed by many third world farmers and civil society organizations, derides the report as highly biased and as fodder for the biotech industry's PR machine.

The main question is: how closely coupled are hunger and agricultural production? Let's not speculate. Let's look at some facts here in the United States, which grows more genetically engineered crops (mainly soybeans, corn, and cotton) than any other country - 120 million acres in 2005.<