Can we feed hungry world without proven technology?

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How much do we take proven technology for granted in agriculture? Nearly all of the U.S. soybean crop is genetically modified and half of the corn crop is as well. On the livestock side, using rBST growth hormone boosts milk production, and livestock stalls help protect the welfare of hogs.

Even so, consumers don't understand much of the 'why' behind using such technology. In Europe, that vacuum of knowledge is why Greenpeace has managed to convince so many consumers that GMO stands for frankenfood.

I used to think U.S. consumers were a lot more savvy, but now I'm not so sure.

When a group like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) comes out against science-based livestock housing and consumers swallow the pitch hook, line and sinker - as they did last fall in California, banning gestation crates for sows and cages for laying hens - you know there's a serious knowledge gap between farm and fork.

Getting rid of proven technology flies in the face of the needs of a world where nearly 1 billion now go to bed hungry — some of them in our own country.  Technology has helped one American farmer feed 150 people today compared to 19 people in 1940.

RBST (recombinant bovine somatatropin), the growth hormone in dairy cows that has a proven farm-level economic benefit, reduces consumer prices, and is proven safe. Even so, rBST has been removed from Wal-Mart's Great Value-brand milk; Kroger had already pulled milk produced with rBST from its shelves. As a result many dairy farmers have shunned it because they cannot access some markets if they use it in their cows.

Cornell University estimated that 8% fewer cows would be required in an rbST-supplemented population, whereas a non-rbST production system would require a 25% increase in cow numbers to meet future production targets -- a production cost increase that most certainly would be passed on to the consumer in the form of even higher food prices.

Take that same logic and apply it to cageless chickens, or sows freed from their gestation stalls. Going backwards on science-based technology is not sustainable, nor will it feed a hungry planet. In the next 40 years, it is estimated that the amount of food that will need to be produced to feed the world's growing population will be greater than the amount already produced throughout the history of humankind.

Last year's run up in food prices caused many countries to re-think their food policies to promote more secure supplies at affordable prices. Putting food production policies into the hands of well-intended, misguided activists would have the opposite effect.

Could we become dependent on other countries for food the same way we have become addicted to other countries for energy?

"Decision makers have to understand that the overarching issue globally is food security,•bCrLf says Steve Kopperud, senior Vice President at Policy Directions, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. "In the last few years we've seen food riots around the globe. When you make it more expensive to raise animals for food you are pricing a greater percentage of the population out of that protein market.•bCrLf

The U.S. has traditionally been the supermarket to the planet, between our food aid and exports. To the extent we start making it more expensive and difficult to grow food, you start to concentrate on domestic markets first.

"Quite frankly selling overseas will become more challenging the more restrictive business atmosphere you force producers to operate in,•bCrLf concludes Kopperud.

(What do you think? Leave your comments below)

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