You know that line parents say when picking up their paycheck: I got hungry mouths to feed. Well, the earth has hungry mouths to feed, many, and the number keeps multiplying each decade. By 2050, the population is projected to reach 9.7 billion. And the food producers of the world worry about how they will feed them all, especially in the face of climate change.
Some say that is why we need agribusiness–corporate, industrialized farming systems and genetically modified seeds. Yet, agribusiness is just that–business. It is made up of companies set to sell products and make profits, and as Timothy A. Wise traveled the world–Africa, Mexico, India, and the U.S.–he discovered that agribusiness promoters, even with their “we will save the world” slogans, were taking over to feed their own corporate interests.
In my interview with Wise, we talked about his research specifically into genetically modified seeds and the promises of the companies that sell them.
“There's what the companies would tell you they were trying to solve and then there's what I think the actual motivation is. They tell you that they were trying to create a more efficient and productive set of seeds with their associated herbicides that would grow with less need for manual weeding and with less need for insecticides.” This is the general consumer’s understanding of a GMO. That is created to solve a problem, to grow better, bigger, easier. However, Wise says, the companies “real reason is to make money, to create new products that they can sell that are patented and that are proprietary, because once farmers are using them it's very hard for them to stop using them.”
Over 90% of the corn crop in America is from genetically modified seed, and its produced genetically modified crop is mostly used to feed livestock, fuel cars with ethanol, and manufacture processed foods with corn syrup and corn meal--such as cereals, candy, and baked goods. Advocates of GM corn crops say that it has greatly increased the yields for farmers across the corn belt, some studies claim by 8-20%.
Wise disagrees. He says that “they would have you believe that US corn farmers were suffering and were incredibly unproductive, and no, completely untrue. We had the highest yields in the world. We still do. Yields haven’t gone up since they introduced GM seeds. That’s been actually well-documented by the National Academy of Sciences.”
This is the dichotomy of the GM debate. Those behind the seeds claim we might starve without them. Those against GMOs question the flaws in the system: in the profits going to big agribusiness instead of to the farmers, in the potential health risks of industrialized farming and GM seeds.
In my interview with Wise, we talk about Mexico’s move to ban GM corn, as well as a few others set to change the idea that the only way is under the control of big agribusiness.
Check out my full interview with Wise in Episode 2.
Wise's book, Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food covers even more ground. Find it here or wherever you buy books.
“…a grave and timely look at the future of feeding the planet.” - Kirkus Reviews