Genetically Modified Famine

By 2050, the world’s population, which is currently about 6.8 billion, is projected to peak at about 9 billion. That’s an additional 2.2 billion people to feed, clothe, and house.

Assuming no change in food consumption patterns, food production will have to increase by one third just to keep pace with population increases. Then again, we live in a world in which an estimated 1 billion people today are undernourished. Our goal ought to be to produce more food, urgently.

A modest but important start would be to not let ideology get in the way of making sure people have enough to eat.

An example of how this happens was related to me recently by this year’s Wilberforce Award winner, former congressman Tony Hall. In 2002, famine brought on by drought and crop failures threatened Zambia and much of southern Africa. People left their land and walked 50 kilometers to towns in the hope of finding food.

Between 1 and 3 million Zambians required food assistance from the United Nations’ World Food Program, whose principal donor is the United States. That’s where Hall enters the story. At the time, he was the United States’ Ambassador to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Hall, who has devoted his adult life to combating global hunger, was shocked and infuriated by what he saw. Zambia blocked the shipment of 40,000 tons of food and put thousands of more tons under lock and key.

Why? Because the food included genetically modified maize and other grains. President Levy Mwanawasa said that he would not risk feeding his countrymen “poison.”

He was exaggerating for effect. He knew that these genetically modified crops were the same food eaten by Americans every day. Ambassador Hall and others told him and anyone who would listen that there was no evidence that these foods posed any risk to human health. They note that genetically modified food was already available in Zambian supermarkets.

But this game of chicken with the lives of Zambians wasn’t primarily about evidence. Mwanawasa and other African leaders were under severe economic pressure from environmentalists and European governments not to accept food that contained genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Some European nations threatened trade sanctions against any country which accepted it. So Zambians continued starving.

For these opponents, concerns about GMOs is, as one expert put it, “apparently ideologically driven.” GMOs are very politically incorrect in Europe. The concern, therefore, isn’t driven by increasing standards of living for the half of the world’s population that lives on less than $2 a day.

Instead, this ideology is driven by profoundly anti-human sentiment. Much as in the global warming debate, the prescription of many environmentalists seems to be “fewer and poorer people,” which is obscenely easy for people in the affluent West to say.

Christianity, in contrast, sees human life and flourishing as an unequivocal good. It recognizes that feeding people and alleviating misery should be our priority. And it doesn’t allow people to starve while grain rots in a storage warehouse.

So the next time you may be tempted to think that the politically correct movement is just a harmless fad, think about thousands of starving Africans. Worldviews matter.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Loretta

    I’m the last person to be accused of being politically correct.
    However, as a scientist, I have looked into the “science” of genetically modified foods. As a result, I do NOT purchase anything that could be GMO…which is primarily anything with soy, canola, or corn. It is a huge challenge for me as the mother working to feed a household.

    I find it rather ironic that the author points to the American population as an example of why GMOs must be fine. Where else do we have more problems health-wise?
    The reason the 3rd world is getting all this free grain is because the rest of the world (except Monsanto-based USA) rejects GMO and they have nothing to do with the remaining grain.

    Before knee-jerk reaction to the “over reactors” regarding GMO, the author really ought to research the real reasons why they reject GMOs.
    This is one of a VERY FEW topics current today that I find is quite divorced from political, religious, or ideological background.

    ~ Loretta

  • Kathryn

    “Where else do we have more problems health-wise” than the US?

    Where else is the population as overfed, fat, lazy, and letharic? We else do we have the kind of medical care that allows people with insulin dependent diabetes and Cystic Frybrosis and various cancers (ones that sometimes turn into near chronic conditions because they can be “managed” with various drugs, etc) to live when in previous generations (or other countries) they would have died fairly quickly. And let us not forget the contraceptives chemicals we dump into our bodies and that get into the water supply. And all the Coke and Pepsi that is rotting our bones, just to name of few things.

    I’ve heard that a major cause of our nutritional ills is that the government food pyramind has it all wrong: we are simply getting way too many carbs and not nearly enough fats and protein.

    GMOs do have some issues, espcially if there really is some kind of “termination” gene that could potentially get into the non-termination gene pool and cause trouble. And insisting that various countries grow only the wheat seeds we give them is wrong (it could be the wrong kind of wheat for their culture and climate…not to mention how the free market is distorted).

    But somehow, I think if it were an emergeny and I was staving, I’d be more than happy to take my chances with a PBJ made with GMO ingredients.

  • Loretta

    You wouldn’t want to get me started on the food pyramid.

    Basically, it’s pick-your-poison: die of starvation or die of the many diseases triggered by tampering with nature. But you’re right. Even if I boycotted GMO because of the unethical actions of their makers, that would be enough.