Feeding every hungry mouth in the world is an increasingly difficult task. One in six people are undernourished today and the population is exploding — it’s projected to increase from 7.3 billion to 9.7 billion by 2050. The demand for meat is increasing, along with world income levels and population growth. Climate change could significantly affect future crop yields.
The good news is, providing enough quality calories for everyone in the world in a manner that’s both profitable and environmentally friendly is possible. Here are some myths about agriculture, as well as a look at why a sustainable future is both possible and increasingly crucial.
Myth: GMOs Are Harmful to Health
Greenpeace, a non-profit organization dedicated to the environment, is strongly opposed to genetic engineering on the basis that it could be used “to turn the environment into a giant genetic experiment by commercial interests.” They are specifically lobbying against a strain of rice called “Golden Rice,” which has a higher vitamin-A content than ordinary rice and can be used to reduce health deficiencies and blindness in children in poor countries.
But there’s no scientific evidence at all that shows that genetic modification is harmful, and major health organizations have repeatedly stated this fact. By banning and restricting the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), we restrict technological innovation that can be used to make agriculture more sustainable and better able to feed the hungry.
There’s nothing wrong with being a finicky eater in a rich country and abstaining from GMOs, but attempting to thrust these food preferences on those who do not have enough to eat is wrong.
Myth: We’ll Have to Be Vegans in the Future
Meat is bad for the environment — at least, in the way in which it’s produced now. Livestock eat at least one third of the world’s cereals produced, emit more toxic gases than cars do and their overgrazing has destroyed about one fifth of the world’s pastures. Eating too much meat is also terrible for your health. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in October that red and processed meats cause cancer, and its consumption contributes to heart disease and diabetes.
But this doesn’t mean we’ll all have to go vegan in the future. The consumption of modest amounts of animal products has health benefits, especially for the poor and undernourished. Sustainability is not only about helping the environment — it’s also about reducing socioeconomic inequalities whenever possible. As is, the annual meat consumption in the United States is 125 kg per person. Compare this to India, which is 3.2 kg per person.
By focusing on consuming quality meats rather than high quantities of meat, we can help reduce this inequality. Americans should focus on eating less cancer-causing red and processed meats and fast foods, while Indians could increase their intake of protein, iron and amino-acid-rich whole meats as their income levels rise.
“Nature” magazine recently highlighted more steps that can be taken to dramatically reduce livestock’s harmful effects on the environment:
- Feed animals with grains that humans cannot eat. This includes things like hay, grass and silage, and will free up edible grains for human use instead.
- Prevent animals from getting sick. The improvement of livestock management practices on farms can reduce communicable diseases (many of which can be spread to humans), and even improve profits, because more animals will survive to reach the age of reproduction, lactation or slaughter.
- Invest in agricultural technology. Things like smart supplements and cheaper medicines allow animals to provide us with better nutrition, as well as get bigger and feed us more effectively.
Be the first to know about new posts!
Sign up here to get my posts straight to your email along with environmental tips each week!
Myth: Sustainable Agriculture Isn’t Affordable
Anyone who’s ever been to a Whole Foods Market knows that certified organic foods can be a lot more expensive than their regular counterparts. They have higher production costs because they are less efficient — that is, they use up more land and produce lower yields. They are a lot more labor-intensive, too, because they require more monitoring to make sure they don’t get destroyed by pests, since no pesticides are used. It may sound surprising, but organic farms are worse for the environment than conventional farms.
It’s important to differentiate sustainable agriculture from so-called “organic” agriculture, because sustainable agriculture and organic agriculture are not the same thing. Sustainable agriculture seeks to reduce environmental harm, decrease socioeconomic inequality and turn a profit while doing so. By embracing agricultural technology like GMOs and improved livestock management, and reducing our intake of low-quality meats, we support sustainable agriculture.
It’s cheaper than buying all-organic, because it’s meant to be. Sustainable agriculture increases access to healthy, nutritious foods for everyone, regardless of their geographical location.
Sustainable agriculture is not a myth — it’s our future.