Biotech & World Hunger: Good Debate, Wrong Question

If you want a quick overview of the main points for-and-against GM foods, you could do worse than to check out this recent debate hosted by the NY Times: Can Biotech Food Cure World Hunger?

With food prices remaining high in developing countries, the United Nations estimates that the number of hungry people around the world could increase by 100 million in 2009 and pass the one billion mark. A summit of world leaders in Rome scheduled for November will set an agenda for ways to reduce hunger and increase investment in agriculture development in poor countries.

What will drive the next Green Revolution? Is genetically modified food an answer to world hunger? Are there other factors that will make a difference in food production?

And the piece includes short commentaries from:

Paul Collier, economist, Oxford Univ.
Vandana Shiva, activist and author
Per Pinstrup-Andersen, prof. of nutrition and public policy, Cornell
Raj Patel, Institute for Food and Development Policy
Jonathan Foley, U of Minnesota
Michael J. Roberts, economist, North Carolina State U.

The biggest problem with the NYT debate here is the starting point: curing world hunger? Please. No technology is going to do that, and to put that forward as a possibility is to set oneself up for a disappointment of tragic proportions. The right question is more like, “Can biotech — as it could be used, rather than as it has been used thus far — provide sufficient gains in productivity, in the right parts of the world, to have a meaningful effect on overall levels of hunger?”


About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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