Food in the America: Big Busines


There is no way to talk about food in the America’s without talking about what food cultivation in the Americas has done to the rest of the world. This year American farmers will plant more corn than every before in history. That’s right – the entire history of the world. Why? Because it’s big business.

Corn is in everything, but it is not a grain that is evolutionary akin to most cultures except the Native American’s. And even then, the corn that the American Farmer’s will plant this year is in very few way’s nutritionally similar to the Maize that the Native American’s cultivated for thousands of years. Check out http://www.maizegdb.org/ for more information on who is doing what to corn these days.

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Maize is the most widely grown grain crop throughout the Americas, with 332 million metric tons grown annually in the United States alone. Approximately 40% of the crop — 130 million tons — is used for corn ethanol. Transgenic maize (genetically modified corn) made up 85% of the maize planted in the United States in 2009.

This year Kulvinder Gill, a  wheat geneticist at WSU, is helping to develop a heat tolerant strain of wheat that can be grown in extreme temperatures. Gill himself, admits however, that other grains like Rye can do just fine in higher temperatures. So why aren’t we encouraging people to plant more rye by giving them the same tax breaks that we give corn and wheat farmers? Simple. It’s big business.

Gill says it’s a way to fight hunger. But is that really true? If you compare the same serving sizes of rye bread to wheat bread you find that Rye has fewer calories, is higher in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in saturated fats, is higher in Iron and Calcium, lower in carbohydrates and had – wait for it – 52% more fiber than wheat bread.

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Even non GMO foods are dangerous to biodiversity and human health. Gill’s wheat is actually akin to a pretty traditional cross-breeding technique and is not considered a GMO. At the minimum, what a country buying this kind of wheat can expect is that it will behave like a weed, edging out other crops and likely cross pollinating with indigenous crops. It will use up more soil nutrients in order to survive, but it will not provide any more nutrients when consumed.

Current field trials with GMO include:

  • Corn engineered with human genes (Dow)
  • Sugarcane engineered with human genes (Hawaii Agriculture Research Center)
  • Corn engineered with jellyfish genes (Stanford University)
  • Tobacco engineered with lettuce genes (University of Hawaii)
  • Rice engineered with human genes (Applied Phytologics)
  • Corn engineered with hepatitis virus genes (Prodigene)

Proponents say biotechnology holds promise for feeding the world as its population continues to grow by 73 million a year. According to the Council for Biotechnology Information, the world must double its food production and improve food distribution over the next quarter century, despite widespread soil degradation and the fact that much suitable farmland is already cultivated. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research says, “World crop productivity could increase by as much as 25 percent through the use of biotechnology to grow plants that resist pests and diseases, tolerate harsh growing conditions and delay ripening to reduce spoilage.”

Yet critics note that enough food already exists to provide every person in the world 4.3 pounds of sustenance every day-without GMOs, according to a report by University of California-Berkeley professor Miguel A. Altieri. Hunger is a food distribution issue, says the San Francisco-based Institute for Food and Development Policy, not a production shortage problem.

On the other side of the debate, advocates of a full-scale organic revolution point to a 2000 study by J.N. Pretty and Rachel Hine, which found that organic techniques can actually increase crop yields by 46 to 150 percent. Greenpeace argues that organic farming offers the developing world excellent potential for high yields, greater crop diversity, protection from pests and improved nutritional content. And the Britain-based Soil Association says a 2000 United Nations report “shows that GM crops are not needed to feed the world’s growing population.” – http://www.organicconsumers.org/ge/ge_vs_organic.cfm

There are few places left in the world that have not been affected by how we cultivate food in the Americas. Here is one of the few, my friend’s grandfather’s roof top garden in Chennai. In this little pots he grows enough greens and veggies for their family of four for most of the year.

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A quick check of more local surrounds told me that I have 18 different choices of local organic farms to choose to buy from within 10 blocks of me (not including the 3 community gardens just down the street where I can plant my own stuff), compliments of the Olympia, Farmer’s Market – Now open.

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