Can GMOs Help End World Hunger?
The Huffington Post

John Robbins

Posted: 8/1/11

	Can genetically engineered foods help feed the hungry?  Are 
anti-GMO activists and over-zealous environmentalists standing in the 
way of the hungry being fed?
	The hope that GMO foods might bring solutions to malnutrition 
and world hunger was never more dramatically illustrated than when 
Time magazine ran a cover story titled "Grains of Hope."  The article 
joyfully announced the development of a genetically engineered 
"golden rice." This new strain of GM rice has genes from viruses and 
daffodils spliced into its genetic instructions. The result is a form 
of rice that is a golden-yellow color (much like daffodil flowers), 
and that produces beta-carotene, which the human body normally 
converts into Vitamin A.
	Nearly a million children die every year because they are 
weakened by Vitamin A deficiencies and an additional 350,000 go 
blind.  Golden rice, said Time, will be a godsend for the half of 
humanity that depends on rice for its major staple. Merely eating 
this rice could prevent blindness and death.
	The development of golden rice was, it seemed, compelling and 
inspiring evidence that GM crops are the answer to malnutrition and 
hunger.  Time quoted former U.S. President Jimmy Carter: "Responsible 
biotechnology is not the enemy, starvation is."
	Shortly after the Time cover story, Monsanto and other 
biotechnology companies launched a $50 million marketing campaign, 
including $32 million in TV and print advertising.  The ads, complete 
with soft focus fields and smiling children, said that "biotech foods 
could help end world hunger."
	Other ad campaigns have followed. One Monsanto ad tells the 
public: "Biotechnology is one of tomorrow's tools in our hands today. 
Slowing its acceptance is a luxury our hungry world cannot afford."
	Within a few months, the biotech industry had spent far more 
on these ads than it had on developing golden rice.  Their purpose? 
"Unless I'm missing something," wrote Michael Pollan in The New York 
Times Magazine, "the aim of this audacious new advertising campaign 
is to impale people like me -- well-off first-worlders dubious about 
genetically engineered food -- on the horns of a moral dilemma ... If 
we don't get over our queasiness about eating genetically modified 
food, kids in the third world will go blind."
	The implication of the ads is that lifesaving food is being 
held hostage by anti-science activists.
	In the years since Time proclaimed the promises of golden 
rice, however, we've learned a few things.
	For one thing, we've learned that golden rice will not grow 
in the kinds of soil that it must to be of value to the world's 
hungry.  To grow properly, it requires heavy use of fertilizers and 
pesticides -- expensive inputs unaffordable to the very people that 
the variety is supposed to help.  And we've also learned that golden 
rice requires large amounts of water -- water that might not be 
available in precisely those areas where Vitamin A deficiency is a 
problem, and where farmers cannot afford costly irrigation projects.
	And one more thing -- it turns out that golden rice doesn't 
work, even in theory.  Malnourished people are not able to absorb 
Vitamin A in this form.  And even if they could, they'd have to eat 
an awful lot of the stuff.  An 11-year-old boy would have to eat 27 
bowls of golden rice a day in order to satisfy his minimum 
requirement for the vitamin.
	I'm sure that given enough time and enough money, some viable 
genetically modified (GM) crops could be developed that contain more 
nutrients or have higher yields.  But I'm not sure that even if that 
were to happen, it would actually benefit the world's poor.  Monsanto 
and the other biotech companies aren't developing these seeds with 
the intention of giving them away. If people can't afford to buy GM 
seeds, or if they can't afford the fertilizers, pesticides and water 
the seeds require, they'll be left out.
	Poverty is at the root of the problem of hunger. As Peter 
Rosset, director of Food First, reminds us, "People do not have 
Vitamin A deficiency because rice contains too little Vitamin A, but 
because their diet has been reduced to rice and almost nothing else."
	And what, pray tell, has reduced these people to such poverty 
and their diets to such meager fare?  In the words of the British 
writer George Monbiot:
		The world has a surplus of food, but still people go 
hungry. They go hungry because they cannot afford to buy it. They 
cannot afford to buy it because the sources of wealth and the means 
of production have been captured and in some cases monopolized by 
landowners and corporations.	The purpose of the biotech industry 
is to capture and monopolize the sources of wealth and the means of 
production ...
	GM technology permits companies to ensure that everything we 
eat is owned by them. They can patent the seeds and the processes 
which give rise to them. They can make sure that crops can't be grown 
without their patented chemicals. They can prevent seeds from 
reproducing themselves. By buying up competing seed companies and 
closing them down, they can capture the food market, the biggest and 
most diverse market of all.
	No one in her right mind would welcome this, so the 
corporations must persuade us to focus on something else ... We are 
told that ... by refusing to eat GM products, we are threatening the 
developing world with starvation, an argument that is, shall we say, 
imaginative ...
	With rare exceptions, genetically engineered crops are being 
created not because they're productive or because they address real 
human needs, but because they're patentable.
	The biotech companies have invested billions of dollars 
because they sense in this technology the potential for enormous 
profit and the means to gain control over the world's food supply. 
Their goal is not to help subsistence farmers feed themselves. Their 
goal is maximum profit.
	While Monsanto would like us to believe they are seeking to 
alleviate world hunger, there is actually a very dark side to the 
company's efforts. For countless centuries farmers have fed humanity 
by saving the seed from one years crop to plant the following year. 
But Monsanto, the company that claims its motives are to help feed 
the hungry, has developed what it calls a "Technology Protection 
System" that renders seeds sterile. Commonly known as "terminator 
technology" and developed with taxpayer funding by the USDA and Delta 
& Pine Land Company (an affiliate of Monsanto), the process 
genetically alters seeds so that their offspring will be sterile for 
all time. If employed, this technology would ensure that farmers 
cannot save their own seeds, but would have to come back to Monsanto 
year after year to purchase new ones.
	Critics refer to these genetically engineered seeds as 
suicide seeds. "By peddling suicide seeds, the biotechnology 
multinationals will lock the world's poorest farmers into a new form 
of genetic serfdom," says Emma Must of the World Development 
Movement. "Currently 80 percent of crops in developing countries are 
grown using farm-saved seed. Being unable to save seeds from sterile 
crops could mean the difference between surviving and going under."
	To Monsanto and other GMO companies, the terminator and other 
seed sterilizing technologies are simply business ventures that are 
designed to enhance profits. In this case, there is not even the 
implication of benefit to consumers.
	I wish I could speak more highly of GM foods and their 
potential. But the technology is now held tightly in the hands of 
corporations whose motives are, I'm afraid, very different from what 
they would have us believe.
	Despite the PR, Monsanto's goal is not to make hunger 
history. It's to control the staple crops that feed the world.
	Will GMOs help end world hunger? I don't think so.

John Robbins is the author of many bestsellers including 
Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our 
World," the classic 
For A New America" and 
"<>The New 
Good Life: Living Better Than Ever in an Age of Less." He is the 
recipient of the Rachel Carson Award, the Albert Schweitzer 
Humanitarian Award, the Peace Abbey's Courage of Conscience Award and 
Green America's Lifetime Achievement Award. To learn more about his 
work, visit <>