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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Hunger Solution Is About Help Not Handouts

By Cris Brockway

Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Technology has given us such a multitude of novel solutions, such a plethora of modern “conveniences,” that many see it as a “magic bullet.” People believe in technology, and justly so, because of its triumphs that are plainly visible in our lives: the automobile, modern medicine, all the way down to the modest blender. They all solved perceived problems and apparently made life better for their recipients.

What is easy to ignore in their blinding light is the problems that they cause and must then, in turn, be solved again. From smog to narrow minded medical practices to the burden of excessive appliances, nothing comes without a price.

In the case of genetically modified food, this price may be the highest we have known.

Most everyone has heard the classical contentions against genetically modified food: It is unnatural, unpredictable, has lacked sufficient testing and it killed Monarch butterflies that munched on some of its modified goodness. One study indicated that over half of U.S. produce, including 80 percent of corn, is genetically modified, unbeknownst to most people because modified food doesn’t have to be labeled as such. In Europe there is a perpetual uproar over modified foods; protests abound, and some groups go as far as to level genetically modified fields.

Why so much concern, Europe? Haven’t you been listening to the proud companies that manufacture these goods? All the problems will be worked out eventually, and besides, their true goal is to produce superior plants that can feed the world’s population?what better? So what if they stand to make a ton of money? Obviously, theirs is a truly altruistic venture, where any pecuniary rewards are simply secondary.

The appeal of ending world hunger is truly intoxicating, and for good reason: Many of us have simple dreams from a young age of ending world hunger. These carry over to our adolescent and adult years, when we quip about daunting tasks, “O.K. And right after that I’ll end world hunger.” Now that there are companies prepared to shoot the magic bullet into the heart of hunger, people are jumping on the bandwagon. It’s hard to avoid that appeal.

Now, for a change, let’s depart from our usual path and examine up front the potential problems of continually feeding the world’s starving populations.

One great problem is revealed by a relationship that is almost as simple as action-reaction, coming from the laws of ecology. It is the simple fact that the more food a population has, the more that population will grow. All animals, and yes that means humans, are at the mercy of this law. It is the explanation for a burgeoning deer population in the summer (when food is plentiful), followed by many deaths from starvation in the winter (when food is scarce).

This law is why we cannot give in to our craving to simply feed the hungry in starving countries. We must find a better, albeit a more complex, solution. This will require us to provide real help?in the form of teaching them about new farming technologies among other things?rather than a hand out.

This stance is not without its drawbacks, and seems, at first glance, selfish and simple minded. Indeed, it will truly grate against every altruistic bone in your body. Until you consider the deeper truth behind it, that producing more food can never, ever solve world hunger by itself. When you feed a starving population, they increase in size as more survive and reproduce, and within years they have outstripped the food supply.

They starve again. Feed them again, more this time, and they naturally grow, outstripping the newer, bigger food supply. As this continues, indefinitely, how helpful have we become? Their hunger leaves them every once in a while, but for the majority of the time they are mired in a perpetual famine, one that worsens every time their population increases.

At this point, can we really be so audacious as to claim that we are helping them? We are simply throwing fuel on their fire of famine, and then turning our backs and feeling good as they begin to burn anew.

One would think that companies who manufacture genetically modified foods would consider this. Indeed, they probably know it well?they have discovered a self-perpetuating cash cow, a market that grows with the more you put into it!

As farmers in large agricultural nations use more superior genetically modified seeds, they get bigger and bigger bumper crops, which have to go somewhere. These get sold to aid organizations or perhaps directly to starving nations, whose populations then grow, and thus need to buy more next year. And the chain begins again, all starting with a genetically modified food company.

Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Is there a better way? Of course there is, but as is the nature of the better way, it is harder. It requires aid organizations to not just heap food upon the starving, but to educate them in methods of birth control and then provide those methods (doubly good, as this may help slow AIDS). It requires genetically modified food companies to produce crops that can be grown by the starving citizens of the countries themselves, perhaps of the drought-resistant variety, so that they can find their own equilibrium of food and people.

It will require training the people of these countries to use the new crops. It will require testing the crops in those places to make sure they do not upset their ecosystems.

It requires shrinking the profit margin, so it is obvious why genetically modified food companies opt for the other direction, for the simple solution, and perhaps in their heart of hearts hope that it will really work. Ultimately, this is a hopeless hope, as dictated by the laws of ecology.

Cris welcomes feedback at: [email protected] or send letters to the editor to: [email protected].

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