Food Crises and Technological Phobia
by Drew Kershen (BioFortified) …I do not write to enter the debate focused on fuel standards, markets and commodity speculators. I acknowledge that other factors also contribute to food crises, particularly in developing nations – e.g., underfunded agricultural research and extension, inadequate infrastructure, and insecure land tenure. However, I write to highlight another often overlooked factor in the on-going food versus fuel debate: technological phobia that has either exacerbated the food versus fuel dilemma or doomed public policy that may have avoided a food versus fuel dilemma from arising.
…More specifically, politicians, governments, and many NGOs have adopted positions antagonistic to modern farming practices, especially agricultural biotechnology, that have proven their ability to increase both yield and farm income. Increased yield and increased farm income are more likely to prevent food crises than current prominent concerns about biofuel standards, commodity speculators, and market forces. Many examples of the impact of this technological phobia on yield, farm income, and food prices exist.
In the United States, the Renewable Fuel Standard does not mandate the use of corn and soybeans. Rather the standard mandates renewable fuel sources that was expected to include fuels produced from non-food crops such as grasses, bushes, and trees. Due to regulatory resistance and hostility, genetically modified trees, grasses (e.g., switchgrass), and bushes have not gained timely and feasible approvals for field trials. None of these advanced biofuel sources are close to regulatory approval for commercial release. As a consequence, the United States is satisfying its renewable fuel standard from food crops, rather than from non-food plants. Unless the regulatory attitude at USDA and EPA changes, the situation will only get worse because, by law, the mandate for renewable fuel sources goes up each year. Two Thousand and Thirteen will put more pressure on the food versus fuel debate than two thousand twelve. Fortunately, the United States has approved several drought-tolerant genetically modified maize traits that show promise this summer in enhancing American farmers management of drought.