With supermarket chains from Whole Foods to Safeway trumpeting their healthy produce from farmers just down the road, buying local and eating non-genetically modified (GM) organic food is surely the best thing for you and the planet. And that’s something government should get behind, right?
Actually, no — these First-World food fetishes are positively terrible for the world’s poorest people. And all this misguided, parochial Luddism is having a real effect on the ability of producers in low-income countries to climb out of poverty in an environmentally sustainable manner. Most of the world’s poorest people are farmers. Many live in water-stressed environments on fragile land. Herbicides and GM crops may be an important part of the story when it comes to raising their productivity. But 15 years after GM crops were first planted commercially, Kenya, South Africa, and Burkina Faso are the only sub-Saharan African countries that have authorized the planting of any GM crops. That’s partly because European aid agencies have funded consultants to design regulatory systems based on the restrictive model adopted in Europe. And European NGOs have also threatened African governments that their agricultural exports to Europe would suffer from significantly reduced demand if they were planted even in the vicinity of GM crops.
Kenny concludes with a list of things one can do: consume less meat, oppose farm subsidies in industrialized countries, oppose biofuel subsidies, encourage the testing of GM crops, and so on.
I fully agree with Kenny, and this is one of those well-written articles that covers a lot of ground I wish I had written myself. See here for a (somewhat) dissenting view from fellow Cornell alum Parke Wilde, who is at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts.