Commentary: We love our smartphones, but what about smart food?

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Smartphones, video games, tablets, apps … the list could go on and on. Our society and economy run, function and communicate via technology. Technology has become so advanced that we now use the “phone” portion of the smartphone far less than we use the device to browse the Web, tap into social media, listen to music and play games.

Technology is changing the way we do just about everything, and by all accounts we can’t get enough of it. Until we start talking about food technology, often referred to as biotechnology, and then our mindsets revert to the Dark Ages.

Farmville vs. Farm Technology

For years, farmers and ranchers have used technology to produce more food, feed, fiber and fuel, while using less acreage, chemicals and water. Now, facing quite possibly the biggest challenge of our generation – to produce 100 percent more food by 2050 – we need technology to feed far more than our brains and our Facebook accounts. In fact, in doubling the amount of food grown in the next 37 years, 70 percent of that additional food will have to come from efficiency-enhancing technologies that will compensate for one of the few things technology can’t produce: farm and ranch land.

Through advancements in science and technology, agriculture production has made tremendous strides. Consider the improvements to corn yields since the mid-to-late 1800s. In 1870, the national corn yield was 29 bushels per acre. This year, corn yields are projected to be 155.3 bushels per acre. The advancements in science and technology have resulted in a roughly 436 percent increase in the nation’s corn yields since 1870.

Today, approximately 90 percent of corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the U.S. are adopted from a biotech variety. Yet, there has not been a single documented, statistically significant incident of harm to human health or to the environment. Due to the stellar performance of biotechnology products, the U.S. government, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and the National Academy of Sciences have all embraced the safety and benefits of these critical advancements. Still, some people are reluctant to accept this technology, let alone embrace it, as a means of feeding an increasing population.

The Great Contradiction

To those who continue to be skeptical of biotechnology, please consider this: every choice you and I make involves risk. Waking up, eating breakfast, taking a shower, driving to work or even walking on the sidewalk has its hazards. And what about your new smartphone? There are risks associated with that, too. The reality is that we accept that technology can help mitigate these risks to the benefit of all society.

Why are we still in the Dark Ages in our approach to food technology, but we’re giddy over the release of the iPhone 5s? With a partner in technology, farmers and ranchers are prepared to meet the food, fuel and fiber demands of the 21st century, but there, too, is a risk: the minority who contradict their own acceptance of technology could ultimately eliminate food options for those who would take a meal over the latest iPhone any day.

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VT  |  December, 03, 2013 at 09:30 AM

Instead of growing 100% more food to feed the growing population, we could convert some of the crops grown to crops that will feed people. An example is eliminating the corn grown for biofuels and replacing it with vegetables that people eat (not dent corn). This would help feed the growing population more than technology could. This article seems like an ad for GM foods. Another thing I would like to bring up: how is the growing population going to afford the food? You could grow twice as much food, but that does not mean that it will be purchased. There are already alarmingly high rates of hunger, even in the US. Growing more food would not help this. Cutting food stamps would not help this either, as food stamps buys lots of the food that farmers produce. So if we are really trying to feed a growing population, why don't we work on maximizing food consumption efficiency (amount eaten / amount produced) and grow crops that are more nutritious than corn (sweet potatoes, quinoa, greens, squash, etc.).

kansas  |  December, 04, 2013 at 11:47 AM

VT - Food Waste... what are "we" doing about that? Multiple Studies, worldwide, have shown more than 25% of produced food is wasted (more than this in the US). While studies say 20% of the US population is "food insecure", 25% of available food is wasted. What's "our" plan, VT? Oh, and then there's SNAP fraud. $500,000,000 is the low estimate. That would provide every one of the Insecure 20% with a weeks groceries. What are "we" doing about that? While you waste your and "our" time pushing a repeatedly proven unworkable plan of "Natural, Organic and "our" favorite - Vegan" change and hope; people are being starved by the delays to real, proven work that's already being done. Women & children are starving now, all over the world, and you're proposing we slow-down and smell the organic kale salad while enjoying our heritage tomatoes, purchased with SNAP, i.e. Other Peoples' Money?

VT  |  December, 04, 2013 at 01:10 PM

Michael, I'm not sure what your point was. It sounds like you are just angry. By the way, I eat meat and enjoy animal products. It seemed like you were trying to attack me and stereotype me. It didn't work very well.

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