The article states that researchers are working towards creating genetically modified fruits that can decrease fat retention, or grains that can help supplement people with zinc deficiencies, or seed oils that contain omega oils. These developments could make global populations healthier and prevent cases of retardation and improve cardiac health.
There are undoubtedly areas in global nutrition that can be improved upon (we've highlighted world hunger issues in previous blog posts
). Are GMOs, though, the answer to satisfying nutrition deficiencies?
What are the economics driving the development of these crops and will these "improved" foods be patented? While preparing to write this I was reminded that the progresses of science should not be muddled with the economics and politics. This, though, seems a little short-sighted in discussions about food. Food has always had a considerable impact on economics and politics. It's what enabled us to specialize in our work and devise political systems. These three things are inexorably linked. Consider, though, as the article states, "The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of the world may be suffering from zinc deficiency, and that it contributes to at least 800,000 deaths a year globally." That is a truly troubling statistic. Genetically modifying grains to contain more zinc in areas typically known to have limited access to meats and other animal proteins (high in zinc) does make for a compelling case in the favor of GMOs. Many lives could potentially be saved. However, according to the same WHO statistics as referenced in the article, these areas are generally known for being undernourished and suffering from other vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Maybe we should try to find solutions to their food shortages that will provide them with long-term solutions for enjoying proper diets before compensating poor all around nutrition with engineered "super foods."
The article is frustratingly brief on the important matters of logistics and ownership when it comes to the development of these GM super crops. Furthermore, the reality is that many of these experiments have yet to succeed in producing the crops that they've idealized. The scientists, and the author of the article, are merely operating in the realm of the possible. So should we regard this article as simple filler for the environmental section of a generally respected newspaper, or is it more sinister than just that?
Let's look at another statistic. The World Food Programme estimates that there are approximately one billion people in the world who are undernourished right now. The World Health Organization estimates that there are approximately 1.5 billion people in the world who are overweight.
This article is using weight loss as a marketing gimmick to push European consumers to accept GM foods. They're also doing it with threats of mental retardation, reduced brain function and obesity as visions of the alternative; a world without GM. Our point is this, healthy diets need to be encouraged, regardless of whether these are organic foods or not. People need to be the agents in caring for their own health. Those that don't have the means to do so need to be educated and provided with the tools needed to provide proper nourishment for themselves otherwise it's just a case of "give a man a fish."
To be clear, we don't have all the answers to the world's problems. We are, however, food traditionalists if you were to categorize us. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, "Things don't stay the way they are. It's too entertaining to try and change them." But change isn't always better and the premature implementation of unproven foods is risky. Let's "teach our men to fish" whether this means teaching the overweight proper nutrition instead of lose weight quick fixes or providing more holistic solutions to global nourishment issues.