Looking to 2053: The Future of Our Food Supply

Jan. 15, 2014
At what point do we accept that science may need to play a part in guaranteeing the global food supply?

By 2053, it’s estimated that 2 billion additional humans will grace our planet. That means that — when it comes to the world’s food supply –— something’s got to give.

If you look back in history, you’ll notice that the world was dealing with these same issues in the 1960s. But to feed today’s population with a 1960s yield would require an additional landmass the size of Russia. Clearly, we didn’t create another massive continent to farm between 1960 and today.

So, how did we solve this major issue? We made process improvements to change how we produce and farm. Science played — and still plays — a major role in this endeavor, particularly through crop yield and seed germination innovation. We just had to help nature along a bit.

The Great Debate

The Monsantos of the world have spent time innovating seed germination, creating procedures and pesticide treatments — and they have patents all over the world. Frankly, if we didn’t have companies like these investing time, money, and research into generating more food per yield, we would be faced with a serious shortage.

At the same time, we have locals who are natural producers — but these individuals tend to decide what’s natural and what’s not. “Natural” has no hard and fast definition; people throw the term around all the time and claim that big farming is killing us through its Frankenstein-like food.

Big Isn’t Bad

It’s vital that people understand science is not a bad thing; it’s actually a blessing to be able to use the gift of science to produce a better yield.

About Doug Austin

Doug Austin is the senior vice president of Growth & Innovation and leads product and brand innovation sessions for Marlin Network.

Grocers have a huge role to play in this education initiative. After all, that’s where the consumer meets the food. With only about 2 percent of the U.S. population directly involved in the agriculture business, that means that 98 percent of the population has nothing to do with growing and processing. Yet, many of the uninvolved are the most vocal about how our food makes it from the soil to our plates. It’s up to grocers to help educate questioning consumers on what’s good, healthy, and natural — and what’s not.

We need to quit making big farming the bad guy and calling natural producers saviors. We will not be able to feed everyone in the world with natural, organic, local farming. It’s simply not possible — there’s not enough yield to make it happen.

These five proactive improvements will help us prepare for the demands of a growing population, without demonizing a major factor in the solution (big farming):

  • Waste not, want not. Whether it goes bad, isn’t pretty enough to sell at farmers’ markets, or gets thrown out, we waste one third of the food we grow. By finding uses for this waste — whether it’s livestock feed or fuel — we can make a difference in preserving our resources.
  • Educate ourselves on innovation. We need to do a better job of understanding the facts on how science contributes to farming innovation.
  • Give GMOs the benefit of the doubt. We have to understand why big farming is genetically modifying crops — and, in some cases, why it’s necessary.
  • Remember: Not everything can be organic. For instance, there are a number of food luxuries we enjoy today that most of us don’t even realize are luxuries. Certain types of seafood, like salmon, are naturally only available during specific seasons. But, due to human demands and palates, salmon-growing ponds and genetically modified strains of the fish were created.

This is the tradeoff. Without genetic modification, we’re on nature’s clock — not ours. That means that people may not be able to order their favorite salmon salad year-round. That asparagus dish won’t be available 12 months of the year. If we don’t “help nature along,” we need to be okay with eating more seasonably.

  • Learn to choose our battles. It’s important that we educate people about what is available locally and what isn’t, creating an understanding that, in most cases, it doesn’t matter where you get your produce or fish.

The future of the food supply centers around a challenge to disperse food appropriately across the globe so we have fewer people going hungry and less food waste. And science plays a major role in this endeavor.

The education element is also paramount; we have to be proactive in helping the public understand what we’re growing, why we’re growing it, and what being “natural” or “organic” actually means. And, most importantly, we need to embrace science as a blessing rather than a curse — a blessing that is saving our planet from requiring another farm the size of Russia every 40 years to sustain itself.

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