Some Initial Thoughts on Food Systems and GMOs

In Food Systems, ITP

Revised List of two biggest problem in our food system

  1. I am going to stick with one of topics I mentioned in the first class, which is monoculture. I may simply add the industrial agriculture system as a more general issue that monoculture is a part of.
  2. The new addition to the list is that of knowledge. I believe that people are inherently good and if presented with easily digestible and well presented information, they will make the right decision. Even if that means changing their behavior.

 

A fisrt attempt at solving these problems

  1. In order to address the issue of monoculture, the use of chemicals and pesticides that it requires, and industrial agriculture as a whole, I believe that something needs to be done at the policy level. As my macro level solution, our government should not be subsidizing agriculture with an emphasis on individual crops. By doing so, you are inviting farmers to specialize in these individual crops, notably soy and corn, and adopting the monoculture approach to maximize profits. We should end such interference with free markets, and instead, promote and subsidize producers that emphasize biodiversity.
  2. As for the micro solution to educating consumers to make the right decisions, much more can be done at the point of sale to drive behaviors that could induce change in our flawed system. If it’s a question of economics, and one is able to create demand for better choices by better educating consumers, then it will make sense for the big biochem companies to adapt to the demand. I see the biggest opportunity at super markets, where they can do a much better job at promoting the sale of seasonal, local produce.

 

Response to Readings

I’ve never been exposed to the world of agriculture or food systems like this before, however, I’ve had some experience dealing with the ecological footprint of the private sector. For a couple years, I was delegate for a conference called One Young World that brought together leaders from the private sector and people trying affect positive change with regards to sustainability and CSR. The main thing I learned from that experience was that it was about finding common ground—a scenario that was mutually beneficial for the private sector, the environment and consumers.

 

While all the readings for this week were interesting and provided further clarity on the potential threat of GMOs, I found the article from wired on how Monsanto was looking to go organic the most interesting. It was not because of protesters or scholars that Monsanto decided to allocate resources to this cross-breeding initiative but because of the stigma associated to GMOs by consumers. People don’t like GMOs and at some point, that will end up affecting the company’s bottom line. Monsanto executives are clearly good business men and they see an opportunity to position themselves in the organic space, while still offering proprietary crops that no one else can. To me, the alternative of cross breeding sounds pretty good. It still lets companies like Monsanto exercise a “competitive advantage” through their seeds but does not contaminate our food system with the residual affects of GMOs and chemicals. This is an example of a somewhat mutually beneficial scenario. Also, if the organism was not engineered and you achieved it through cross-pollination, you can no longer patent the seed, right? This could alleviate a lot of the licensing issues and law suits around the patents that monsanto has on organisms.

 

Monsanto clearly deserves much of the heat it gets but the fact is that opposition and political action moves much more slowly than the economic forces of supply and demand in getting a company like that to change their ways. We need to convince Monsanto to change their bad practices through purchasing decisions. Never estimate the power of the educated consumer. I realize that this may be naive but it seems the people from Monsanto speak money, so we need to speak their language.

 

 

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