Tomato GMOs

Tomatoes were the first Genetically Modified Food, modified to have a longer shelf life.

Florida Food & Farm wants your comments about whether GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are good or bad. Here, FFF provides some history on the topics of food production and population growth. Other segments on GMOs will post soon.

In 1798, when the Rev. Thomas Malthus published his controversial book An Essay on the Principle of Population, he departed from the optimistic view of many philosophers of his day that humans, in general, would continue to improve themselves.

Instead, he argued, widespread disease and other calamities would befall humanity and limit population growth. One major check, he wrote in his book, had always been, and would remain, famine: “Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio.”

Thus, agriculture would eventually be unable to supply the booming human population with enough to eat. Catastrophe would result.

Big increase in population

Of course, Malthus had little way of knowing that the world’s population in 2011, 213 years after he first published his book, would surpass 7 billion. (According to Scientific American magazine, Earth’s population in 1798 was 800 million.)

Malthus was correct in at least one respect. Hope Jahren, a scientist named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People,” wrote a column, “Food: GMOs Are Our Destiny,” in the Oct. 13, 2016, edition. She notes, “In my 47 years of life, global population has fully doubled, with 3.7 billion hungry mouths added.” That’s a lot of new mouths to feed.

But then she continues: “During this same time span, the amount of land suitable for agriculture has increased by only 5%. Miraculously, this did not result in the great global famine one might have predicted.” Clearly, Malthus was mistaken on this point. Or was he?

Jeffrey Sachs wrote an article for the September 2008 issue of Scientific American: “Are Malthus’s Predicted 1798 Food Shortages Coming True?” It was subtitled, “It remains to be seen whether his famously gloomy prediction is truly wrong or merely postponed.”

So, will the world’s population face, at some point, widespread starvation?

Jahren: GMOs help

Among those Jahren credits for a substantial increase in food-production yields are “genetic engineers.” She adds, “we produce many times more food per acre of land than we did in 1969 (her birth year), especially for staple grains. Rice yields per acre have doubled since then, and corn yields and wheat yields have more than doubled.”

Toward the end of her column, however, Jahren’s tone is less optimistic. “The U.N. (United Nations) … projects the global population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050 … And this time around, we will be tilling soils under rising temperatures, increased drought …

“The crop cultivars that we plant to day are not equal to the task of feeding the new world … We need more GMO research.”

So far … What do you think? Will genetically modified crops help in our efforts to provide sufficient food for the billions of people yet to come? Is Malthus’ prediction wrong — “or merely postponed”?