The future of food

It’s been rather frightening to discover about the hold that a handful of companies have over the food industry; particularly in relation to seed and issues relating to crop biodiversity.

I’d heard a little about it over the years, but it was only when I started researching for my article, Heirloom and Heritage Seeds, did I start to gain an understanding not only of the scope of the problem, but the dangers facing humanity’s food supply.

It wasn’t all that long ago that many of us were directly involved with the production of food. Nowadays, less than 2% of the US population are farmers. We’re increasingly losing touch with our food, how it’s being produced and the wider environmental impact.

For example, did you know that over 90% of the vegetable species that were being cultivated at the beginning of the last century are now extinct? During the 19th century, over 5,000 species of potatos were being cultivated worldwide. Only 4 species are cultivated in the USA today. The USA had literally thousands of varieties of apples in the 19th century too. Less than 5% of those species are still around.

What’s the problem with this?

a) By decreasing the number of species being cultivated, it increases the risks of disease or pestilence wiping out a nation’s food crops. This was the case during The Great Irish Famine when approximately one million people, about 12% of the population, died in the three years from 1846 to 1849. More recently, in  1970-71 The Southern leaf blight fungus wiped out many corn fields across the USA.

b) With biotechnology and GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) crops being pushed onto the market, companies are “owning” the patents on a greater percentage of our food sources and their GMO’s have the capacity to infect non-GMO crops, further reducing crop biodiversity. There’s also many concerns about the safety of GMO crops for human consumption.

The second point sounds quite crazy in regards to “owning” a species, but it’s true. One company in particular, Monsanto, is particularly aggressive in this area.

I’m still digesting a lot of what I’ve learned in recent weeks and rather than try to explain the complexities and dangers with what’s happening to our food and perhaps getting it wrong, I’d like to point you to a couple of resources:

The Future of Food – this is a must see video documentary. It’s an in-depth investigation relayed in plain English about the disturbing truth behind unlabeled, patented, genetically engineered foods that have been filling grocery store shelves for the past decade. The video can be purchased from the site and it can also be found on YouTube.

Say No To GMOs – This site offers extensive information and current news on the complex issue of genetic engineering. There’s also a videos on the site regarding the plight of a couple of farmers defending themselves against Monsanto, who sued the farmers for patent infringement. The farmers claim that pollen from Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola cross-pollinated with their conventional varieties.

After going through all this material on GMO crops, it’s certainly making using heritage and heirloom seeds in my next vegetable garden even more compelling.