Waste Not Want Not

By Rahman, Mohammad Tariqur; Shihabuddin, Abu S. M. | Islamic Horizons, March/April 2009 | Go to article overview

Waste Not Want Not


Rahman, Mohammad Tariqur, Shihabuddin, Abu S. M., Islamic Horizons


Is the notion of higher productivity by genetic modification being promoted to benefit corporate interests?

The current increase in food prices has been attributed to higher demand accompanied by lower productivity. Increased productivity has been identified as a priority strategic solution to the predicted coming food crisis. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: "We must not address only the immediate symptoms of the problem - that of soaring food prices. We must focus on the underlying causes of the problem: years of neglect of the agricultural sector around the world, and the lack of investment in increasing productivity." The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) has pledged $1.5 billion for the agricultural sectors in the poorest countries; some of this money will focus on how to improve yields.

Genetic modification (GM) of grain-producing crops is seen as a possible solution, for gene(tic) technology pro- duces crops and animals that have a higher level of produc- tivity and quality, as well as a longer shelf life. GM foods in- clude rice that can tolerate salt, flood, drought, and is en- riched with vitamin A ("gold- en rice") and ferritin and re- sistant to pests, herbicides, and parasites; slow-ripening tomatoes; and cows that produce more milk or milk with added proteins and vitamins. De- spite potential hazards (e.g., a GM-in- duced environmental imbalance, poten- tial threats to human health, and ethical concerns when confronted with a devas- tating crisis), GM food and food products are apparently approved to save humanity, which, supposedly, will starve during the anticipated food crisis if they are unavailable.

The UN has predicted that the global population will stabilize at around 9 billion by 2300, if fertility levels continue to fall at the current rate. This will create an estimated 50 percent increased demand for food, which GM crops and animals are expected to meet. However, the current status of GM crop cultivation and the demand, usage, and waste of food might reflect a different scenario.

According to "ISAAA Brief no. 34 (2005), in 2005 8.5 million farmers in twenty-one countries planted GM crops (a.k.a. "transgenic crops") with an estimated global market value of $5.25 billion. Nevertheless, about one-fourth of all food produced for human consumption in Americain 1997, worth approximately $31 billion, was wasted; it could have fed 49 million people for a year (USDA 1997). By 2004, this waste had more than doubled: "Americans are tossing out at least $75 billion in food each year, according to an extensive study that follows foods from farms through retailers and into the mouths and waste bins of consumers," reported Larry O'Hanlon ("Discovery News" 24 Nov. 2004). "This mondi it emerged that in the UK, a staggering £8 billion worth of food goes to waste, which equates to 6.7 million tonnes" wrote Mark James in Apr. 2008 (www.organizeit.co.uk).

A complete analysis of global food waste might reveal that, in reality, the amount of total global food waste and consumption are equal. Given that the global market for GM plants ($5.25 billion in 2005) is far less than the waste of food and food products, most of the food waste produced in America and the United Kingdom comes from natural food products. Notably, food waste has been increasing in urban society. On a global scale, it will increase by 44 percent from 2005 to 2025 ("Waste Management Research": 2006).

Questions. These figures belie the claim that the posited food crisis will result from the increased demand for or the lower productivity of natural food. Indeed, the additional productivity achieved by GM food products has not helped farmers meet the global demand. Blaming natural food for the shortage, therefore, is incorrect. If the population stabilizes, as envisaged by the UN, food shortages can better be managed - minimized or even solved by reducing waste rather than by becoming dependent upon GM products. …

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