AgSense: Technology helps make food safe, affordable

“Food insecurity” is a phrase I have been hearing a lot lately. Growing up in a post World War II era in Holland, I have heard the stories about food insecurity first hand, and the effects it has on society. Much of the political unrest currently sweeping through Middle Eastern countries seems to be the result of a desire for democracy fueled partly by food insecurity. So, as a person driven by sound science and facts, I ask myself what are the facts and realities facing our country and the world when it comes to agriculture. AgSense in the crystal ball!

Where are we today? Well, we all have felt our dollars are not stretching as far, and more of our disposable income is currently going towards food purchases. This is a worldwide phenomenon. Superimposed on that, tight supplies and higher costs to produce food will increase food prices even more. The number of hungry people in the world is no longer steadily declining! Currently, one in six people in the world go hungry (1.02 billion). Looking down the road, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations predicts that by the year 2050, the world population will require 100 percent more food with 70 percent of that coming from efficiency-improving technology to feed the expected nine billion people who will be calling planet Earth home!

Let’s be clear and call it for what it is, these efficiency improving technologies are practices that do better than what we do now with fewer resources, using new and innovative tools and technologies that enhance desired traits in plants and animals. Some views that promote production methods which ultimately produce less with more, regardless of what their enticing yet misleading names may be, are ultimately not sustainable in a world that requires the ultimate ‘green’ production strategy which is how to convert the fewest amounts of resources into the largest amount of quality products. These are the products with the smallest footprints in terms of carbon, water, land, air, nutrients and any other footprint that will undeniably become the next focus between here and 2050.

All efforts in agriculture should be focused on this goal to produce safe, abundant and affordable food for a growing population. In fact, 28 independent surveys representing morethan 97,000 people from 26 countries show that about 95 percent of people are either neutral or fully supportive of using technology to produce their food. Even in our developed world the right for safe and affordable food is currently denied to one in every five children in the U.S., one in seven children in Japan, and one in eight children in France. It is suggested that hunger in the developing world may well be the No. 1 health problem with the lack of food killing more people worldwide each year than war, AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

The proof is in the pudding: contrary to popular belief, analysis of 28 studies that looked at consumer attitudes and behaviors regarding food purchases shows that 95 percent of people choose to eat traditionally-grown foods based on taste (43 percent), cost (32 percent) and nutrition (23 percent), lifestyle foods such as luxury or gourmet, organic or local (4 percent) or both. Only a tiny fraction wants to eliminate food choices by banning specific agricultural technologies and or methods. Their rationales for limits and bans on traditional agriculture are often not driven by scientific facts, and their actions ignore the right of the hungry to be fed. It ignores the facts that technology yields sustainability, which has been shown in previous AgSense articles. These very same technologies have also led to a significant improvement in food safety with a reduction in the incidence of foodborne illness between 1996 and 2009 by about one-third down to 34.8 cases per 100,000 people. The fact is that due to efficiency enhancing technologies in the dairy industry between 1944 and 2007, for instance per gallon of milk, water usage has been reduced by 65 percent, land usage by 90 percent, manure production by 76 percent, and carbon footprint by 63 percent. This makes sense: AgSense that is!

Robert Hagevoort is an extension dairy specialist with the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center at Clovis. Contact him at 985-2292 or via email: