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Biotech Earth Science Technology

A Look At the World's Dwindling Food Supply 570

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-don't-eat-greens,-food-eats-greens dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The UK's Government Office of Science has released a report titled 'The Future of Food and Farming' which takes a look at, among other related concerns, how to continue to feed a global population that is on pace to reach 9 billion by the year 2050. 'The report calls for more innovation to increase production. That means using the potential benefits of GM crops and other biotech approaches, although these won't be a cure-all. There's room for improvement on the consumption end, too, as 30 percent of food never makes it into a human stomach; in the developed world, we let produce slowly rot in the backs of our fridges, and the in developing world, farm wastage causes a similar problem. ... Rising energy prices influence food security, with a correlation between food price and oil price that has become stronger over time, first increasing food production costs, and later by encouraging the diversion of food stocks into biofuel production.'"
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A Look At the World's Dwindling Food Supply

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  • obvious (Score:3, Interesting)

    by countertrolling (1585477) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @01:26AM (#35569096) Journal

    desalination..

    All the problems are political. There are no technical obstacles that haven't been overcome.

  • by darkpixel2k (623900) <aaron@heyaaron.com> on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @01:29AM (#35569114) Homepage

    When 30% of our food doesn't even get eaten?

    Or when you can drive for something like 6 hours through Nevada and see nothing but empty land that could be used for farming...

  • by Osty (16825) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @01:51AM (#35569256)

    Take a look at any documentary about food production. You will see a sizable portion of the food go to waste. Ever watched how corn gets stripped from the cob? I'd wager a good 10-20% of waste here alone (and we're not even talking about any other point of the production process, just the part where the corn grain gets stripped from the cob, nothing else. You will notice something similar during flour production.

    A quick search would've provided you with links to back up your data, or to refute it. For example: [tennessee.edu]

    Some of the major factors that affect the quality of combining operations include: weather, skill of the operator, conditions of the field and crop, adjustment and condition of the combine, speed of forward travel, width of combine header, feed rate of the material through the combine, variety of crop, type of combine and the attachments used.

    Mentioned elsewhere in the article, ideal efficiency is 3% loss, with averages "closer to" 10% (implying the range is probably more like 5-15% loss rather than 10-20% loss). And don't think farmers aren't keenly aware of this and will do just about anything to increase their yields. These are machines that cost the equivalent of a nice house in most places ($250,000 on average) and if there's a newer model with higher efficiency then most farmers will trade up to the latest and greatest. Even a small increase in efficiency over several years could cover the cost of the equipment.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again -- farming is one of the most advanced areas for technology, biology, chemistry, etc. These are not slack-jawed yokels trotting behind horses. Even the average family farmer works > 1000 acres with only 1 or 2 people and has technology the rest of us have only dreamed of. GPS when it was otherwise only available to military and government applications, satellite maps, sophisticated data collection sensors to track yields, self-driving vehicles, market tracking tools that rival anything wall street brokers can think up, etc. Of course it's also a metric pantload of physical labor, long hours, and a livelihood that is directly affected and threatened by "acts of god" the rest of us would completely ignore (a hail shower might dent your car and cost you $500 in repairs, but it could ruin a farmer's entire crop and cost him $100,000 or more).

  • Re:9,000,000,000 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @02:18AM (#35569392)

    require license to procreate.
    reduce situations like... parents on welfare +5kids.

  • Eliminating poverty (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Internetuser1248 (1787630) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @02:36AM (#35569468)
    As others have mentioned, this is clearly GM propaganda advertising. Quite apart from curbing wastage there are also subsidies in most developed companies which pay farmers for not growing crops. If there were a problem feeding the population (and it may not be at 9 bil but it will come eventually) the solution will be in curbing population growth not in creating more food. Other resources even scarcer than food like energy and clean water will be a major problem before food is. There is a clear and obvious way to rein in population growth, and no white elitists, it is not to kill off all the poor brown people. Even ignoring the ethical side of this suggestion it is still merely a temporary drop in population. We are talking about a growth problem not a numbers problem and any solution that does not curb growth is not a solution at all. Statistically richer developed countries have little to no population growth outside of immigration, and even in those countries the impoverished contribute much more to the birth rate. The statistics clearly show a connection between poverty and population growth. The key then to bringing world population growth under control is eliminating poverty. The cost of eliminating poverty [un.org] worldwide would run into the 100s of billions for a few years and would then be self sustaining. In terms of global spending for example defence spending, this is peanuts. Given the clear solutions available for the actual problem at hand, and the relative cheapness and massive cost effectiveness of those solutions, anyone who claims that this is an issue of food production is either failing to look at the big picture, or has another agenda. I can understand that the rich elites of the world don't want to give up their stranglehold on world economics, but I won't swallow this crap about it being a food problem. We have a population growth problem, which is caused by a poverty problem, prevented from solution by a greed problem.
  • by definate (876684) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @02:43AM (#35569496)

    Greed is a retarded concept, and can be more accurately replaced by fear.

    You fear losing a job, you fear being reliant on your neighbouring countries/states/etc, so you pressure your politicians.
    Your politicians fear losing their job, politicians fear being seen negatively, so they enact measures which "protect" your jobs and food sources.
    Then the price of food goes up for you, and your neighbour.

    Here's where it gets tricky.

    If you're in a poor country:
    This price increase hurts, you yell louder at your politicians, they enact more policies, they appeal to the greater international community, and you get aide, subsidized food, etc.
    These policies/subsidies/aide drive the price of food down, and reduces the local incentive to produce.
    The result is a feedback loop, until you've destroyed your economy, and created immense famine.

    If you're in a rich country:
    This price increase annoys, you yell louder at your politicians, they enact more policies, and you get subsidies and tariffs.
    These policies/subsidies/tariffs drive the price of food down, and reduces the local incentive to produce.
    The result is a feedback loop, but since this is such a small sector of your economy, you likely won't feel it, you just watch the prices go up, and get annoyed at "big fat greedy corporations".
    Your price rises, are more likely to have an affect on the poorer countries which rely on you.

    The further you go, and the higher this pseudo equilibrium price becomes, the more sensitive your economy is to shocks in associated markets, so as the price of oil goes up, the price of food will also go up, and this relationship will become stronger over time.

    While this is an extreme generalization, and of course there are other factors (global warming, disasters, etc) which could be solved technologically, we know that a large proportion of the "food shortage" is structural in nature. Every time I read a well researched paper on this, it always comes to the same conclusions, and shows that this simple axiomatic break down is correct.

    I'm more than happy to pursue various food security strategies (including GM), but the first step has to be dealing with the structural problem (which I see as more of a nationalism problem), which literally could happen over night, before dealing with technical problems. Because if you don't address the structural problems, the technical solutions won't do shit.

  • not in the long term (Score:4, Interesting)

    by r00t (33219) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @04:05AM (#35569778) Journal

    In this supposedly non-growing population of richer people, not everybody will have 2 kids. Some will have none, and some will have a dozen.

    If family size is even slightly inheritable, natural selection takes care of the rest. Let's consider why people might have huge families.

    The mothering instinct is a big reason. It's clearly way stronger in some people than in others. It's entirely reasonable that this is an inheritable brain trait.

    Religion is another reason. The inheritable thing here is spirituality, magic thinking, and so on. The choice of religion itself is subject to some sort of "meme inheritance", with choices that demand followers to "go forth and multiply" being more successful.

    Stupidity is certainly inheritable. If you can't manage to properly use birth control...

    See where this goes? Natural selection can trivially defeat birth control. All creatures naturally are in a state of squalor, barely able to survive. Consider yourself fortunate to live during an anomaly for your species.

  • by mapkinase (958129) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @04:20AM (#35569836) Homepage Journal

    Poor underpaid biologists in Russia and other countries working to restore reproduction capabilities of GM grains.

    Or, if you will, jailbreaking the grains, unlocking the genes, replacing them with the original version.

    It should be much easier than research at Monsanto _adding_ new functions to genes.

  • by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @05:27AM (#35570092)

    GM hybrid rice promises to increase 15% beyond the best variety currently available. The modification is pretty benign, the male flower is sterile so self pollination does not occur, and a hybrid can be generated. GM does not automatically mean bad, but there are a number of transgenic ones that are dubious value.

    I never got this fascination with rice. All in all its a pretty poor staple foodstuff. What you want are potatoes, which contain most of the vitamins and minerals you need to stay alive. Indeed, people have thrived on just potatoes and milk, maybe with an odd egg or fish thrown in. Also the volume of food produced per area planted is enormous, and there should be zero problem with blight in this day and age. Then there's the way they are actually tasty - mashed potatoes, french fries, potato salad, waffles, its a neverending cascade of deliciousness. :D

  • by pinkushun (1467193) * on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @06:41AM (#35570478) Journal

    Read this with a scientific and practical view, just as I did writing it.

    - Soybeans can produce at least twice as much protein per acre as any other major vegetable or grain crop, [1]

    - 5 to 10 times more protein per acre than land set aside for grazing animals to make milk, [1]

    - and up to *15 times* more protein per acre than land set aside for meat production. [1]

    - soy farms _has_ encouraged Amazon deforestation [3]

    - Ninety-eight percent of soy grown in the U.S. is used for livestock feed. [2]

    Although soy has encouraged deforestation, a sad fact, this may have been avoided if consideration was given to the fact that fifteen fold more food could have been produced, if processed for human consumption, and not for cattle.

    This is a _huge_ ratio. For sake of our example, and in a most extreme case, producing meat for 9 billion people (estimated for 2050), we could be effectively be substituting that with plant protein at 9 billion mouths x 15 fold = 135 billion people fed.

    Keep in mind, scientifically, what our bodies need and don't need. I don't want a debate of morality.

    That's one extreme. For the other, even if we figure in a huge gap for the sake of example, that value halved to 67 million, is still huge. Heck, even a tenth of the possible output would able us to provide more consumable protein than we need in 2050.

    From a practical, scientific view, does this make sense?

    Naturally there are issues like infrastructure, bureaucracy, fingers-in-pies and control over industry that won't make this possible yet, but I'd like to hear your thoughts!

    [1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soybean#cite_ref-NSRL_4-0 [wikipedia.org]
    [2]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soybean#cite_ref-britannica_26-1 [wikipedia.org]
    [3]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soybean#cite_ref-23 [wikipedia.org]

  • by Moryath (553296) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @07:38AM (#35570908)

    The numbers say it pretty clearly, but the poorer you are the more kids you have (which seems extremely backwards, but it's true).

    No, it's not extremely backwards. The poor are more likely to be bored and horny and have nothing to do but screw. And they're less likely to be educated about things like birth control and STD spread as well.

    For fuck's sake, 40% of the male african population still thinks that raping a virgin can cure aids! [scienceinafrica.co.za]

    I won't say that it's wrong to think about birth control, but abstinence is at least a free way to do something which may explain why it was first used (beside religious considerations).

    I won't say it's wrong to think about abstinence, but time and again we've seen that abstinence doesn't happen. Abstinence-only education actually makes it MORE likely, not less, for kids to engage in early/promiscuous sex.

    The far better way to deal with it is first to see about improving the education of women in the developing world (educated women typically have fewer kids). And improving their wealth potential thereby leading them into population growth reduction in the same pattern as the developed world.

    The problem is, the more backwards a society is, the (generally) more backwards their attitude towards women. The status of women's rights in most of Africa, most of the Middle East/Asian Muslim nations, and non-"large city" area South American countries (to say nothing of those fucktards in the FLDS in America/Mexico/Canada) is the trend. Want to know where the largest population boom areas are in India? Yep, they're in the poor caste areas. Want to know where the population growth is in Afghanistan? Just follow the sound of wife-beating.

    What is needed is a combination of steps. Yes, it's harsh to suggest to people that they shouldn't have kids. Yes, you'll have those who push back on you. The problem we are addressing, though, is that currently the way to "get by" for the poor is to have kids. In "developing" nations, kids = little workers for your farm. In "developed" nations with a nanny state, kids = government support check for those who are living on the dole. And I don't mean people who are temporarily unemployed here, I mean the women (because the dads run the fuck off first chance they get) who start having kids at 15-16 years old and who have multiple kids without ever knowing which of the guys she was fucking around with that year is the father.

    Oh, and before someone screams "racist" at me... I'm talking about the trash that showed up on our doorstep after Katrina just as much as I'm talking about the white trailer park trash. Same patterns. Race doesn't enter into it.

  • by Midnight Thunder (17205) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @07:40AM (#35570928) Homepage Journal

    When 30% of our food doesn't even get eaten?

    Certainly and GM crops aren't the real solution and this is for multiple reasons:
      - Monsanto based grain can't be reused by the farmers, so one company hold everyone to ransom.
      - GM crops require far more chemicals than traditional crops. This risks killing off pollinators.
      - GM farming is a short-term solution.

    We may able boost yield in the short term, using GM crops, but we may end up with dangerous mutations that can't be used in a food source and with a lack of pollinating insects that are necessary to make our crops survive.

    The sad truth is that the real problem is over population. There is only so many people the planet can support. History has shown us plenty of examples of human populations making their lands inhospitable, because of short-term planning and no regards for the future.

    The other issue is over-consumption. If you go to the USA, UK and Australia you will see many cases of people eating far beyond what they need. If people only ate what made sense then this would also help food go round. The problem is this does not fit into what companies want and being able to eat more than you need is an apparent presentation of wealth.

    Don't get me started on G20 countries wanting to exploit third-world countries, in such as way that the people have lived on those lands for centuries are kicked off and end up with no means of feeding themselves. When blaming some of these countries for crimes against humanity, we should sometimes be taking that blame back to our own governments and companies.

  • by Shadow99_1 (86250) <theshadow99@NOsPAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @08:07AM (#35571228)

    The whole point you offer of 40% of African men thinking that raping virgin women will cure aids is frankly I think the best example for why we need more education in those areas. Very few people turn down increased education. As much as some here on Slashdot may hate him, Bill Gates even realized this and has put schools into Africa.

    As for poverty = increased kids, it's backwards because typically they have the least resources to care for the kids. Though biologically it's encouraged on the ideal that the more kids you have the better the chance some survive. Wealthy people don't worry to much about child survival rates.

    Most of the areas you point out as 'backward' in fact would be less so if they had quality educations. Even in the US a increase in education lead to the women's rights movement. Their are even some feminist groups who work to raise awareness and desire for education in women in those very places. With very good success rates.

    I still say that forcing people to not have kids as an outside agent on their culture is both morally wrong and a waste. If we don't educate them then we will simply create more hate for us and increase things like terrorism. You cannot force someone else to do something they don't want to without creating negative feelings. If you forced your neighbor to mow his yard (how you get him to do that matters little) he isn't going to like you very much for it. When it comes to a biological imperative like reproduction it will be worse.

    China can do it because they are willing to declare you an enemy of the state and even hunt you down. Mostly rural peasants tried to defy the policy and would literally flee the country to have more kids, the military however would be sent to find and return them up until their borders. Your ideal would require at least an equal amount of effort and across all of the developing world. I cannot in any way see that as good or productive.

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