Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Biotech Earth Science Technology

A Look At the World's Dwindling Food Supply 570

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.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

A Look At the World's Dwindling Food Supply

Comments Filter:
  • by preaction ( 1526109 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @02:22AM (#35569070)

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

  • Maybe (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @02:33AM (#35569138)
    Maybe we should stop trying to save the starving people in 3rd world countries and just let them die. Then we won't have to worry about running out of food and there will be less people.
  • by virb67 ( 1771270 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @02:40AM (#35569182)
    Malthusian scaremongering.
  • Re:9,000,000,000 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nedlohs ( 1335013 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @02:41AM (#35569188)

    You willing to kill yourself and your family?

    If not then why would you expect anyone else to? If so then then there's little point in my replying since you aren't here anymore, right?

  • GM foods (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Datamonstar ( 845886 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @02:51AM (#35569260)
    The answer is not GM foods, as much as I love technology,we just haven't been able able to solve our other problems, like greedy ass, unethical corporations. Greed is the reason people don't get to eat, not any failing of technology or logistics. I haven't finished this article yet, but so far it pretty much seems like a scare tactic plea for the acceptance of GM foods and cloning so that mega-corp monopolies like Monsanto can can keep on raking in the dough. 10 pages in and it's basically only said, in a nutshell, that funding the research of new technology is the only answer to the growing problem of food shortages. Asking for money, asking for deregulation.
  • Re:9,000,000,000 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jhoegl ( 638955 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @03:06AM (#35569320)

    You willing to kill yourself and your family?

    If not then why would you expect anyone else to? If so then then there's little point in my replying since you aren't here anymore, right?

    I believe his question is valid, and your response is trolling.
    We will over populate the world, no doubt. In fact, I believe it already is.
    What will come of this will be famine, death, and of course war.
    So, it will even itself out, right? Sure, but would it not be more humane to attempt to control the population before it gets to this point?
    After all, what separates Humans from Animals, but our own humanity?

  • Re:9,000,000,000 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Normal Dan ( 1053064 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @03:08AM (#35569330)
    I'm willing to not breed.

    We don't need to kill people to control population, you just have to stop making new people. I'm not sure why this is so hard for people to understand. Is it really that complicated of an equation? I'm serious. I don't get it.
  • Re:Maybe (Score:4, Insightful)

    by zmollusc ( 763634 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @03:22AM (#35569408)

    You heartless swine! What about all the managers of the charities? Who will pay them and their expense accounts? What about the officials in the countries receiving aid? Without those donations to siphon off, how will they pay the service charges on their Swiss accounts?

  • by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @03:40AM (#35569490) Homepage

    That's overly simplistic, though. Animals eat plants that humans can't. Until you figure out a way for humans with their resolutely omnivorous digestive system to eat the kind of tough grasses and heathers that ruminants thrive on, we can't eat the kind of plants that animals do.

    Most of the world is not arable farmland. It's either too wet, too rocky, too precipitous or has the wrong type of soil to grow crops. Again, if you can figure out a way to grow your lettuce and carrots in an acidic peat bog slanted at 45 degrees then great, but right now it's really more suitable for grazing sheep on. You could drain it and slather it with all sorts of chemical fertilisers, but that would make a mess of other parts of the environment. When the oil runs out, those fertilisers will be really, really expensive, and without grazing livestock the PETA types are going to starve.

  • by davester666 ( 731373 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @03:56AM (#35569556) Journal

    No, we need GM seeds from Monsanto.

    With them, we can save the world.

    And Monsanto from not making their number's this quarter.

  • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @04:06AM (#35569594)

    That's assuming a traditional means of farming.

    If you were to build advanced green houses out in the middle of nowhere with plentiful sunlight (Nevada) you could lose very little water (high efficiency) and grow some crops year round. Not to mention that pests are far more manageable inside green houses (segregation of units) and you don't get seed piracy (Monsanto contaminating your crops then claiming you stole from them). That and some crops can be grown hydroponically to great heights which does not require high quality soil at all. Just shipments of chemicals. Considering the railways that go through Nevada there isn't a reason to not put something like that out there.

    Ohhh.. and we don't have to limit it to food either. Some really good biofuel technologies using algae could be grown vertically several hundred feet up in the air in greenhouses. We could generate a buttload of fuel and energy.

    It's technology. We have it.

    We lack the political will power to do so. It's far easier just to keep subsidizing the farmers (popular activity to get votes) and destroy food then it is to really really really think about how to grow food intelligently.

    Of course.... it's also far far cheaper in the case of herbs (which was popular for a minute to grow in greenhouses) to just import it from other countries no differently then we import cheap crap from China.

    The thing that kills me is how much space we have with plentiful water and access to high quality soil that we NEVER use. It's called our backyards. Even the apartment I am living in right now has a 10x10 foot patio on the 2nd floor. I plan on setting up a small greenhouse and growing some herbs and vegetables.

    We all have (with the exception of really high density cities) the ability to grow some of our own food. This would benefit us in so many ways:

    - Increased seed diversity. Fight against companies like Monsanto that want to own all the seed in the world.
    - Increased self sufficiency. Actually know how to grow some shit other than potheads growing pot. That ain't farming considering it grows like a "weed".
    - Healthier food. None of that evil GMO shit or vegetables that are sprayed with chemicals and grown in bad crap.
    - Healthier lifestyles. If you are actually growing those herbs and vegetables you are more than likely going to be EATING them. That means we are putting less processed food and crappy chemicals into our bodies. That can't be a bad thing.
    - Stronger nation through stronger and more resilient citizenry. If we are all growing a little bit of food we are far more able to adapt to natural/unnatural disasters. Sure it might suck not being able to get your favorite curry sauce or a bottle of ketchup... but you can actually live off vegetables and a bowl or rice a day. Billions of people prove that every single day.

    No offense, but your thinking just illustrates why we so dependent on centralized processes that we don't understand and how our entire country from the ground up is built on a house of cards.

    We are so weak right now it's scary and we can't talk about it. We are progressively more ignorant, violent, and unable to think. If the shit hit the fan tomorrow 90% of the US population would FUBAR. Unable to maintenance anything, unable to grow food, unable to survive without the fragile infrastructure we have.

    Sorry.. I have to laugh hysterically right now. Just a few weeks ago I saw a study that showed the US is 23rd in the % of GNP put toward infrastructure. We are 50% below average.

    Of course you would think we can't grow food out in the middle of Nevada. We can't even find the money to fix the fucking roads and bridges and railways that actually made this country what it is.

    No. No. No. All that stuff is expensive and costs too much money. It's too hard. We don't know how and can't figure out how.

    Meanwhile we spend trillions on bailing out the Military Industrial Complex, paying Blackwater mercs billions to murder people in o

  • by Evtim ( 1022085 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @05:57AM (#35569988)

    No children. No car. Travels ones a year by plane. Rides bicycles in cities. Buys as much as possible local food. Doesn't throw anything that still works.

    Where are my tax breaks? I see only families with kids having them. Why not me?

    No amount of green activity comes even CLOSE to having no kids. Nothing that anybody can do outweighs bringing even one more consumer to the world.

    Don't get me wrong. Me and my wife love kids and all our friends are so happy to come visit us with their little ones, because the kids love our attention, care, my movie collection and Star Wars toys. I heard last time one of those kids knowing that they will come on Sunday started pestering the parents already on Friday "let's go, let's go!"

    The species must survive. People will breed. But we humans made a declaration approx. 15 000 years ago. We declared that our fate is in our own hands and we refuse to let the gods do their work. We declared to the Universe that the natural constrains are not for us; that we will overcome them. So we did.

    Now we face the deadliest enemy yet - ourselves. I've said it many times - we have missed our chance to build truly affluent society. Our perverse Ponzi scheme is coming to an end. It served its purpose; to keep following it means certain death.

    A few practicalities:

    1. We can feed ourselves with traditional farming. The "GM will save the world" is blatant lie, highly dangerous BS. Again we have put profit in front of sanity and well being.
    2. The industrial fishing is "omnicide" activity. Those practicing it should be stopped at all costs. Deadline - yesterday.
    3. Education, education, education. The people should know what they are doing. I bet more than half the population is oblivious to what we have done to our planet and what is coming to us if we keep on doing it.
    4. 10 kids because God says so? No way, Hose! Get off my planet!

  • by testadicazzo ( 567430 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @07:13AM (#35570310) Homepage
    The solution is to get our population growth under control (i.e. population reduction, not growth). There are some simple, non totalitarian ways to do this:
    • First, we need to recognize that the world is overpopulated, that this overpopulation has dire consequences, and that concern for future generations means having fewer children. This will lead to smaller families through social pressure and education. Currently this issue is almost completely ignored by the mainstream media. Through this process new and creative ideas to encourage population reduction will no doubt develop. The remaining suggestions I list below are the ones that spring to my limited imagination.
    • Financial incentives for vasectomies: Free vasectomies to anyone who wants them. Social pressure to get one after the first or second kid. Tax breaks for vasectomies. College credits for the children of parents who get them. Etc.
    • Stop teaching kids that abstinence is the best way to prevent pregnancy. Teach birth control and population concerns in school.
    • Free birth control everywhere. Pills, condoms whatever, all available free of charge. Pay for it by taxing people who choose to have more than two children
    • Stop making foreign aid dependent on teaching wrong headed policies like abstinence-only birth control
    • Start giving the Catholic church infinite shit for its policy of teaching Africans not to use condoms, which is evil in so many many ways.

    Another easy, cheap and environmentally benign method, which can help carry us over until we reach a stable and sustainable population, is to reduce meat consumption. This can be done by ceasing the subsidies to the milk and dairy industries, and instituting strict controls to ensure that the cost of meat and animal products accurately reflects the labor and resources consumed in their production -- which is currently far from the case.

  • by nanoflower ( 1077145 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @07:24AM (#35570370)
    You have to realize that for much of the world rice is a major part of their diet. So it's easier to improve the quality of rice produced than it is to change their diet by getting them to move from eating rice to eating potatoes.
  • by 517714 ( 762276 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @07:27AM (#35570394)

    Fully 50% of the world's population depends on rice as their primary source of calories. They do not do it because they are stupid or they are fascinated by it.

    In Vietnam [] they get 6.14 tonnes/hectare for potatoes and only 3.9 tonnes/hectare with rice

    Rice has 4.8 times as many calories as potatoes by weight so it produces 3 times as many calories from the same piece of land. So they could plant 2/3 of their cropland with other crops to makeup for the nutritional deficiencies of rice and still have more calories and a more varied diet than if they planted only potatoes. Potatoes are great in the Andes where rice wouldn't grow, but otherwise rice or another grain win handily.

  • by Shadow99_1 ( 86250 ) <theshadow99@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @07:45AM (#35570512)

    By and large the developed world is _Not_ the ones who have a growing population. The numbers say it pretty clearly, but the poorer you are the more kids you have (which seems extremely backwards, but it's true). Which is why the problem is almost completely in the developing world. It's also why China created it's 1 child policy.

    Your first several points target the developed world and won't do anything. The later points start going into your rant about abstinence being wrong headed. That you think taxes on multi-child births can even pay for contraceptives is rather messed up, remember what I just said about number of kids and poverty? 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 don't think we can realistically force developing nations to simply stop having kids. They don't want it and will resist if pushed. 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. No coercion needed. They want more education and more money, which have all the benefits you want to achieve.

  • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @07:47AM (#35570518)

    If you were to build advanced green houses out in the middle of nowhere with plentiful sunlight (Nevada) you could lose very little water (high efficiency) and grow some crops year round

    Back to reality now: how much would it cost to cover Nevada with glass, or whatever material you use in your greenhouses?

    Greenhouses are for luxury items, an alternative to transportation from distant lands. They will not solve mass starvation problems.

  • by tbannist ( 230135 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @08:18AM (#35570738)

    I agree with most of what you wrote with one big exception.

    [A]bstinence is at least a free way to do something which may explain why it was first used (beside religious considerations).

    Abstinence only education is pretty much always a religiously motivated program. The reason it's abstinence only is because some religious leader decided that if you tell the youngsters about birth control they'll figure out a way to have sex without children. They don't really consider unwanted pregnancies to be a real problem, they see that as the just consequence of unwanted sex. That's why the fact that abstinence only programs are massive failures in every measurable way seems to have absolutely no effect on many of the people who support them.

    As a note, according to the studies, children exposed to abstinence only education have sex earlier, have more sexual partners, have sex more often, have more pregnancies, have more abortions, and have more sexually transmitted diseases than children who received uncensored sex education.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @08:20AM (#35570746)

    "It's technology. We have it."

    It's not that simple if you have some wonderful technological marvel, but it's too expensive to fuel it. The food issue is in parallel to the end of cheap, transportable fuel such as oil. There are all sorts of smart ideas for increasing food production, but most of them are moot if the thing that's driving up food prices is the cost of energy. Improving efficiency in both food and energy production will help greatly, but it isn't a solution to the long-term trend. It's only a way to mitigate the inevitable increases as energy costs go up in real terms (i.e. regardless of inflation). Investing in biofuels as a solution is ridiculously self-defeating, and while growing our own food in a backyards will help, you can't feed yourself adequately that way without making it a full-time job. And that's assuming you don't live in a colder climate where the growing season is short and/or where the soil is crap.

    I'm not trying to discourage people from accepting your good suggestions, but most people don't have a realistic idea of what it takes to feed a typical city population, and what we're facing in the future in terms of keeping them sustained as energy costs climb to ever higher levels, barring some unexpected technological breakthrough. Yes, we can deploy wind turbines, solar power, and all sorts of other technologies, but all of the ones on the table will A) take a lot of investment and B) be more expensive than what we're used to. And for those parts of the world where the investment necessary to make a transition to other energy sources will be prohibitively expensive, the results could be pretty grim.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @08:31AM (#35570836)

    The solution is to get our population growth under control (i.e. population reduction, not growth).

    Why does this argument come up every time?

    May I suggest you read "The Population Bomb" "The Population Bomb" [].

    I am every thankful that I am among the lucky few to survive the surging death rate in the 1970s and the subsequent food riots of the 80s...

    We don't have a population problem. What we have is a population that lacks imagination-- and one that, in my opinion, has lost the most basic respect for itself when it calls for the reduction of population as opposed to it's growth. Why traverse the stars, improve food resources, discover better sources of energy? Why progress when you can regress, why grow when you can shrink? Why try to succeed when you can give up now and fail. It is better to not try than to fail I suppose...

    If you are so worried about the population, perhaps you should remove yourself from it. You are clearly not the sort of person we need if we are to move forward in this world and universe.

  • Re:9,000,000,000 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by weicco ( 645927 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @08:59AM (#35571126)

    Here is one explanation I've heard.

    Because not every country has pension system. If you don't get pension there's two choice for you: die miserably or have children who look up after you when you are old.

  • Ethiopia (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @09:03AM (#35571160)
    I went to Ethiopia about a year and a half ago and was staggered by the poverty. There were people everywhere begging for food or money. Yet the ground was fertile... I come from Wisconsin and I know good farmland when I see it. What were they growing? Coffee... huge swaths of land dedicated to Coffee grown for export. Next to that, the largest greenhouses I've ever seen. I was told by our guide that they were owned by the dutch who grew flowers and exported them. Lastly Teff, which is a grain that they use to make a local bread. 1 out of 3 isn't bad. Or is it?
  • Bah! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @09:09AM (#35571242) Homepage Journal
    Mandatory reversible sterilization at the onset of puberty and require a license to breed! Currently it's harder to buy a gun or get a license to drive than it is to make a baby! That needs to change! There should be a required parental fitness course, followed by a test!

    The government should also have a much larger role in who you get to marry. It's quite obvious that letting people choose on their own is inefficient, ineffective and just plain wrong almost half the time! Upon issuance of your breeding license, the government will review your personality data by scanning your implanted chip (minor little detail pay no attention *waves hand*) and assign you a government mandated breeding partner.

    Also, we should not only make gay marriage legal, we should make it MANDATORY, for those failing the breeding license test! Just as a little incentive to pass it.

    Now you may be thinking that the world's religions might oppose this last step, which brings us to the last point. They've proven that they are inflexible, not adaptable and mired in superstition and policies thousands of years old! The new state sponsored religion will involve Smurfs and will offer modern lessons on morality, breeding and cleanliness more in-line with the needs of an established population. Non-smurfy religions will naturally have to be banned in the process, another minor detail *waves hand*.

    Now you may be thinking, "What's my place in your vision of this exciting new world order?" Well today is your lucky day, because my first 1000 supporters will have their picks of choice government posts in my regime! So act now to secure your position in my Exciting New Future!

Syntactic sugar causes cancer of the semicolon. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982