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    Diving Into Big Ag and Big Waste

    June 6, 2012 •  4 comments.

     •  Blog, News

    One of the most compelling promises that the agricultural and biotech industries use to justify the need for their food science and the genetic engineering of crops is that this new technology and the ingredients it creates have the potential to feed the world.

    Who can argue with that?

    But according to Business Week, it turns out that “after millennia when the biggest food-related threat to humanity was the risk of having too little, the 21st century is one where the fear is having too much”.

    Can you imagine?  What if the chemical industry is busy manufacturing demand, using scare tactics, to get us to believe that we need their genetically engineered, chemically dependent products in order to fend off mass starvation?  When in all actuality, we have mass produced their corn and soy to such an extent that a global obesity epidemic has resulted and food waste beyond anyone’s wildest imagination?

    It turns out that just might be the case.

    According to Business Week, “the issue isn’t so much that we can’t grow enough. Rather, existing food supplies are so poorly distributed that those hundreds of millions have too little for their own health, while 2 billion-plus have too much.”  On top of that, a third of food is wasted worldwide, spoiled and thrown out before  it even reaches consumers.

    We are wasting enough food every day here in America to feed the hungry.  And while much focus has been on the obesity epidemic, it is becoming increasingly hard to ignore the fact that with advertisements and food access available 24/7, we’ve got more food than we know what to do with.

    One of the most insightful disclosures of just how bad this food waste and excess of commodity crops has gotten is documented in the movie, Dive! The Film, a film made with Jeremy Seifert and Josh Kunau, that highlights exactly what goes into dumpsters in America.  And it is shocking what we throw away.

    This 45-minute documentary follows Seifert and his friends as they explore the alleys and backstreets of America’s grocery stores in search of good food tossed away because of overly cautious expiration dates. These guys don’t mess around. They suit right up in their bathing suits and dive right in…to America’s dumpsters, and turn up some of the most amazing information.

    Americans throw away 96 billion pounds of food every year, or 27 percent of the total amount of available food. That’s 3,000 pounds of food a second.

    But it’s not just us tossing those PB&J crusts out, the main line of food waste tends to be coming out the back end of the grocery stores.  And the film shows that a frightening amount ends up being tossed by grocery stores before it can be purchased by consumers.

    Now that’s good news for the food industry, as it creates a constant state of demand for their products.

    But what if we were to figure out a better business model, designed to deliver all of the food we need without wasting over a quarter of it? What if our taxpayer dollars were used to build a distribution model to get this food to people who need it, like the 1 in 4 American children at-risk for hunger, rather than on farm subsidies which are arguably contributing to this mounting waste?

    With the Farm Bill hitting the Senate floor this week, we have an opportunity to actually build a better food system, one that creates less waste and more nutrient-dense foods.  Wouldn’t that be in the best interest in the health of our families, our corporations, our economy and our country?

    Cleaning up the food supply is messy business, but it can also be a lot of fun. If you are interested in learning more, please visit: http://divethefilm.com/

      4 Responses to “Diving Into Big Ag and Big Waste”

      1. What a great idea! In fact, the Society of St. Andrew has been at work, addressing the issues of systemic waste and of hunger in this country for 32 years. We work to bridge the gap between those 96 billion pounds of pre-consumer waste and agencies working to feed the estimated 47-50 million people in this country who are at risk for hunger. We do this by working with farmers, warehousers, distributors, and packing houses to recover produce that is healthy, safe, edible, and nutritious but not commercially marketable. In 2010 we recovered 10 million pounds of ‘large load’ produce; we also send volunteers (31,000 of them in 2010) into fields and orchards to glean after harvest, picking or gathering the leftovers–we recovered an amazing 18.1 million pounds of fruits and vegetables through gleaning last year. We provide this produce free of charge, in quantities that can be used quickly and without waste, to agencies (food banks, food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, feeding programs for seniors and for children, and Title I schools) that are serving hungry Americans. It’s a simple, commonsense, grassroots, community-sharing model that works. There’s more than enough food grown in this country to feed every person in it — we need to have the will and the vision to do something about it. Visit http://www.endhunger.org to learn more about the Society of St. Andrew and to join us in our work.

      2. Until there is nobody hungry, I can’t agree with cutting supply. I do a agree with devising enhanced distribution, but that takes time, fuel and other resources. A plant product detached from the plant takes on a radical new plan of metabolism, gene expression and physiology. This is the post-harvest decay that leads to the waste.

        Instead of trashing the sound science of biotechnology, why not think of the applications in post-harvest biology? It can be done. A paper this week in Plant Physiology shows that by silencing the Alternative Oxidase gene in cassava, it is possible to delay deterioration by 14-21 days. Actually there are many good postharvest examples like this– where genes from that plant are silenced or overexpressed, leading to enhanced food quality.

        The reason you will not see it soon is because such crops only have value in the third world or little horticultural value here. There is no incentive for BigAg to commercialize them. It costs too much to do it and regulations are so high.

        That same regulatory barrier keeps independent public scientists like me out of commercialization. The unnecessarily high barriers only help Monsanto, Dow and others that know the process and have the money to use it.

        The other thought is using biotech to devise crops that can grow and produce in the places where people need food. That takes out the logistical problem altogether.

        So let’s use biotech to make more and use biotech as part of an integrated plan to assist distribution. It is not a sole solution. It is part of a solution that includes innovative production and management practices along with traditional breeding too. Let’s get food to those that need it most and use every tool in the toolbox to do it faster, better and more safely. Thanks.

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