The United States donates more food to the world than most other nations combined. But there are some who say that while the quantity is fine, the quality is lacking.
In a talk Thursday night delivered at the First Congregational Church of Flagstaff, Carol Thompson, a political economy professor at NAU, laid out an argument to community members about why the inclusion of genetically-modified foods in donations is not only helping to stymie efforts to end world hunger, but also threatening food supplies worldwide.
Thompson said U.S. legislation requires a majority of aid be actually shipped out from the nation, a policy that runs contrary to what most nations do.
"By U.S. law, 75 percent of all food aid must be given in the commodities," Thompson said. "In actual bushels of corn, actual bushels of wheat -- tons and tons and tons of it. Every other country in the world gives money and allows the World Food Programme to source food ... from the closest source."
Thompson said the current system of aid not only ignores the diet of those receiving it, but allows U.S. farmers to make profits off subsidies.
"The fact that we require that American corn grown in Iowa or American wheat grown in the Dakotas is what is appropriate for people in the Horn of Africa is a bit antiquated," Thompson said. "Why do we do that? For one, we have too much corn. It's a major way for the U.S. government to subsidize 'agribusiness.'"
According to Thompson, a large part of the problem is that the U.S. uses genetically modified food -- supplies of which some nations in Africa reject. Citing the large amount of U.S. agricultural exports, Thompson said America is producing food no one wants.
"We're feeding the world with products that they don't want, and products that have to come from the United States of America," Thompson said. "We're the No. 1 grain exporter, as well as in maize ... and wheat. We're number four in rice -- Southeast Asia is ahead of in rice production. And we're number three in oats. We're a major grain exporter, and we feed the world that way."
By modifying the genes of plant species to make them superior strains, Thompson said, major agricultural businesses have reduced the variety of various foods down to only a few species -- a lack of variation that makes them susceptible to disease.
"What we need to think about now is that the U.S. threatens world food production," Thompson said. "The first problem we have is the monoculture. When we talk about waving fields of grain -- we actually sing to it -- we should be looking at them as toxic waste dumps. Because it's a symbol of the decline in genetic diversity that threatens the whole world. We're down to two or three kinds of wheat, we're down to three or four kinds of potato."
As a point of comparison, Thompson said the ancient Incans had as many as 800 types of potato. In contemporary times, she said, industrial societies have a smaller base of plants to work with.
"75 percent of U.S. food comes from 12 plants," Thompson said. "Africans -- and this is a generality -- eat 2,000 [different types of] plants. In other words, industrial agriculture is making the genetic base of plants more vulnerable, because of the lack of genetic biodiversity."
Thompson said she is not only interested in seeing a core change in U.S. exports, but emphasized that citizens in Flagstaff can reduce their support for large agricultural companies -- she termed them "cartels" -- by creating community gardens and participating in farming activities.
"We are taking our food production -- and consumption -- away from the cartels," Thompson said. "And there's a whole food movement in the United States that we can join and intensify. And that means we produce food locally and consume it locally. It will create jobs."
Kevin Bertram is this year's NAU/NASA Space Grant science writing intern at the Daily Sun.