Animal Ag Engage

Is it immoral to promote systems that do less with more?

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“I believe it is immoral to promote systems that do less with more.” Cameron Bruett, chief sustainability officer and head of corporate affairs for JBS USA Holdings, Inc., introduced this idea at our 2015 Summit during his presentation on sustainability. I knew that being resourceful, efficient and thinking about the future was the smart thing to do, but to say that it is immoral if you support and promote systems that aren’t – I had never exactly thought of it in terms of morality, but I think Mr. Bruett has a point.

Doing less with more 

Is it immoral to promote systems that don’t take advantage of scientists’ research about technology, biotechnology and other improvements to further and better agriculture? Perhaps it is. People have accepted and welcomed innovations and and improvements using technology in other areas that directly affect their lives, so why is there a hesitation to accept innovative techniques in agriculture?

The same people who are completely against modern agriculture probably have an iPhone, have taken medicine in their life, have used a GPS system and can’t wait for the next new thing to come out.

Well, the idea of genetic engineering and selection isn’t new by any means, but it’s here and ready to help produce more with less. And yet people are pushing it into a dark corner. Why?

As the population continues to increase, farmers and ranchers are expected to feed 9 billion people by 2050 and genetic engineering can help achieve this, yet some say it shouldn’t have a role in food production.

Sustainability, biotechnology and animal agriculture

Bruett defined sustainability as “responsibly meeting the needs of the present while improving the ability of future generations to responsibly meet their own needs.” Advances in technology like genetic engineering can do just that.

Photo credit: GMO Answers

Image credit: GMO Answers

Biotechnology can prevent crop disease, control insects, manage weeds and reduce pesticide use. It also improves yields, keeps food affordable and has no effect on human health. It has been researched to death and nothing harmful has been found to come from using biotechnology. Biotechnology is safe and benefits the farmer, the environment and the consumer.

So how does biotechnology have a role in animal agriculture? Well, livestock and poultry eat too. For more than 20 years, livestock and poultry have consumed genetically-engineered crops and producers have not seen a difference in feed efficiency or the animals’ digestion process. There is no evidence that genetically-engineered crops are unsafe to animals.

Biotechnology has not only had positive impacts in the United States, but it has the potential to help save lives in developing countries.

Image credit: TIME Magazine

Image credit: TIME Magazine

“If you can add vitamin A to a developing world’s staple food, you can save lives,” said Mandy Hagan, vice president of state affairs and grassroots at Grocery Manufacturers Association.

To realize that we have this level of technology is amazing to me, but the fact that people are still against it also astounds me.  I’d have to say media sometimes portrays these advances in a negative light and puts a level of uncertainty into consumer perception. For example, if you’ve seen that dreaded tomato with a syringe sticking out of it and think that is biotechnology, you have been misled. Biotechnology involves genes and takes place at the production level, it isn’t injecting chemicals into food.

Continuous improvement 

Are people who oppose biotechnology and want everyone else to oppose it as well being immoral? Maybe. Or maybe they just don’t know what they don’t know. And in that case, if they are lobbying against the use of something without taking the time to research the facts, then I think they are definitely being careless.

If a company wants to not use certain techniques or systems in their production methods because it works for them then that’s their choice, but to rally against the use of sustainable methods for everyone isn’t the way to go.

Advances in technology that are able to use less input and get the same or greater amount of output help keep food costs down while still producing a product that is safe and nutritious along with providing environmental benefits.  It’s really a win-win, so why not take advantage of it?

Image credit: www.isaaa.org

Image credit: ISAAA

Agriculture has come a very long way and I would argue that it is the best it has ever been because farmers and ranchers don’t view sustainability as a destination; there is always room for improvement. Continuous improvement, even – because everyone has a different definition of perfection and because research and technology is always advancing.

I encourage everyone to join agriculture’s journey of continuous improvement by not only staying informed yourself, but sharing credible, factual content with your friends about sustainability and modern agriculture and basing your opinions and decisions off of factual information.

For more information on sustainability, biotechnology and modern agriculture check out GMO AnswersBiotechnology Industry Organization and the video below!

One thought on “Is it immoral to promote systems that do less with more?

  1. Thank you so much for posting this, as it has given me a lot to think about and has provided me with a space to question my current beliefs on this subject.

    I recently read in an article published by Mother Earth News that one main concern of GMO crops is that they are meant to increase productivity on a very quick time scale. The plants therefore don’t get deeply rooted enough to collect the nutrients necessary to pack them with digestible vitamins and minerals, which often results in bland-tasting food and food that is less nutritious. Additionally, many of these genetically-perfected super foods (like corn) are used to make artificial, manufactured foods (like corn syrup). So I guess my question is: Is it moral to use biotechnology to produce a surplus of food even though that food feeds the world a diet that is not all that nutritious?

    And furthermore, I think it is important to note that agricultural giants, such as Monsanto, can own the rights to GMO strands. So not only can they afford to dominate the research associated with improving GMO crops, but they can also afford to legally take down any of their small-farm competitors. This leaves individual farmers with less space to cultivate new and improved biotechnology (unless they concede working for a giant corporation), which thereby discourages crop variation.

    And a lot of the time the reason these GMO products are so cheap is because the government subsidizes this method of food production. But I believe that it could imagine up and subsidize a better, healthier form of food production, like community co-ops that put whole foods above processed foods. This would make fruits and veggies more affordable and chips and sugary snacks more expensive.

    It is an interesting topic for sure, and while I don’t think that biotechnology is the safest, most sustainable route, I understand why it might be necessary in certain situations. I think a lot of my issues have to do with the policy regulating this field (or not regulating this field at all) and not with the food/innovation itself.

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