Putting agriculture on the path to supply food for billions

Buckeye Farm News

The challenge of feeding those estimated 9 billion people by 2050 was the starting point for a recent symposium hosted by Ohio State University’s Food Innovation Center.

Ohio Farm Bureau caught up with some of the high-profile speakers during a recent edition of Town Hall Ohio.Dr. Ken Lee, director of the Food Innovation Center, looked toward the future of food in the context of poverty versus plenty, or war versus peace.

“If we can find enough food to feed everyone, it should be a peaceful society,” he said.

However, finding a solution might mean overcoming what Michael Specter, a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, called “denialism.” He described that as the rejection of science when people struggle to deal with difficult realities.

“They don’t really like it and they choose other facts. Even if the facts aren’t facts,” he said, citing denials of climate change and a resistance to vaccinate children as examples.

Specter applied that concept to the sometimes misreprestend attributes of organic foods, noting the  term is used as a marketing strategy. While he shops at Whole Foods, a leading seller of organic products, Specter was critical of the retailer.

“They have a lot of good products; I just don’t like the religion attached to it,” he said.

And while he believes consumer choice should drive the market, he argued not everyone has choices.

“If you’re talking about how to grow food in countries that are awfully poor, I want to maximize the value of that land. And I don’t want imposed on them some view from Berkeley, California,” he said.

For John Floros, dean of the College of Agriculture at Kansas State University, making food production more efficient will be key to satisfying growing demands. He called for more study of food system issues, noting that while crop yields continue to increase, they are slowing down.

“We have invested less money in agricultural and food research and that has impacted how fast we’re growing,” he said. “If we invested more now, we will probably be able to feed the 8, the 9, the 10 billion people a few decades from now.”