Ontario Agri-Food Technologies – FAQs

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Isn’t it true that there is plenty of food, and that the main problem is the distribution?

This may be true now but projections suggest that it will probably not be the case as we move into the twenty-first century. If we are not to risk a scenario of serious food shortages, it is time to start developing new crops as this takes many years to accomplish.

The concept of abundant food also depends upon from where it is viewed. The developed countries have more than adequate food whereas there are areas in which the food available does not meet minimal nutritional levels and other areas where it is totally inadequate. I have no idea how one could go about equalizing food availability throughout the world and one can only forecast major disruption if it were tried. It should also be noted that as less developed nations improve their living standards, they tend to change their eating habits towards those of developed countries. If all countries lived at the level of N. Americans, there would be a severe shortage of food right now.

It has been estimated that about 42% of crop productivity is lost each year to competition with weeds and to pests and pathogens. It is believed that crop varieties are nearing their natural limits of productivity. Biotechnology is one means by which these problems can be alleviated.

The technologies being developed, especially those such as drought and salt tolerance for improved nutritional quality and quantity, have the potential to have the most impact on under-developed countries. In addition, a large percentage of the crops in less developed nations are lost through diseases and pests which biotechnology will be able to substantially reduce.

Over the last 35 years, global population has doubled. World food production, through the green revolution, has kept pace with this increase. It has however, been at a cost since the use of irrigated land has also doubled and we are now facing salinization of land and inadequate water supply. In addition, the use of synthetic fertilizers especially those containing nitrogen and phosphorous has increased several fold. There has also been a marked increase in the use of pesticides, all of which have been necessary to allow this increase in food production to occur. It has been estimated that global population could double again in another 35 years although there has been a slowing trend. Whatever the final number, there will have to be a major increase in food production if we are to feed everyone adequately. Biotechnology is one means by which these problems can be addressed.

The supply of fertilizer and its impact on the environment is another problem of traditional agriculture. Most of the pollution of rivers and lakes results from agricultural use of fertilizer. This is particularly the case for phosphate fertilizer. Conversely, there are estimates that the world supply of rock phosphate to make fertilizer is limited and may only last for 30 to 50 years. Lack of phosphate would have a catastrophic effect on world food production.

At the moment we can just about feed the world population using most of the land suitable for cultivation. There is little unused land that could be brought into cultivation. It would however, be preferable if marginal land could be left as a wild refuge rather than be for substandard crop production. The intensive use of smaller amounts of land to produce the world food supply would have a marked positive environmental impact.

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