Smart people from all over the world will gather in central Iowa this week during the World Food Prize celebration to discuss feeding more people while protecting the environment.
It’s a steep challenge, especially with food needs expected to double by 2050. But it’s fitting that the annual discussion occurs in America’s heartland, where farmers are showing the way by producing far more food while reducing their environmental footprint.
The amazing production gains by U.S. farmers have been a key to easing hunger all over the world, Ambassador Ken Quinn, president of the World Food Prize, has emphasized over the years.
But an activist group, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), doesn’t see it that way. In a report released last week, the group sharply criticized American ag for stressing the "moral imperative" of feeding the world to increase production, calling it self-serving.
Instead of really trying to alleviate hunger, the EWG claims that U.S. farmers are just trying to make a buck by raising production simply to respond to global marketing opportunities. Those production gains, the group says, are hurting the environment.
Wrong on several levels
The EWG argument is wrong on several levels.
First, as American Farm Bureau Federation chief economist Bob Young pointed out in his reaction to the EWG report, the group forgets that food is fungible. That means if food from the United States is purchased by one country, it frees up supplies from other countries.
Second, the productivity of American farmers has helped reduce food prices all over the world. If American farmers did throttle back, world food prices would be sure to rise, hitting poorest countries the hardest.
Third, American farmers have proven that they can raise production with less environmental impact. Tools like precision agriculture, biotech seeds and conservation tillage have helped farmers target fertilizers, trim pesticide use and reduce soil loss.
Finally, perhaps the biggest fallacy of the EWG report is implying that American farmers don’t really care about feeding the world. I’ve talked to many farmers in Iowa and around the country, and I can tell you farmers take the responsibility of feeding the world very, very seriously.