February/March, 2000

From the Editor

Your Choice

The battle over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) is on one level a simple, empirical question: Do GMO’s pose a threat to the health of people who consume them and/or to the broader environment? Yet, as is typically the case with public policy issues, there are many interests vying. So many groups that really couldn’t care less about GMO’s find this battle over the new technology handy in fighting other battles – such as keeping inexpensively produced farm products out of competition with local farms.

Though the dispute may boil and bubble, the truth is that GMO’s are inevitable. The great tide of human history has always involved using new technology to expand the food supply. Current projections are that the world population will increase by 1.5 billion people by the year 2020. In addition, greater prosperity means that billions more people who currently subsist on simple diets will be able to afford richer diets – particularly more meat. Together these two trends – rising population and dietary improvement – will compel humanity to grow more food.

To use current methods to produce all this extra food would mean converting to farming countless acres that, today, are rainforests and other fragile ecosystems. It would be an environmental disaster that simply cannot happen. Until some other scientific method is developed, GMO’s are the only way to increase yields so dramatically that we can meet the food demand 20 years from now while not using any more farmland than we do today.

To portray the debate as between those who believe that GMO’s are a threat to the environment and those who think they are not would be disingenuous. There is, despite four years of widespread cultivation of GMO’s, simply no evidence of any harm. Does this mean that there can’t be any? No. But it means that the battle is more correctly seen as a conflagration between those who claim that nothing should be done unless it can be proven safe and those who argue that such certainty is simply not possible in this world.

The debate over GMO’s, though, is to a large extent a debate between world views. The United States is a nation that believes it owns the future and thus is more willing to embrace change, recognizing the risks, but still willing to leap into the unknown. Europe, a group of long-established civilizations that are now only beginning to congeal around a European identity, is less certain of a beneficent future and is more inclined to hold onto the past.

GMO’s certainly disrupt established ways of doing things. To date most GMO’s have been modest in effect – a plant may now produce an internal pesticide that previously had to be applied externally. But, in time, GMO’s will change the world. Perhaps we will grow pineapples in cold weather and rice on dry land. Certainly, deficiencies of vitamins can be eliminated from the world as rice and other grains can be developed with missing nutrients imbedded. We can expect trade flows to change as comparative advantage evolves with the development of new varieties of foodstuffs.

Yet, for all the inevitability of GMO’s and for all their support in the United States, the diversity of the country also shows through on this issue. For if the U.S. is the source of supply for most GMO-produced food, the country also is a source for a cornucopia of organic product, which under new government regulations, will have to be GMO-free.

Such is the genius of America, and such is its strength. As Walt Whitman wrote, it does contain multitudes.

Which means, of course, that in looking at the U.S. as a source for procurement, the U.S. really does offer an unparalleled selection of food products. From the basic commodities to prepared and value-added foods, from ethnic cuisines to organic and natural foods, from pet food to people food, from kosher food to food certified to meet Halal standards, there is simply no place quite like the United States. Not only are all these foods produced in the U.S., but they also are available in large quantities and are well-packed with easy access to a sophisticated transportation network. In other words, they are ready to export!

And this issue of american food and ag exporter magazine is ideal for those looking to source food products from North America as it contains our 12th Annual Directory, starting on page 51.

We take special pride in this directory because unlike so many sources, every company included has paid good money to be listed. This is the assurance to you, our readers, that they are serious exporters ready to do business.

So, pick your passion, and whether the opportunity in your country is for GMO-free or for GMO-included, remember there is a supplier listed in our directory ready to serve.  EXP