What's quite shocking about Hugh Grant's contribution is the way that he uses the current food crisis to push for GMOs as a solution to "needing more food". But the reality, as Michael Pollan points out is that the food crisis has been driven more than anything by the ethanol led "biofuel" boom and nobody has lobbied harder to keep that boom going than Monsanto, which has profited hugely out of it while the food crisis has been ratcheted up.
Michael Pollan and Monsanto CEO at Google on YouTube
Here's a 36-minute video on YouTube featuring an unusual forum with Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant, talking with "In Defense of Food" author Michael Pollan and Google.org's head of global development, Sonal Shah, on the topic of "Creating a World That Can Feed Itself." (Larry Brilliant, executive director of Google.org, moderated the panel, telling the Google audience that he and Grant became friends when both visited the Doomsday seed vault in Norway.)
The discussion was polite and humanizing and occasionally pointed, but held no breakthrough surprises.
In just one snippet, Grant talked about the worldwide shortage of food and the dire problems of how to increase crop yields while lowering the use of water and fertilizer. Brilliant noted that Grant had sent him a copy of an article suggesting that, in a world facing a critical food crunch, we need to put aside our feuds and work on solutions -- the first part being a tough challenge in itself.
Monsanto believes yields can be doubled over the next 20 years or so, and Grant thinks the science isn't the hardest part of the problem. The hard part, he said, is how to get NGOS ("because NGOs are in the villages, they literally hold the hand of a local farmer who's farming half an acre or an acre") linked up with local governments and a company like Monsanto, to transfer technology and manage the soil and manage irrigation and so forth.
Grant commented, "Norman Borlaug, the architect of the Green Revolution and my personal hero, is 92, 93. Norm says, "Just get a move on. I don't have much time left." And I think a big piece of the secret the last time around was, this wasn't about either-or, this wasn't about big-small, it wasn't big-tech versus big-organic, it was about a group coming together... and truly joining forces with a common goal."
Pollan advocates "a great many food chain experiments" and a willingness to fund them all, even those that produce less profit, noting the public component of the last green revolution. He found Grant's confidence about doubling yields "breathtaking," given that high yields have not historically been a strength of genetically modified crops.
What the GMO crops are good at, he said, is allowing farmers to get bigger and take care of more land more conveniently. He challenged Monsanto to join the effort on terms that are ecologically and economically reasonable -- such as allowing farmers to save seed, which Pollan called critical to food security (Monsanto currently views seed saving as piracy).
Increasing crop yields, Pollan said, is not the only answer. We keep talking about Africa, but we have 35 million "food insecure" people in the U.S. even as we've had an explosion in agricultural yields.
"Producing enough food and getting it into the hands of people who need it, they're just two completely separate problems," he said. And, too, "yield of what?" -- He said he looks forward to Monsanto entering the realm of growing food people can eat, but their strength and history so far has been growing corn and soy as "raw materials," mostly animal feed.
It'd be an interesting show to take on the road. At least we've got one of them coming to Seattle -- Pollan will speak at a Bastyr event on Oct. 30, and at Seattle Arts & Lectures at Benaroya Hall on Jan. 12. http://bastyr.edu/development/FoundersWeekend.asp
Here's our interview with him on his last Seattle visit. http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/devouringseattle/archives/132069.asp