Man holding grapes.

Feeding a Flawed Society

Virtually everyone in the scientific community agrees that ensuring sufficient food supplies for a surging global population, which is set to grow by 2.4 billion people by mid-century, will require serious work. Unfortunately, there is no such consensus regarding how to go about it.

STANFORD/BERKELEY – Virtually everyone in the scientific community agrees that ensuring sufficient food supplies for a surging human population, which is set to grow by 2.4 billion by mid-century, will require serious work. Indeed, we have not even succeeded at providing enough food for today’s population of 7.3 billion: Nearly 800 million people currently are starving or hungry, and another couple billion do not get enough micronutrients. But there is no such consensus about how to address the food-security problem.

The scientific community is split between two main approaches: “tinker with agricultural details” (TAD) and “mend societal fundamentals” (MSF). While the former approach has support from a clear majority, the latter is more convincing.

To be sure, the TAD camp has identified many important problems with current food production and distribution systems, and addressing them could indeed improve food security. Yields could be increased by developing better crop varieties. Water, fertilizer, and pesticides should be used more efficiently. Maintaining tropical forests and other relatively natural ecosystems would preserve critical ecosystem services, especially soil fertility, pollination, pest control, and climate amelioration. The trend toward rising meat consumption should be reversed. Stricter regulation of fisheries and ocean pollution would maintain the supply of marine protein essential to many people. Waste in food production and distribution should be reduced. And people should be educated to choose more sustainable and nutritious foods.

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