U.S. Farmers Feed the… Cars?

Scientists are taking issue with the longheld “farmers feed the world” justification for large-scale farming and use of pesticides, according to a recent piece by NPR. Although it’s a classically held belief that American farmers provide essential foods and nutrition to hungry people all over the world, in fact roughly 40 percent of the biggest crop — corn— goes into fuel for cars. Most of the second-biggest crop — soybeans — is fed to animals. These two crops also comprise the bulk of GMO seeds used by farmers.

This new food reality for present-day farmers in the United States has shifted consumer views of large-scale agriculture.

Food that is shipped overseas from the United States can certainly help drive down prices around the world. However, exporting lots of corn, for example, and therefore driving down the cost of cornmeal encourages poor families to buy more cornmeal—not leafy green vegetables or milk, which would provide far more nutrition.

“If there’s a controversy, the show-stopper is supposed to be, ‘We have to use pesticides, or we won’t be able to feed the world!'” says Margaret Mellon, a scientist with the environmental advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists. But with the changing sentiment of consumers, it appears farmers will need a different message than “feeding the world”.

It looks like instead, farmers will need to show that the way they grow food is more in line with American consumer values.

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