Biotech, public perception and feeding the world

By Jasmine Dell

DES MOINES, Iowa —Public perception of modern biotechnology is a concern of agricultural leaders worried about meeting the demand for food of a growing world population.

At a session Thursday at the World Food Prize, David W. MacLennan, chairman and chief executive officer of Cargill, illustrated his concern with this story:

David W. MacLennan, chairman and chief executive officer of Cargill speaks about global crop yield. (photo by Jasmine Dell)

“Last year, Jimmy Kimmel, the American late night talk show host, interviewed people at a Los Angeles farmers market. First, he asked people if GMOs are bad for you. And they all responded, yes,” MacLennan said.

But  what came next showed a perception gap, he said.

“(Kimmel) then asked them to define what a GMO was. And only one person that he asked could give him an answer.”

According to companies like Cargill, this gap in understanding will pose increasing problems. MacLennan thinks agriculture production will need to increase from anywhere between 30 percent to 70 percent more than what we  are currently producing to feed rising middle class demand and predicted population levels.

“There’s no doubt we will need more food — how much more is up for debate,” he said.

Public perception plays a key role in the advancement of new agriculture techniques to attain this growth in yield. MacLennan quoted the famous words of Norman Borlaug: “We need to take it to the farmer and meet challenges in front of us.”

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