3 February 2014

Food wars

Modern agriculture is under attack. Critics blame it for polluting the planet, destroying forests and damaging human health. In its place they hold up organic methods as the alternative that will feed the world in a more sustainable way. Our special edition on agriculture explores the contours of the battle over the future of farming and explains why science must win them if we hope to feed the world.
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With the prospect of feeding a population expected to reach 11 billion this century, against the backdrop of a climate that grows more punishing, food security is very much part of the conversation.

Yet we were in a similar place 50 years ago. Then the conversation was about how Asia would feed itself. Many predicted it wouldn’t but were proven wrong by the Green Revolution, an agricultural breakthrough led by American wheat breeder Norman Borlaug who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This March much of the world will celebrate his 100th birthday. But many will have never heard of him or his revolution. And of those who have, many will revile all that they stand for, because the world is engaged in a war over agriculture.

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Norman Borlaug and COSMOS editor-in-chief Elizabeth Finkel in 2009 at Obregon, Mexico.

COSMOS is dedicated to unpacking the conflict. This is a misguided battle that does not serve the cause Borlaug devoted his life to. As he reminds us, “The first essential component of social justice is adequate food for all mankind.” COSMOS invites you to test your ideas and reflect on the challenges facing agriculture in the 21st century.

Over the next two weeks we present a series of articles exploring all angles of this bitter battle: Robert Zeigler fears anti-technology zealots could take food out of the mouths of future generations, Elizabeth Finkel examines the lessons of the Green Revolution; Nina Fedoroff asks whether agriculture will become a victim of its own success and former anto-GMO activist Mark Lynas explains his change of mind.

Next week, James Mitchell Crow takes a clear-eyed look at organic agriculture; Keith Kloor analyses why agribusiness giant Monsanto is so reviled; Amy Harmon explores why citrus farmers are turning to GM and David Ropeik explains the psychology of the GM food wars.

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