Food System Sustainability: The Risks of GMO and Overpopulation

Could beefalo be the answer to our food supply woes? Or do we just need to let up with the baby-makin'?

Credit: Flickr / J. N. Stuart

Could Beefalo, the GM hybrid of Cows and Buffalo, be the answer for a sustainable food chain

Could beefalo and other GMO hybrids be the answer for a sustainable food system? Or do we need to stop making so many damn babies?


Whether you believe in intelligent design or evolution, you can’t deny that some animals were bestowed much cooler gifts than us. For example, we can’t fly south when food supplies become scarce; and short of developing dromedarian humps, we won’t survive long if food and water are in short supply.


The strength of our survival and evolution lies in our brains, not our long claws or our sharp teeth. So when you think about it, the obvious solution available to us to create a sustainable food system is to genetically engineer animals and plants that grow faster and use fewer resources to do so.


“Fortunately” for us, there are teams of scientists doing just that.


The ethics of bio-engineering

The picture that bioethicist Paul Root Wolpe paints in his recent TED talk (below) is one of mad-scientists manipulating animals, genes and robotics on a whim, hell-bent on playing God.


But for the most part, scientists are hard at work attempting to make discoveries that will benefit mankind. They’re doing it for what may be a collective good. And good intentions always result in positive outcomes, right…? (Well, I guess there’s that guy Frankenstein, who, motivated in part by his mother’s death, gave life to a lifeless body, only to have his creation kill his entire family and destroy his life.)


Warning: Some of these images are shocking.


The butterfly effect and the boiling frog

Anyone familiar with the work of Edward Lorenz—or anyone who’s ever watched a time-travel movie—will be familiar with the concept of the butterfly effect, which posits that even the tiniest of variations can wreak immense havoc on the system as a whole.


But apparently, scientists are far too busy tinkering to read books or watch movies because even small changes to the Western diet over the past five decades have resulted in a veritable swarm of unnoticed butterflies.


Today, there is a tacit acceptance of the heavy correlation between the current Western diet and, so-called, Western diseases: cardiovascular ailments, diabetes, obesity and cancer. These illnesses are, in part, the result of breeding faster-growing animals and more plentiful crops with little regard for issues of nutrition and the complexities of the human body (let alone the environment). We are the proverbial frog in the pot.


I shudder to think of the potential cataclysm that we’ll see in the future as a result of today’s genetic modifications.


GMO labelling in Canada

Ligers and glow-in-the-dark mice are pretty easy to spot in the grocery store. Genetically modified salmon and soybeans are a little harder to identify.


Being a simple country boy from GMO-free New Zealand, I’d never come across genetically modified food until I came overseas; so I’d never thought about the need to label it. That’s not the case in Canada, however, where more than 80 percent of Canadians say they need GMO labelling—and have been saying so for more than 10 years.

Voice up about GMO labelling regs in Canada

Health Canada

Office of Biotechnology and Science

AL 0702A, Tunney’s Pasture

Ottawa, Ontario

K1A 0L2


Email: obs-bbs [AT]


I think once mandatory labelling is enforced (at the moment it’s voluntary, but who’s going to voluntarily undertake that task) we will be shocked by how prevalent GMOs are.


Maybe after this impending election, if we all wish really hard, or voice up, the government will regulate it so that we no longer have to differentiate GMO from non-GMO for ourselves.


Population control as a means of achieving food sustainability

For a different approach to the food sustainability problem, check out this BBC documentary, How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?, with Sir David Attenborough (on Youtube in 6 bite-sized parts).


How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth? with Sir David Attenborough


In the film, Attenborough explores the exponential growth of the human race (which has gone from 2 billion to just under 7 billion in his lifetime) and its effect on the mismanaged resources of our planet. This rapid growth has played a large role in creating a “need” for an industrialized food system.


As the population expands further still, to around 9 billion by the middle of the century, we may be faced with the choice of having to limit our number of offspring or risk exhausting natural resources and forcing nature to limit our population.