Jason Clay, senior vice president, World Wildlife Fund

June 19, 2012

Jason Clay
Senior vice president, World Wildlife Fund

Here’s the challenge: In the next 40 years, we have to produce as much food as we have in the last 8,000. How are we going to do that and still have a planet that’s recognizable to our kids?

We’re beginning to see that the technology to select for traits and markers even within a species can still have huge impacts on productivity. And I think we should move ahead full speed on that type of work. Some countries are not going to be allowing, at least now, the [genetically modified organism] technology, or at least it’s got to be labeled. But on a finite planet, we simply can’t take genetics off the table. We’ve got to be looking at the genetics.

The calories per hectare from corn in Iowa are 5 percent of the calories per hectare of bananas in Costa Rica. And bananas in Costa Rica are a third of the productivity of sugar cane in Brazil, so some crops produce a lot more calories than others. If we’re going to feed the population on a finite planet, we should be focusing on those things that produce the most calories, that are calorie-dense with the fewest inputs — less water, less soil, less inputs. That’s how we have to start thinking about managing this planet.

Globally, one out of three calories is never consumed. It’s just wasted. On the developing country side, it’s post-harvest losses. It’s the lack of infrastructure like refrigeration, pest, rodents, mildew, storage problems, transportation systems. On developed country side, it’s post-consumer waste. It’s buying too much food at restaurants. It’s portions that are too big. It’s the refrigerator that you clean out once a week, and you throw stuff away because you don’t need it. It’s the box stores that you buy lettuce from that no three families could eat in a week before it starts to go bad.

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