Hilary Benn, (Dept of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or DEFRA) is now looking again for technology (eg GM crops) to provide answers to the problem of feeding a growing population. As I pointed out the other day, technology has a part to play in maximising yields from the land used WHILST NOT DAMAGING LOCAL ECOSYSTEMS FURTHER, but it cannot be the cornerstone for even the medium term.

The big argument that is wheeled out time and again is that we cannot feed 9 billion humans without GM crops and further advances in intensifying agriculture. But I believe that the Government has got it’s priorities very wrong on this one.

Crowding is not the biggest problem, but would you like to live in a World with 9 billion humans? 50% more than today: can you imagine how crowded that would be?

For example, we hear in the news today that an entire town in China was devastated by a huge mudslide and four entire apartment blocks of about 100 flats each collapsed. Why did the mud slide? Because there has been too much development in the area and the trees have been removed from the hillsides. The immediate cause is the huge storm battering the Pacific coast of China and Taiwan.  Disasters involving flood, fire and famine are increasing all over the World as storms are getting worse because of global warming.

This is one example of the results of our current overpopulation which will be repeated countless times on a bigger and bigger scale if we let World population continue to grow.

So whilst technology has a part to play in producing suffiicient food to feed the human population, the more urgent and important factors are:

1. Reduce waste now – over a third of all the food we buy in the UK is wasted.

2. Share resources across the World better so that fewer children are born to slavery or starvation in ‘developing’ countries.

3. THE BIG ONE – Start focusing internationally on limiting population growth.

4. Use technology to help produce the right quantity of the right crop in the right location, whilst protecting surrounding ecosystems.

If we don’t limit the human population then the outcomes have to be:

* More CO2 so more global warming, which means

* Worse climate chaos resulting in fire, flood and famine (as in China today).

* More pressure on available land, which results in further damage to waterways, more forest removal and land degradation and so worse floods and land slips, and further loss of biodiversity. In other words, and ugly, dangerous planet.

* The lack of available good land will also result in bigger migratory pressure on the richer countries as well as wars and famine.

It is a vicious circle, and the key is human population.

The Optimum Population Trust is the leading UK think tank researching the impact of population growth on our environment. You can check them out at www.optimumpopulation.org.