(Part of the “Don’t Fear Science in Your Food” Series)
In 1850, 90 percent of the global population was involved in farming. In 2020, only 1-2 percent will be. How did this dramatic shift happen, and what are the implications on the food industry as a whole?
For one, the global population has increased exponentially over the course of 200 years, forcing farmers to adopt new technologies—such as motorized equipment and labor—that could feed the growing demand. In 1940, one farmer could supply food for 19 people. Now, in 2019, one farmer can supply food for 155 people.
While this shift allowed the majority of the population to pursue lives outside of the farm, it also had an unintended consequence: the majority of the population doesn’t really know where their food comes from. A massive disconnect exists between the food on a person’s plate and their understanding of how it got there. And as with anything that’s shrouded in unknowns and mysteries, fear and suspicion often fill in the knowledge gaps.
This disconnect has led to a prevailing distrust of the food industry, especially when it comes to technology in our food. But this distrust highlights why it’s so important to fully understand where your food comes from, not only from a safety perspective, but also from an awareness perspective. Past technologies like motorized equipment and labor have allowed farmers to feed more people while stewarding their patch of dirt. As the population continues to expand, land becomes scarcer and plants become more susceptible to disease, we will need to rely on additional new technologies and innovations to meet our growing needs. Certain gene editing approaches are able to make crops mores sustainable, disease-resistant and heartier—all while leaving plants’ DNA essentially untouched—yet they face negative public perception. But in order to feed the projected 11 billion people who will be on our planet by 2050, we’re going to have to change that.
If we have a better understanding of our foods’ origins, as well as the technologies that can help improve them, it would help remove some of the fear and suspicion from our plates.