April 14 2010 12:00 AM

On food production

Gardeners are preparing to sink seed into soil in these first days of spring, starting the process to produce their own personal harvest. Being involved in food production is noble. But those who suggest the entire food system should be slowed down or rolled back are risking dangerous unintended consequences.

Producing some of your own food, making smart choices about nutrition and supporting responsible, efficient food production systems that produce more food using fewer resources should not be mutually exclusive. An informed public discussion about responsible choices for people, animals and the planet is needed.

Based on current projections we need to double food production in the next 50 years. That won’t happen by slowing down improvements in productivity. According to the U.N., 80 percent of future production growth must come from increased yields, roughly 10 percent from higher cropping density and 10 percent from expanded land use. In other words, to meet the global demand for food we have to produce more with less through innovation and technology. The good news is that America’s farmers have been doing that for decades.

Today, we produce 29 percent more eggs with 36 percent fewer hens, 145 percent more pork per sow with 47 percent fewer sows, 120 percent more wheat on 23 percent fewer acres and 63 percent more milk with 68 percent fewer cows than in 1950. Through responsible innovation, we are producing more food using fewer resources.

The public has a right to expect food producers to act responsibly, and because we have the most affordable food supply in the world, U.S. consumers have an amazing array of options from which to choose. But choices carry consequences. Decisions that limit the ability to increase productivity will affect future generations in the U.S. and around the world. Decisions that rollback productivity improvements have consequences on food affordability and availability.

— Charlie Arnot

Kansas City, Mo.

(Arnot spoke about food issues at MSU on April 7. He runs the PR firm, CMA.)nd columns.)