Regarding your Feb. 20 article "How to feed the world": There is a tendency to think that the only way to feed the world is by industrializing agriculture even more than it has been in the past 50 years. This approach has extensive environmental, economic, and social costs.
The prospects for growing enough food are better than the article suggests, particularly if the US and other cultures with similar eating habits reduce their consumption of animal products. Currently, about 40 percent of the world's grain is fed to livestock. If meat consumption were measurably reduced, the grain released could feed hungry people, and environmentally sensitive lands could be protected from overgrazing.
The claim by Smil and Avery that organic farming must have livestock manure (and therefore livestock production would need to increase if more food were grown organically) is flawed. Organic agriculture requires nonsynthetic fertilizers, but these can be from leaf compost, organic-rich sediments, household compost, and intercropping of complementary plants, and need not come from manure. It is important to see all the possibilities that lie beyond the industrial-agriculture mind-set.
Regarding "How to feed the world": To claim that agriculture must somehow revolutionize to meet future demand is simplistic. World hunger is preventable now, and it will be in the future, if only policymakers would address the unequal distribution of food.
In today's world, a tiny minority of people have excess food, and a huge majority have little or none. The US government pays many farmers to not produce wheat and other crops, and food that could feed millions instead rots in storage. In addition, all over the world land is owned by huge corporations that let it lie fallow or produce export crops for profit, rather than farming traditional foods for domestic consumption. Unfortunately, these actions that could end world hunger take more political will than most decision makers possess.
New Bedford, Mass.
"How to feed the world" ignores that fact that the world hunger problem is primarily political and economic rather than biological. Most developed countries have food surpluses that could be moved if it weren't for politics. Taking the high-tech option has a long history of failure, since it created a dependency on high-volume water, chemical usage, and pest resistance. Developing countries began growing cash crops rather than feeding their families and the whole social infrastructure was destroyed.
The new "green revolution" simply adds the same short-term mind-set of technology over common sense. Long-term solutions must involve a holistic approach that focuses more on sociology and economics than on biology and ways to further manipulate the natural world. We need to gain control of the human world first.
Unfortunately, the industry of farming needs the technology to make more profits, and so will always look to high-tech methods. Organic farming poses a threat to the farming, chemical, and, now, biotech industries. As for the hype of biotechnology, our genetic makeup has adapted to thousands of years of eating natural foods. Why would I want to eat a tomato with fish DNA?
Correction: A Feb. 24 editorial about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg incorrectly indicated his time in office. His term began Jan. 1, 2002.
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