Genetically Modified Food is the Future, says Nicholas Negroponte

Is the end near? Recent studies by KPMG, the UK Government Office of Science, and now the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center claim that civilization is headed toward converging catastrophes that will hit deeply in the next 15 years or so. Time to invest in that doomsday compound. Could genetically engineered food help stem off this threat?


Nicholas Negroponte, founder and Chairman Emeritus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, as well as the founder of the One Laptop per Child Association, seems to think so. Negroponte spoke to Big Think about the transformative power of technology and how it can help feed the world in a sustainable way. Grazing livestock, for instance, puts stress on the environment; since the 1970s, the Amazon rainforest lost an area the size of California to deforestation, driven in large part by making room for cattle.  We need these trees to absorb the excess CO2 warming up our atmosphere.

As Negroponte points out, genetically modified food, or GMOs, could take some of the pressure off:     

"In the food department you could argue that genetics is their equivalent of [digital] bits and that you can create meat synthetically from the genes of meat.  In other words you can do artificial meat.  People are doing it at the moment.  So, you know, just a tiny sample of a pig can make tons and tons of pork.  That’s pretty amazing.  You don’t have to have the fields and the grass and the grazing and the water.  You can start doing this and it’s not artificial in the sense of it’s soybean-made to look like turkey.  It’s actually genetically porterhouse steak…So as things like that come out of the labs and go into the world you can see a world that is nourished in a very different way than we do it today.” 

GMOs of course are the subject of a fierce debate. Opponents worry that they are harmful to our health and the environment. But Negroponte argues that they are safe and crucial to fighting climate change:     

“Generally people have given up on climate change as happening through restraint and regulation and sort of believe now the answer’s going to be technical, and one of the technical solutions is to manufacture food.  And when people talk about genetically modified food being wrong, they’re nuts.  What are they thinking of?  All food should be genetically modified and will be more and more so.  And that’s again like arguing against digital libraries or electronic books.  Genetically modified food is the future and it’s a very important future."

For more on Negroponte’s discussion, watch this clip from Big Think’s interview:

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