When it Comes to Food and Water, Common Sense Should Trump Techno Fixes
Nicholas Kristof’s column this morning hit me viscerally as a mom, and reminded me why I work here at Food & Water Watch. The “Breast Milk Cure” discusses how the best solution for child malnutrition in Africa is not a technical fix. It’s something that’s commonly available and we’re driven by our instincts to give it to babies. It’s not an improved infant formula or fancy nutritional intervention. It’s breast milk.
Kristof writes that:
When we think of global poverty, we sometimes assume that the challenges are so vast that any solutions must be extraordinarily complex and expensive. Well, some are. But almost nothing would do as much to fight starvation around the world as the ultimate low-tech solution: exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months of life. That’s the strong recommendation of the World Health Organization. The paradox is that while this seems so cheap and obvious — virtually instinctive — it’s also rare.
Kristof goes on to say that 1.4 million child deaths could be prevented each year if babies were breast-fed properly: One child dies unnecessarily every 22 seconds.
“It’s the oldest nutritional intervention known to our species, and it’s available to everybody,” Shawn Baker, a nutrition specialist with Helen Keller International, told Kristof. “But for a development community too focused on technological fixes, it hasn’t gained the traction it should.”
Modern science and technology have had great benefits to mankind, but the example of child malnutrition shows how relying on science and technology over human common sense can have negative consequences.
Nothing speaks more to a technological fix for development than genetically engineered seeds. As I blogged previously, seeds have become a development imperative at the expense of low-cost, common sense solutions because there are economic interests pushing them—powerful multinational agricultural companies.
And the human instinct to breastfeed has no doubt been harmed by Nestle and other formula manufacturers that have used dubious marketing techniques to undermine the age-old knowledge that “breast is best” in order to sell their products. This has had disastrous consequences in the developing world where water is likely to be contaminated and children are more malnourished.
More and more, our educational institutions and the research they publish are funded by these interests that promote technological fixes over common sense. But when it comes to our essential resources like food and water, abandoning common sense can be dangerous. Do we want to foul our water with the attitude that chemicals are innocent until proven guilty, or inject fracking chemicals deep within the earth and hope it doesn’t infect our depleting groundwater sources? Do we want to alter the genes of our food in a lab, cross our fingers and hope for the best? Academic institutions and think tanks can release reports saying that we should proceed apace with these solutions, but what does our gut tell us?
We’re not immune to marketing and media messages, whether they are in the form of an advertisement or an industry funded research report that gets disseminated through the media via press releases. Our common sense is under assault by the information we receive that comes from a variety of interests.
As Kristof’s column shows, relying on our human instincts for survival can go a long way. I’d add that a gut check can be our best compass to guide us forward.