By Mike Barnett

Texas Farm Bureau: Soylent Green

“Why, in my day, you could buy meat anywhere. Eggs they had, real butter! Fresh lettuce in the stores.”

That was a line delivered by Edward G. Robinson, who played Sol Roth in the movie Soylent Green, a bleary, futuristic film made back in the 1970s starring Charlton Heston as New York City detective Ty Thorn. Roth was Thorn’s roommate/sidekick/researcher.

Thorn and Roth live in New York City, along with 40 million other people. Food as we know it is expensive and rare. Most people eat a processed substance called Soylent Yellow or Soylent Red, which is high energy processed vegetables—or so they’re told.

A new food product, Soylent Green, is advertised as a small, tasty wafer made of high energy plankton. There’s much more to the story: a murder of a wealthy businessman and an investigation by Detective Thorn, which leads to the discovery of what Soylent Green is really made of.

“Soylent Green is…” Thorn says in the final frames.

Well, I don’t to ruin the movie for you. Not yet, anyway.

I thought about this movie the other day as I was preparing a presentation on the critics of modern agriculture and how agriculture might respond to them.

You all know who the critics are.

They are some anti-GMO folks who are vocal and tenacious in their efforts to prevent or stop genetic engineering of plants and animals for food production.

They are some animal rights people/vegan groups who claim humans should not eat animals.

They are some anti-pesticide/natural fertilizer people who claim organic production is the key to the world’s survival.

They are some “locavores” who claim all food should be grown within a few miles of the people who eat it.

I respect all of these groups’ opinions. There is a place for all of them. I agree with none of their more radical individuals who claim their vision is the only way to go.

If the anti-GMO radicals get their way, it will take decades, not years, to develop plants that are drought resistant, freeze resistant, make more efficient use of fertilizer and are disease and insect resistant. With the world’s population booming we don’t have the time.

If the animal rights people/vegan radicals get their way, we’ll all be eating beans—a lot of beans—for protein. Talk about the implications for greenhouse gases!

If the organic purist radicals get there way, we’ll all starve to death. Remember, the animal rights people got rid of the animals. Where are we going to get the manure to fertilize the crops?

If the locavore radicals get their way…well, I love fresh grown produce, meat and grains as much as anyone. In my view, it’s not a practical way to feed the world.

Critics of agriculture are adamant that modern food production systems are the wrong way to nourish a growing population. I wonder if meat, eggs, fresh vegetables, fruit and grain will some day be only a fond memory. And if the food critics—the anti-GMO, animal rights/vegan, organic and locavore radicals get their way—what are we going to eat?


Shades of Soylent Green.

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Mike Barnett

Director of Publications
Texas Farm Bureau
I’m a firm believer that farmers and ranchers will continue to meet the needs of a growing world population by employing equal measures of common sense, conservation and technology.
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