From the farm to Congress, experts share sustainability experiences

Frank Sesno, the director of the School of Media and Public Affairs and founder of Planet Forward, welcomed guests to the Feeding the Planet Summit in the Jack Morton Auditorium. Judy Lim | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Frank Sesno the director of the School of Media and Public Affairs and founder of Planet Forward, welcomed guests to the Feeding the Planet Summit in the Jack Morton Auditorium. Judy Lim | Hatchet Staff Photographer
This post was written by Hatchet reporter Noah Olsen.

An Earth Day summit Thursday brought together students and professionals in agriculture and climate change to talk about hot-button issues in sustainability, including genetically modified organisms and world hunger.

The Feeding The Planet Summit was hosted by School of Media and Public Affairs Director Frank Sesno and featured scientists, agriculturists and other sustainability experts to talk about their fields of study.

Here are summaries of some of the key discussions:

1. The future of food

After quick opening remarks, Sesno introduced Krysta Harden, the deputy secretary of the agriculture, to lead a discussion on the future of food and the steps the U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking to ensure sustainability in food production with rapidly increasing populations.

Harden began by sharing the story of her father’s lifetime of hard work as small Georgia peanut farmer and emphasized how her upbringing made her realize the importance of farmers in America.

“Is there not a greater honor than feeding people?” Harden said.

Harden also discussed the every day threats farmers face, like climate change. She said drought costs the U.S. about $50 billion between 2011 and 2013.

2. Conversations with a hunger fighter

In a separate panel, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., discussed his efforts to eradicate hunger during his time in Congress.

“We know how to end hunger. It’s not that hard,” he said. “I don’t know how to end all wars, but we all know how to end hunger.”

He added that the nation has the resources to end hunger, but the political system is preventing it from happening.

3. The next generation of hunger fighters

After his talk on his own efforts to combat hunger, McGovern moderated a panel discussing what the next generation of leaders is doing to combat hunger. Students from American, Iowa State and Ohio State universities joined McGovern to discuss their ventures to eradicate issues related to hunger.

Maria Rose Belding, a freshman at American University, founded the Matching Excess And Needs for Stability Database, a website designed for food banks around the country to communicate and share resources.

Belding describes the database as a “Craigslist for food banks.”

4. Farmers, science and the sustainability story

The morning finished with a conversation between Sesno and Monsanto Company Vice President Michael Frank, the largest producer of planting seeds in the world.

While Frank defended the importance and scientific reasoning behind the use of genetically modified seeds, Sesno challenged him using the popular opinion that the health repercussions of GMOs are unknown and that they also have the potential to create dangerous mutated crops.

Sesno asked why GMOs are so villainized by the public and news media, and Frank responded by discussing the science supporting the use of GMOs.

“There has been more than four and a half billion acres of GMO seed planted around the world,” Frank said. “There’s been over a trillion meals served with GMO improved grains and there’s not one health issue.”

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