What do you get when industrial agriculture’s most famous critic crosses swords with industrial agriculture’s (arguably) most powerful executive?

Michael Pollan and Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant squared off at a forum put on recently by google.org (video below the fold.) The topic of the discussion: how to “feed the world” as population expands over the next 20 years.

What happens during the debate? Sparks fly, but neither deals a body blow. Deploying his his lilting Scottish brogue to good effect, Grant deftly paints his company as a benevolent and even charitable force for lifting the globe’s miserable billions out of want.

But I think Pollan wins on points. For all his skill, Grant never deals with Pollan’s hard questions about whether doubling yields for corn, soy, and cotton over the next 20 years is possible — or even desirable. Grant wants to frame the world’s problem as “not enough food,” and then proffers a solution: Let’s genetically modify our way out of it, with, um, Monsanto’s patent-protected seed.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Not so fast, counters Pollan. Aren’t there political issues involved, too — like Western governments’ crop-devouring biofuel programs (vigorously supported by Monsanto) and the systematic dismantling of local-food production in the global south over the past 20 years? Check it out: