June 13, 2014
IT'S NOT ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT, IT'S ABOUT ME:
The Unsustainability of Organic Farming (Henry I. Miller and Richard Cornett, 6/13/14, Project Syndicate)
Posted by Orrin Judd at June 13, 2014 8:56 PMA fundamental reason that organic food production is far less "sustainable" than many forms of conventional farming is that organic farms, though possibly well adapted for certain local environments on a small scale, produce far less food per unit of land and water. The low yields of organic agriculture - typically 20-50% below conventional agriculture - impose various stresses on farmland, especially on water consumption. [...]Another limitation of organic production is that it works against the best approach to enhancing soil quality - namely, the minimization of soil disturbance (such as that caused by plowing or tilling), combined with the use of cover crops. Such farming systems have many environmental advantages, particularly with respect to limiting erosion and the runoff of fertilizers and pesticides. Organic growers do frequently plant cover crops, but in the absence of effective herbicides, they often rely on tillage (or even labor-intensive hand weeding) for weed control.At the same time, organic producers do use insecticides and fungicides to protect their crops, despite the green myth that they do not. More than 20 chemicals (mostly containing copper and sulfur) are commonly used in growing and processing organic crops - all acceptable under US rules for certifying organic products.Perhaps the most illogical and least sustainable aspect of organic farming in the long term is the exclusion of "genetically engineered" (also known as "genetically modified," or GM) plants - but only those that were modified with the most precise techniques and predictable results. Except for wild berries and wild mushrooms, virtually all the fruits, vegetables, and grains in European and North American diets have been genetically improved by one technique or another - often as a result of seeds being irradiated or undergoing hybridizations that move genes from one species or genus to another in ways that do not occur in nature.The exclusion from organic agriculture of organisms simply because they were crafted with modern, superior techniques makes no sense. It not only denies farmers improved seeds, but also denies consumers of organic goods access to nutritionally improved foods, such as oils with enhanced levels of omega-3 fatty acids.In recent decades, conventional agriculture has become more environmentally friendly and sustainable than ever before. But that reflects science-based research and old-fashioned technological ingenuity on the part of farmers, plant breeders, and agribusiness companies, not irrational opposition to modern insecticides, herbicides, genetic engineering, and "industrial agriculture."
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