This a wonderful article on the moral evils of organic food. Not that I agree with everything he has to say - I don't think his belief about SUVs being evil has any factual basis in reality, but that's a very minor nit pick. He expresses beautifully something I have believed for some time: it is self-indulgent, wasteful and yes, actually immoral to indulge in the fantasy that expensive, inefficient organic food is better for us and the environment. The truth is exactly the opposite.
It's self-indulgent, wasteful and frankly immoral. But you know how it is. I was swept along with the trend, and it felt good at the time. But I don't want to be a hypocrite. So I'm giving up organic food in 2006
....When it comes to basic needs such as food, the most important development of the last century has been the creation of nitrogen fertilisers. By replacing the nitrogen lost when a crop is harvested you can continue to plant the same plot of land each year without losing productivity. This means the same area of land produces anything up to double the quantity of food.
...Let's farm the current 1.5 billion hectares of farmland organically. A rough estimate suggests that we could sustain a global population of around 2.4 billion.
...forget western luxuries such as national parks, or indeed, parks. Even if we managed to double the world's farmland and maintained productivity in increasingly marginal areas (like the Cairngorms), we're still short. That's still 200 million dead people. Just because the Soil Association tells us that synthetic fertilisers are wrong.
......The inefficiencies of organic land use make it less environmentally friendly than conventional farming whose efficiencies mean we can return land to nature.
...if we are self-indulgently to insist that we are so important that we should be fed organically, with its yields some 20% to 50% lower, that can only put an additional, unnecessary strain on feeding the planet. Every organic mouthful makes it more difficult to feed the most vulnerable. As the distinguished Indian plant biologist CS Prakash put it: "The only thing sustainable about organic farming in the developing world is that it sustains poverty and malnutrition."
Organic food – because it's so inefficient to produce – is considerably more expensive than conventionally farmed food. Yet it brings no health benefits and doesn't even taste better. If it did, then the Advertising Standards Authority wouldn't have upheld complaints against the Soil Association for describing organic as "healthier" than conventionally farmed food. Or as the Food Standards Agency put it in 2004: "Organic food is not significantly different in terms of food safety and nutrition from food produced conventionally."
Sir John Krebs of the FSA has noted: "A single cup of coffee contains natural carcinogens equal to at least a year's worth of carcinogenic residues in the diet." Yet we're tacitly encouraging the nation's poor to spend cash on this indulgence. Consider Sir John again: "Dietary contributions to cardiovascular disease and to cancer... probably account for more than 100,000 deaths per year in Britain. Food poisoning probably accounts for between 50 and 300... pesticides in food, as well as GM food, are not responsible for any deaths."
The quality of lower-income household diets has a direct impact on the health and vigour of the nation. Yet we delight that the nation's poor are increasingly spending money they don't need to on a middle-class indulgence.
...Patrick Holden of the Soil Association has insisted that you can't test the benefits of organic farming scientifically because organic farming is "holistic, integrated and [represents] joined-up thinking". Apparently, "holistic science strays into territory where the current tools of understanding that are available to the scientific community are not sufficiently well developed to measure what's going on".
...Many years ago I was taught that you shouldn't confine yourself simply to giving things up. That positive resolutions were important, too. So here's mine: In 2006 I shall tuck into food made more productively and at a lower cost than organic and regular conventional agriculture. A food whose production increases biodiversity in fields and lowers pesticide use. A food enjoyed every day by 280 million Americans and indeed much of the livestock that we eat. A food that has brought nothing but health benefits to those who enjoy it. That's right. Call it what you will. Genetically Modified, GM, transgenic. I just like to think of it as safer, more productive, kinder to its local environment, and kinder to the globe. That's what I call good food.
Actually, I don't believe the author of this piece goes far enough. Africa needs an agricultural revolution now. The benefits of nitrogen fertilizer and the hybrid varieties of the "green revolution" produced by researcher Norman Borlaug and others that saved over a billion lives in the 20th century have had little impact on Africa. Genetic engineering is finally bringing the agricultural revolution that Africa needs. But organizations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth actively oppose "geneically modified," or "GM" foods - so much so that they have convinced the (well fed) leaders of some (starving) African nations to ban GM corn donated for famine relief.
So "think globally/act locally" - buy genetically modified foods which use less land and need far less pesticides, and avoid organic food, which uses far more land and cannot claim any real health benefits -- may, in fact, actually be more harmful! And stop supporting groups that spread lies that kill millions of helpless human beings.