Mar 082011

Can organic farming ‘feed the world’? Yes!

In fact, university studies show that only organic farming can both feed Earth’s growing population and reverse decades of environmental damage caused by industrial food monoculture.

Canada has become a colony of Big Agribusiness. Biotechnology has come to dominate agriculture. There are people who raise legitimate questions about this dominance, but they are ignored by agriculture policy-makers at Ottawa. Brewster Kneene is one. A few years ago, his publication Ram’s Horn carried a précis of a report from a UK university which showed that organic farming has greater potential for global food production than North American style industrial monoculture. (Brewster Kneene is also the author of Farmageddon, a book everyone with an interest in agriculture should read. I’d also recommend Food Inc., a compilation of articles from many different writers, who point out that the industrial model of food production is harmful to consumers, farm workers, food industry workers, and the environment.)

A more recent study is Can organic farming ‘feed the world’? by Christos Vasilikiotis, PhD, on the faculty of ESPM (Environmental Science, Policy and Management)’s Division of Insect Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. His conclusions are the same: organic agriculture, as practiced by smaller family farms, is an integrated system that consistently produces yield equal to or better than industrial agriculture—and builds up the soil, rather than depleting it.

Food Inc. shows how the fast-food industry has completely changed the global food industry. The dominance of firms like McDonald’s has resulted in monoculture of crops (e.g., only one kind of potato is grown for the fries that go with Big Macs), mass production of meat animals is congested in unhealthy quarters where they wade around in their own manure, which gets into the food supply—hence the increasing problems with e. coli and salmonella. And migrant farm workers are exploited as badly today as they were in the Dirty Thirties.

Farmers like Percy Schmeisser have been driven out of business by giants like Monsanto—which has a team of about 75 “GMO cops”, employed solely to find farmers whose crops might have a Monsanto-patented gene (as Schmeisser’s canola did, although he made a good argument that it was genetic drift of wind-borne pollen that introduced the Roundup-Ready© gene into the canola seed he had been breeding for more than 30 years).

A nation that cannot feed itself independently ceases to be a nation; it becomes a colony of the entity that feeds it. That’s why I say Canada has become a colony of Big Agribusiness.
I have theological reservations about biotech, too. I think that genetic engineering violates the biblical prohibition on “mixing kinds”—I’ve given the example of “Autumn Strawberries” that are made cold-resistant by splicing in a gene from the Arctic Char—a fish.

Somehow, that seems to me to go beyond traditional agriculture’s traditional improvement of crop strains by selective breeding, and has strayed into the realm of arrogantly telling God He didn’t get it right. Maybe I’m a Luddite, but I think that there’s a danger here.

In any case, I believe that foods that use Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) should be clearly labeled, to allow the consumer to choose. Agrifood Canada and the Food and Drug Directorate of Health Canada (and the current government) have resisted all calls for labeling of GMO foods; I think it’s because the lobbyists have gotten to the politicians who make their policy decisions.

That sort of behind-the-scenes influence is bad for Canada; bad for democracy; bad for people who want to make independent choices about their diet; bad for farming; bad for the environment. Really, it’s only good for Big Agribusiness.

Peter Jennings has done a documentary on the food industry. It’s worth watching. Bottom line: consumers ought to be given all the information they need to make their own choices about what they eat. Organic farming and product labeling give us that information—and can feed the world without degrading our soil and water.

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