Why is organic farming bad, if it is? We have been told that organic farming is good for our health. Proponents have trumpeted the message that organic farming is good for the environment. How could it possibly be bad?
It seems that, increasingly, life is being divided into traditional and alternative. Each side claims their methods to be better than the other’s. Each tries to win people to their side. Traditional schooling fights alternative schooling. Conventional medicine fights alternative medicine. Mainstream culture fights alternative subcultures.
Farming, too, is involved in a battle, conventional farming against organic farming. Environmentalists and those concerned with their health assure us that organic farming is preferable in many ways. But others argue that organic farming is bad.
Why is organic farming bad?
In 2002, Swiss scientists at the Research Institute for Organic Agriculture published in “Scientist” a highly publicized study. Their study, which covered 21 years, compared four types of farming. Two of those types were organic farming. The other two types were conventional farming.
Reporters quickly stated that the study proved organic farming was more efficient. Organic farming’s advocates said the study showed that organic farming uses 50% less energy. The facts?
1. Conventional farming is 20 percent more productive than organic farming.
2. Crop yields were significantly lower in organic farming.
3. The above two facts meant energy savings in organic farming were actually only about 19 percent per unit of crop produced, not 50 percent.
4. The study did not test organic farming against the most current methods of conventional farming. If it had, experts say, the 19 percent advantage of organic farming would disappear.
5. Current conventional farming matches organic farming when it comes to environmental advantages. Both have beneficial insects, produce less pesticide and fertilizer runoff, and reduce soil erosion.
6. Food quality was almost identical in conventional and organic farming. Advocates of organic farming had long claimed their food was far superior.
7. Current conventional farming methods produce the same or greater yields mentioned in number 1 above.
This research does not, of course, conclude that organic farming is bad. On the face of it, the conclusion is more that organic farming is not very different from current conventional farming. There most be other reasons for people believing organic farming is bad.
Organic Farming Can Kill
Many took from the Swiss study a realization that, as Cambridge chemist John Emsley said, “the greatest catastrophe the human race could face this century is not global warming, but a global conversion to ‘ organic farming’- [where] an estimated 2 billion people would perish.”
Organic farming may supply food for small markets, but how can it feed starving nations? Its adversaries claim that current conventional farming is the only hope for these people. If we turn entirely to organic farming, they say, we will doom billions to die of starvation.
Challenging Organic Farming
Alex Avery, Director of Research and Education for the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues, recently published a new book, “The Truth About Organic Foods.” (2006) In this book, Avery offers an unemotional look at the odd origins and unscientific basis for organic farming.
Nobel Peace Prize Winning Agricultural Scientist, Dr. Norman Borlaug, says about this book, “The Truth About Organic Foods gives consumers a thorough and straight-forward explanation of why organic foods offer no real health or safety benefits. More importantly, Avery communicates why organic farming’s lower yields and reliance on scarce organic fertilizers represents a potential threat to the world’s forests, wetlands and grasslands. The book offers scientifically sound evidence that more-affordable conventional foods are healthy for families and also good stewardship of nature.”
Skimming Mr. Avery’s book, one finds statements that indicate:
1. Organic farming started in the 1920s when a German mystic advised use of only animal manure because synthetic fertilizers had no cosmic energy.
2. Soon, the wealthy decided manure-fertilized produce was better.
3. J.I. Rodale first published his “ Organic Gardening Magazine” in 1942, and the organic farming / organic gardening movement was named.
4. In 2007, organic farming advocates still have no credible science to support their beliefs.
5. Organic farming does not avoid pesticides. About 5 percent a vegetable’s weight is natural pesticides, some of which are cancer-causing.
6. Foods from organic farming have more illness-causing bacteria. (The January 2007 issue of “Consumer Reports” showed that chicken from organic farming has 300% more Salmonella than that from conventional farming. University studies have found more bacteria in vegetables from organic farming than in vegetables from conventional farming.
7. If organic farming, which decries synthetic fertilizer, was chosen over conventional farming, we would have a choice. We could kill millions of people to reduce global food needs, or we could sacrifice wildlife habitat in the amount of millions of square miles so we could produce more manure.
Why is organic farming bad? Mr. Avery believes he has the answer.
Notwithstanding Mr. Avery’s new book, I am not sure whether organic farming is bad or not. It is often difficult to sort through rhetoric and find fact. I do know that my forefathers had large organic farms. The produce was good and it was nourishing. Before I can turn my back completely on organic farming and organic gardening, I need clearer evidence. You probably want to do more research, too.