Viewpoint: Is organic farming the best solution to climate change? Why the popular consensus is wrong and why GM crops should be the future of agriculture


Ppopular wisdom is often wrong. Consider, for example, how she perceives organic farming, which has become a $48 billion an annual industry in the United States Organic produce is sold at outlets ranging from local farmers’ markets to large supermarket chains, and many people assume that there is something more natural, healthy, or environmentally sustainable to their subject. None of this is true.

What is remarkable about this agricultural sector is that the government’s large-scale promotion has been a hoax from the start, having nothing to do with agricultural sustainability, environmental protection or food quality. .

When the organic label was created in 1990, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman pointed out the basic absurdity of the organic designation: “Let me be clear on one thing, the organic label is a marketing tool. This is not a food safety statement. “Organic” is also not a value judgment on nutrition or quality. »

Indeed, the organic label is a cynical marketing tool, because so many uninformed consumers are being ripped off by the high prices of organic products, in the absence of any tangible benefit.

A common “green myth” about organic farming is that it doesn’t use pesticides. Organic farming uses insecticides and fungicides to avoid predation of its crops.

More than 20 chemicals are commonly used in the cultivation and processing of organic crops and are acceptable under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s arbitrary and ever-changing organic rules. Many of these organic pesticides are more toxic than the synthetics used in regular agriculture.

But the fatal flaw of organic farming is the low yields that cause it to waste water and agricultural land. CropLife Foundation plant pathologist Steven Savage analyzed data from the 2014 USDA Biological Survey, which reported various productivity measures from most certified organic farms in the country and compared them to those of conventional farms. His discoveries were extraordinary.

In 59 of the 68 crops studied, there was a yield gap, which means that, controlling for other variables, organic farms produced less than conventional farms. Many of these deficits were significant: for strawberries, organic farms produced 61% less than conventional farms; for mandarins, 58% less; for cotton, 45% less; and for rice, 39 percent less.

As Savage observed, “For all US crops to be grown organically in 2014, 109 million acres of additional land would have had to be grown. That’s an area equivalent to all of the parks and wilderness areas in the lower 48 states, or 1.8 times more than all of the nation’s urban land.

Perhaps the most illogical and least sustainable aspect of long-term organic farming will be the absolute exclusion of “genetically modified” plants modified with the most precise and predictable modern molecular techniques. With the exception of wild berries and wild mushrooms, virtually every fruit, vegetable and grain in our diet has been genetically enhanced by one technique or another – often as a result of irradiated seed or via “wide crosses”, which move genes from one species or genus to another in a way that does not occur in nature.

Laborious manual pollination of apple blossom. Credit: Encyclopedia Britannica

In recent decades we have seen advances in genetic engineering such as plants resistant to disease, pests, drought and floods. The result has been higher yields for farmers and lower costs for consumers. As the successes of genetic engineering continue to emerge, the gap between modern high-tech farming methods and organic farming will become a chasm, and organic will be increasingly unable to compete.

Crops developed by molecular genetic engineering have been shown in multiple studies to be, on average, 22% more productive than conventional crops, meaning more food could be grown on less land. In addition, herbicide-tolerant transgenic crops require less tillage, thereby significantly reducing carbon emissions.

Unfortunately, the US Department of Agriculture subsidizes and pampers the organic farming and food industries. His website is very clear: “Many USDA agencies serve the growing organic sector. Whether you are already certified organic, considering transitioning all or part of your operation, or working with organic growers, we have resources for you. These taxpayer-provided resources, we hasten to add, encourage inefficient, polluting agricultural practices that waste water and arable land, and promote GHG emissions.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announcement financing of projects “aiming to help farmers and forest owners to combat climate change through so-called carbon sinks”. These projects should embrace and encourage genetically modified crops as a viable and credible means of mitigating climate change.

Henry Miller, physician and molecular biologist, is a principal investigator at the Pacific Research Institute. He was a research associate at the NIH and a founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology. Find Henry on Twitter @henryimiller.

Kathleen Hefferon, Ph.D., teaches microbiology at Cornell University. Find Kathleen on Twitter @KHefferon.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Pacific Research Institute and is used here with permission. You can follow the Pacific Research Institute on Twitter @PacificResearch

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