If You Care About The Environment, Here Are Two Reasons To Support Big Ag
    By Hank Campbell | January 6th 2014 12:18 PM | 15 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    There's no greater feel-good fallacy than the belief that organic food is somehow superior to conventionally farmed food. In reality, organic food isn't more environmentally responsible, it is worse, it isn't better for your health, it is worse and, for the most part, it isn't even grown by small farmers, it is giant conglomerates who, like with gluten-free, fat-free or any other food fad, encourage proponents and the mythology of health benefits because they can charge more money.

    Many of the reasons we are given to pay more for organic food involve a lot of 'nots' and Americans don't respond well to negative thinking.  Sure, politicians do negative campaigning but the reputation of politicians is terrible. Most people selling products focus instead on what they have.

    Yet in the modern health fad climate, and especially organic food, they do focus on the 'not' and it can be confusing to the general public. Claims that organic food do not have the same pesticides as regular food don't resonate with the scientifically literate folks because they know that organic pesticides are not healthier than synthetic ones. You still have to wash your vegetables. Everyone else becomes concerned that regular food has something bad that organic food does not.

    Likewise, claims that organic foods are superior if they do not have genetic modifications created in the last 15 years (yet containing plenty created before that and, in the case of mutagenesis in Europe, are still being done today because that is not a 'GMO' strictly by legal standards) is such a head scratcher that even voters in woo-embracing states like California and Washington weren't convinced. But they almost were.

    Forget the 'nots' and their negative thinking, let's think positive about the future of food.

    Progressives once embraced science, because that meant more wealth for farmers and cheaper food for the public, which has been proven 100% of the time to lead to more education and culture. It's time to embrace science again, progressives. Credit: Shutterstock.

    The reason to embrace Big Ag, if you care about the environment and your food, is instead because they are a great example of how the future of food looks environmentally terrific. As I have discussed before and detailed at length in Science Left Behind, those of us who care about the environment should be in love with Big Ag. While organic farming puts a lot more strain on the environment, conventional American agriculture has led the world in dematerialization for the last few decades.

    Compared to when I was a kid, living and working on a subsistence farm, modern farming in the last 30 years has produced far more food on far less land than was ever really considered possible outside science fiction.  American agriculture put an end to the cottage industry of Apocalyptic starvation claims like those made by doomsday prophet Dr. Paul Ehrlich (and, in one book, his co-author Dr. John Holdren, currently President Obama's "Science Czar") - instead of the mass starvation they predicted, for the first time in world history the poorest people can afford to be fat.

    And Big Ag is able do that even mired in regulations and rules and roadblocks that lobbyists for environmental activism corporations have managed to get put in place to hinder them.

    But environmentalists who are not activists, like most of us, should not be blocking Big Ag, we should be embracing it. The better environment we want is being created. Here are two ways Big Ag is going to save Gaia for you too, Sierra Club:

    Reason #1: Big Ag Science Will Mean Better Tasting Food, But Locally Grown

    In the past, the best cigars and wine came from regions where a combination of soil and climate made the difference in quality. Today, if you think Cuba makes the best cigars, you are promoting a mythology rather than reality. And Chile makes great wines, not just France. That is because of science. Now, microbiologists are honing in on how the microbial terroir of wine, shaped by the climate and geography of the region, impacts the flavor - that means it is only a matter of time before it is reverse-engineered you can grow any wine you like almost any where you like. 

    And that will apply to all food. You will be able to locally grow lots of different things, it just won't have to be small farmers and inefficient methods doing it. That means fewer food shipments and those CO2 emissions.

    As Blake Hurst writes In The American, the farmer's sense of place has been vital in American cultural history - and it is the 'locally grown' aspect that advocates insist makes the food they like better even now. But even that is changing thanks to science and technology - not only can science make food plentiful, it is going to make it taste better, and it is going to make it local, even if you live in an area where 30 years ago such food could not grow.(1)

    Reason #2: Big Ag Means Accountability

    There is a reason that the Centers for Disease Control catches on to any food problem with big companies fast but E. coli and Salmonella in organic food is found after a crisis; Big Ag companies have a lot more regulations that organic farmers do not.  Oddly, more regulations are something the organic contingent resists - for their products.

    But most recalls that are done on the products of large companies are done by the companies, not by the government - Big Ag makes food safer. That's just the opposite in organic food. The Big Ag rules that lobbyists for environmental corporations have put in place are actually hurting our trust in organic food. There is no surprise spot testing of organic farms the way there is in Big Ag. Someone pays money for a sticker and fills out paperwork and they are considered 'organic'. Most of the time we rely on trust but organic food is a giant $29 billion money machine. Any time there is that much money involved, "trust but verify."

    Big Ag has processes and regulations in place to keep the quality and safety consistent. On the other side, Whole Foods became a famous example of the fraud in organic food years ago when it was discovered that 25 percent on their imported organic food was just regular food from China with an organic label stuck on it.  Big Ag has the cost of its regulations and safety built into place but organic growers do not; they are already too inefficient to be reasonably priced and won't want to add more cost.

    Organic farmers would protest if they had to endure the same regulations, laws and scrutiny they applaud activists for heaping on their competitors - they are stuck in a mythological past. But if we care about the environment and better food, locally grown, Big Ag is the future.


    (1) It's outside the scope of this piece but read his article and then imagine the value of real-time Big Data in farming. Forget the nostalgia of our agricultural heritage, it can have a niche just like blacksmiths do, but a truly modern farm could be the size of, as Hurst puts it, New Hampshire, and have every input and output precisely optimized all of the time. That's a future worth pursuing.


    This opinon piece is so full of demonstrable whoppers that it doesn't even merit debunking. If the author can't even understand that mutagenisis is a completely different technology from GMO he shouldn't be commenting. Further more the piece doesn't even address the main concerns regarding "Big" Ag (there are a lot better terms for it) and the environment. Instead it focuses on the not-even-close-to-being-realised pipe dream of engineering environmental factors out of the taste of wine (because we're really that close to isolating a sun to rain ratio gene are we?) and the spurious argument that big ag is more regulated (because more can go wrong, and with a larger scale impact numbnuts!)
    Oh - and controlling the imputs and outputs of an area the size of new hampshire reliably - good luck with that; meanwhile in other news northern florida freezes this week.

    mutagenisis is a completely different technology from GMO he shouldn't be commenting.
    Of course it is, who said it isn't different? Yet the principle on why GMOs are not allowed means it is not different at all. The claims of European politicians and activists are that they are worried about health effects of GMOs, yet the mutant crops created by mutagenesis are more likely to pose health risks than genetically modified ones because they lack the same precision. This is well-known, but mutagenesis has again become all the rage because these mutations aren't considered the illegal genetic modification and companies doing it can grab a share of the $34 billion seed market without the same regulations. Yet modification it is.
    *Precision* is the greatest myth purveyed by biotechs - as I'm sure you know the actual process is far from precise and has a massive failure rate. As I understand it that's why it is no longer called genetic "engineering". Please could you also source your statement "crops created by mutagenesis are more likely to pose health risks than [GMO] ones...." preferably with data that quantifies these risks?
    And lastly - the debate about mutagenesis does not mean that GMO's are safe, neither does labelling people activists make your position mainstream.

    We can't demonize one kind of genetic modification and then let the other one slide because it happened to be around before anti-science activists knew what it was - when they were for it before they were against it. 

    I am not demonizing either of them, but you were giving mutagenesis a free pass, yet you clearly know that mutagenesis deletes and rearranges hundreds or thousands of genes randomly and it is the least predictable. The National Academies said in 2004 that banning genetic modification and giving mutagenesis a free pass was rubbish. You must know this, since you declared I am not even qualified to blog about the topic in comparison to your expertise, so I am surprised you need to ask any of these questions about when they said it or why.
    I'm afraid your comments are reading more and more like deliberate misinformation.

    That's not why GMO and mutagenisis are treated differently - they are different technologies with different risks as you've already admitted.

    Your quote from The National Acadamies does not quantify any risks or back up your statement about greater risks. I think that was the only question I asked.

    Many of the 'activists' are scientists. So attempting to paint any objectors as anti science is disingenuine and frankly unscientific.

    I am asking these questions because I am open to well founded, scientifically backed statements - of which I find your unsubstantiated piece and subsequent comments lacking.

    Many of the 'activists' are scientists.
    You have already committed 3 of the 5 Reasons People Stop Replying To Your Comments: end-oriented beliefs, changing the goalposts and finally, the veil of sincere skepticism, which is really just denial. If you can find someone in science somewhere who is against GMOs well, by golly, it must be bad. Rubbish.  There is no science that is going to convince you of anything, the intellectual fix is in and you just bounce around the Internet demonizing GMOs. Go back to Mother Jones or wherever.

    I have done none of those things.
    I have simply highlighted the misinformation and misdirection in your piece and comments.
    What is factually incorrect about what I have said? nothing - it is infact you who is manipulating language and facts to suit your objectives.
    I would like you to back up your statement that "nothing will convince [me]" what evidence do you have of this other than that I've not accepted your statements without evidence?
    You must be very upset to find someone educated that can challenge the unsubstantiated opinions you posit as fact.

    To clarify -
    1 I have asked you for facts and instead you have told me that nothing will convince me.
    2 I have challenged your implication that anyone that is not in favour of GMO's must be anti-science and you have tried to punt that by being ridiculous and attempting to claim that GMO's are bad (which I have not done) because a minority (evidence please) of scientists question them - are you unable to entertain the possibility that there might be scientific debate????
    3 I have not as far as I can tell put forward any beliefs. Only challenged yours and you have failed to answer the questions posed and are resorting to being dismissive.

    Organic is a marketing campaign that preys on common fears and misconceptions to get people to buy premium priced food. Period. If they could get away with certifying Organic food as 'ghost free' by checking that the crops aren't grown within 100' of graveyards (and not be laughed out of town) they would, heck - they'd try to require all other food to be labeled with "May Contain Ghosts!". To the scientifically inclined most of the Organic taglines are similarly laughable as 'ghost free'.

    I don't understand how someone can consider themselves to be both an activist and a scientist. K

    I think Dr. Savage, or somebody with some credentials would do a whole blog about the anti-GMO myth regarding the "imprecision" of genetic engineering. Jeffery Smith has done a great job of taking a fact from the 1980's and applying it to modern-day genetic engineering-and out-there activists come here and puke it back out.

    Even in the '80's, imprecision was not a problem, since you necessarily select for your trait...all the "failures" aren't what is "pushed" on the this hogwash about GE not being precise should just stay at Mother Jones.

    Mr Campbell:

    I'm a scientific and after reading your article the only thing I can say is...
    What a bunch of crap.
    Do your homework, read the articles that show over and over the differences between GMO crops and organic crops.
    If you want to defend the Big Ag, avoid to mention E. coli next time OK?
    God bless you and all the silly pseudo-scientific people that just show ignorance on line.

    I'm a scientific and after reading your article the only thing I can say is...
    If you want to defend the Big Ag, avoid to mention E. coli next time OK?
    Hey, if you want feces on your organic food, go for it. But don't saddle the rest of us with your weird fetish.
    God bless you and all the silly pseudo-scientific people that just show ignorance on line.
    You apparently don't even know what pseudoscience is. Is your MD in homeopathy? 
    And this doesn't even cover the changes coming from the potential of vertical farming, with stacked layers of crops, small livestock, and aquaculture potentially resulting in insane levels of production from a single acre (with the potential to use much lower-grade water, or to even clean relatively raw sewage). The family farmer is not likely to be able to enclose most of a square mile with a 5 story enclosure to maximize production.

    I found this website tonight due to a search for info on whether raw soy sprouts are safe to eat, and feel compelled to toss my opinion in this circus ring of pomposity. I grant "cybershankar" the win here -- a KO -- for clarity both in thought and writing skills, for calm persistence in the face of some rather immature retorts by the post's author, and for his or her awareness that the claims proffered as "science-based" by Mr. C. are baseless and mere opinions without proper citations to back them up.

    Oh brother. Yeah, that will be meaningful to a science audience - you like the guy who says biologists are unethical and can't be trusted and anyone who says, 'hey, farming does some good things too' is just making "claims" - I wrote facts, some commenters wove conspiracy webs about science, you happen to hate science and like the conspiracy tales. Okay by me. Enjoy those raw sprouts.