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.
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- "It is no longer necessary to read articles with anything near belief of credibility when thire..."
- "Hi Robert,so you play the piano too!I have started to take piano lessons recently as I would like..."
- "This is somewhat bizarre. The paper itself says:There seems to be not just one, but several..."
- "Cool. We're going to start holding doctors accountable for feigned authority and chasing dollars..."
- "Wonderful Offenbach! I remember that particular tune from my schooldays. This performance..."
Books By Writers Here