I have long wondered why everyone doesn't switch to organic farming.
It's that pesky free market.
The GMO and pesticide apocalypse we were assured is just around the corner never actually came to pass. Over 100 billion animals have eaten genetically-engineered food over 20 years and we've seen no difference in the animals, their meat or their milk. Meanwhile, in that 20 years, notes The Economist, we've had up to 60,000,000 dead kids from malnutrition. Thanks, environmentalists.
And farmers who have switched looking for a big payday haven't seen it comes to pass. They say all the right things about eco-friendly pest and soil management practices, they do the paperwork and pay for the sticker, they pay for toxic organic pesticides instead of toxic synthetic ones - and then it turns out processors they sell to don't actually want to pay more.
Organic farmland remains stuck at around 1% because organic food itself is for the 1% - it is lots of things; a lifestyle, a world-view, a way of self-identification and being distinct from the peasants - but it is not a mass movement.
Vermont was able to get a warning label law passed on foods containing GMOs because, well, it's Vermont, and they exempted everything that might annoy people there, like alcohol and restaurants and the Whole Foods deli counter. In the rest of the country, unprompted, only 7% of the public cares whether food is mutagenesis or hybrid or RNAi or GMO or kosher or free-range or shade-tree grown. Over half of Americans think the organic label is just a scam, a way to charge more for nothing. They may be right, if you look at all of the exemptions that organic lobbyists have created under which you can still claim to be "organic."
The public has Label Fatigue, as anyone in a California store or hotel or coffee shop can tell you, with the warnings about BPA and Prop 65 and pregnancy. And the market for lettuce, which is the big organic seller, is only so large. The public does not care about organic corn at all, despite that being the top GMO product, and they can't buy an organic banana. (2) When General Mills announced Cheerios were going GMO-free, sales went down, not up. Now that company is trying to incentivize farmers to switch to organic also, so that it might bring the cost lower.
Organic food defies capitalism - we are told everyone wants it, and you can charge more, except you can't make any money - because it isn't actually capitalism. It is a marketing gimmick. Farmers already compete on thin margins and organic farmers switched because Organic Consumers Association promised them the public had unlimited demand and would pay any premium.
That has turned out not to be true. This is the label people still care the most about:
Credit: Capital Press
(1) US Right To Know, Sourcewatch, and plenty more. Organic marketing groups invented a conspiracy on the pro-science in order to have an excuse to create their own.
(2) Well, they can. It's just a label. But bananas are arguably the most Frankenfood food out there.