17.9.06

The Argument against Organic

[There is a much better argument and discussion here if you are interested. Also, TIME recently published an article questioning the supposed benefits of organic foods. Anyway, back to the original post...]

Brainy Blonde said...

"please elaborate how not using chemicals (which destroy our environment) are somehow worse for it "in every way" I'd love to hear more..."

I maintain that it is not the use of chemicals which "destroy our environment" but rather the misuse of specific chemicals.

Chemicals have always existed. H2O is a chemical. NH4 is a chemical. CO2 is a chemical. Plants need chemicals to grow. These can be supplied through 'natural' sources or by isolating and 'artificially' producing them. And it really makes no difference to the plant. (I use quotes because chemically it's all the same processes)

When fertilizers and pesticides are used correctly, they can be applied much more accurately and efficiently, resulting in a greater yield without applying an excess of other substances. The food itself is still the same, although perhaps larger and healthier. I see no reason not to use advances in science and technology to better agriculture.

I’m sorry if this seems condescending, but I feel I need to respond this way when people make the generalization that ‘chemicals are bad.’

My biggest criticism is for the large-scale commercial organic farms. (United Natural Foods, the company selling the tainted spinach, is the world’s largest producer of organic produce) It is my understanding that they follow the letter of organic farming but not the spirit. The concern is more on sustaining profits than on sustaining the land. So I find it hard to believe that a large-scale commercial organic farm is any better for the environment than any other large-scale commercial farming operation.

Natural fertilizers need to be applied in much higher quantities, and while ‘natural,’ they are still not environmentally safe in high concentrations. Too much animal waste in any one area is bad for the environment. Manure runoff is bad for our water supply. And fecal contamination is always the source of e. coli outbreaks. Which is what I had just posted about. I know this link is circumstantial at best, but it’s enough to make me consider it. And again, no one else is alleging a connection. This whole argument was crafted entirely within my head, with no sources or evidence. But if you read the wikipedia article on organic farming, as I just did, you’ll see essentially the same points argued.

The debate of organic versus chemical agriculture is not the clear-cut issue you think it is. There is no right or wrong. No one is intentionally trying to destroy the environment. Maybe growing up in an extremely rural area has made me biased, but nearly all farmers take a long-term view of their farms and work to keep the land arable for the future. This should not be a question of ideology. It should be a matter of objectively looking at the results. And doing so, I see no reason to stop using artificially produced fertilizers. Organic farming is not without its arguments. Sustainable farming and protection of the environment are necessary. And I’ll agree that pesticides are overused. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. All farming, organic or not, has an environmental impact. I just think the goals of organic farming can be better achieved if we embrace technology, rather than taking the Amish-like view that it's all evil.

And I believe that consumers who buy organic foods are just as ignorant as everyone else about where their food comes from and how it is produced. They just buy the food for the organic label, so they can feel morally superior to the other people who don’t wish to or can’t afford to pay the higher prices for organic foods, and they do so without ever having any evidence that the food they are buying was grown with any less environmental impact.

I don’t like the arrogance, I don’t like the ignorance, and I don’t like the hypocrisy.

This is a separate issue, but I also hate the debate of ‘natural’ versus artificial. Humans are products of, and part of nature. We are still bound by the same laws that have governed this planet since it was formed. If we screw things up, our species will die. That’s it. You don’t see chimps debating over whether they should be using sticks to dig out insects. If you truly believe in the idea of a natural state, you should understand that we humans are merely demonstrating on a large scale what we refer to as survival of the fittest.

Of course, if you believe otherwise, then you also believe that the world and everything on it was created for the use of man.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's actually been no evidence that the spinach causing the E.coli issues came from organic spinach. You are correct that one of the companies implicated, Earthbound Farms, is a large farm that sells both conventional and organic produce, but the problems to date have all been with conventional, although some could end up being from organic. Also, United Natural Foods is only the middle man, buying from the farmers and selling to the retailers.

1/10/06 14:24  
Blogger Dorshorst said...

You are right. I realized that after writing the post. I originally assumed it was from organic spinach because CNN had posted their article online with a picture of a bag of spinach that happened to be organic. I later found out that no organic spinach had e. coli.

While I was mistaken on that point, I think the rest of the argument still holds.


Incidently, there was a news article a week later questioning the safety of organic foods. I wish I had saved the link.

16/10/06 22:37  
Anonymous Michael Wells said...

This is a good post.

I do certainly agree with you that chemical farming should not be hated simply on the basis of broad generalizations which ignore the actual issues. However, though chemical fertilizers and pesticides do certainly work and produce excellent plants, they do lessen the quality of the soil on its own by destroying the various fungi, insects, microorganisms and the like which make soil useful for plants in the first place, whereas organic farming can actually replace everything which is removed from the soil, and in fact will improve its quality over time.

The use of animal manure is not necessary, and is in fact something I don't think is a wise decision on the part of organic companies either.

Of course all of this is moot if we are to expect the same corporate lies, greed, bureaucracy, and general stupidity from the organic companies as we can from all the rest, in which case the best thing will not be done either way, and organic farming will only be at its most useful on the personal level.

9/6/08 11:09  

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