At Least Organic Farming Is A Good Thing -- Isn't It?
The Independent 1st May 2008 contains an expose by Dr Rob Johnston (identified as “a science writer”), entitled “The great organic myths: Why organic foods are an indulgence the world can't afford” . Organic farming, far from being above moral-environmental & scientific reproach, actually has feet of clay...
Some paraphrases and quotes:
Resource use. Research sponsored by officials at the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs “shows that….[a] litre of organic milk requires 80 per cent more land than conventional milk to produce, has 20 per cent greater global warming potential, releases 60 per cent more nutrients to water sources, and contributes 70 per cent more to acid rain….organically reared cows burp twice as much methane as conventionally reared cattle – and methane is 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2.”
(The University of Hohenheim (Germany) supports organic farming. But in 2000 its researchers came to similar conclusions.)
“A hectare of conventionally farmed land produces 2.5 times more potatoes than an organic one.” As compared with conventional methods, organically-grown tomato crops use double the energy; “25% more water per kilo” produced; release “almost three times the nutrient pollution” -- & then yield 25% less output. “Heated greenhouse tomatoes in Britain use up to 100 times more energy than those grown in fields in Africa.”
Organic farmers use organic pesticides. One is copper (in solution -- to remove/prevent fungus.) Copper is toxic -- & “stays…in the soil forever.” Rotenone, a plant extract, “is highly neurotoxic to humans -- [it] can cause Parkinson’s disease.” Conventional pesticides are “biodegradable” & “have to pass stringent…safety tests”. Also -- for what it’s worth -- “farmers….have among the lowest cancer rates of any group.”
Disease. According to “[l]arge studies in Holland, Denmark and Austria”:- “100 per cent of organic chicken flocks” were infected with “the food-poisoning bacterium Campylobacter….but only a third of conventional flocks”. “[M]any organic flocks [are] vaccinated against” salmonella, but infection rates equal those of conventional chickens. And “72 per cent of organic chickens [are] infected with parasites.”
Because organically-raised “animals are not routinely treated with antibiotics or (for example) worming medicines….[such] animals suffer more diseases. In 2006 an Austrian and Dutch study found that a quarter of organic pigs had pneumonia”, & their piglets’ mortality rate was double that of “conventionally raised pigs”. Only 4% of the latter suffered from pneumonia.
Because organic animals suffer so much from diseases, they “are only half the weight of conventionally reared animals”. [NB, So much for animal welfare.]
Is organic food healthier? Researchers at Hohenheim University surveyed the literature & the studies available at present & were unable to say ‘yes’. -- The Soil Association is the British organic farmers’ trade association & lobby group. It “points to a few small studies that demonstrate slightly higher concentrations of some nutrients in organic produce – flavonoids in organic tomatoes and omega-3 fatty acids in organic milk, for example.” But “the higher flavonoid levels in organic tomatoes [were] revealed….to be the result of stress [i.e.] lack of nitrogen.” “[T]he plants stopped making flesh and made defensive chemicals (such as flavonoids) instead.”
Taking the high moral ground, the “Soil Association invariably claims that anyone who questions the value of organic farming works for chemical manufacturers and agribusiness or is in league with some shady right-wing US free-market lobby group. Which is ironic, considering that a number of British fascists were involved in the founding of the Soil Association and its journal was edited by one of Oswald Mosley's blackshirts until the late 1960s.” [NB, and this last is at least, fact.]
Andrew D. Todd - 5/11/2008
Of course, obviously, the Dutch were long famous for market gardening, and indeed, until the industrial revolution changed the rules, they were famous for almost any kind of production which required exemplary skill. In large sections of Northern Europe, as far east as Moscow, it was axiomatic that the way to upgrade one's economy was to get some Dutchmen to immigrate. The Dutch did not have any special geographical advantages, unless you call being under water a geographical advantage. There is such a thing as the "Hans Brinker mentality," and no doubt a Braudelian historian would be inclined to account for this in terms of the need to keep back the sea.
Consulting a land-use map of Britain, circa 1980, I find that there were significant market gardening districts outside of Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh, Dundee, Leeds, Birmingham, and Bristol, apart from the districts around London, and along the south coast. Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool-Manchester, and Cardiff were striking in not having such districts, and this could not really be accounted for in climatic terms. What these latter areas did seem to have in common was a single-minded fixation on mining and manufacturing. There is no obvious reason why greenhouse districts could not be established in economically depressed areas, along main rail lines leading south, only a few hours from the markets. The north of England is not the Yukon, after all. I consulted a table of representative world climates, and was impressed by the mildness of the Scottish climate, which is not to be compared with that of the Ohio country.
I gather that a tomato is ancestrally a jungle vine, presumably adapted to growing up the sides of trees, living in the filtered light below the jungle canopy. A maximum supply of direct sunlight for photosynthesis does not seem to be critical per se, or may even be disadvantageous, provided the plant is kept sufficiently warm and moist. These conditions can be met in a greenhouse better than in any open-air climate, save for the microclimate created by a tropical rain forest. It turns out that the Kenyans are resorting to greenhouses, for want of the right kind of climate in their own country. Among other virtues, a greenhouse keeps insect pests out, and increases the crop yield. At this level, the Kenyans' comparative advantage, such as it is, boils down to little more than cheap labor.
A greenhouse is durable, and might, with ordinary good management, last for twenty or forty years. The pro rata cost of using it is not all that great. Given that we are talking about a very simple form of construction, two dollars per square foot ought to be achievable. Assuming thirty-five tons of crop per acre per year, and a long-term five percent interest rate, I come up with a figure of about six cents per pound of tomato for the cost of using the greenhouse.
By contrast, the cost of flying a Boeing 747 is something like five or six thousand dollars per hour, plus three or four thousand gallons of fuel per hour, whatever that costs at the moment. That works out to somewhere in the vicinity of a dollar or two per pound of cargo at present oil prices, depending on the details of a particular shipment. The airplane is not durable in the sense that an automobile is durable, and it is always needing replacement parts of one kind or another, and vast numbers of mechanics to install those new parts. Land vehicles can be designed to be rugged, to go for years with minimal maintenance, but an airplane so designed would be too heavy to get off the ground. So around the margins, air freight becomes an exercise in using expensive labor to get access to cheap labor. If that is not a losing game, it is at least a precarious one. The same high-grade labor which is used to maintain the jet airplanes could alternatively be employed in inventing ways to reduce the labor requirements of producing common articles of consumption. At present, mechanical harvesting seems only to be feasible for green tomatoes, which have a lower value. Possibly, better harvesting machines could be designed.
Advantages of greenhouses for tomato growing in Kenya. Kenya is basically a country of savannas and deserts, not of jungles, so they find greenhouses useful.
EDUARDO PORTER, "In Florida Groves, Cheap Labor Means Machines," New York Times, March 22, 2004
History of the tomato harvesting machine.
Sudha Shenoy - 5/11/2008
1. The reason why there are high stocking rates in England is precisely because of the lack of land. It is a question of animals per acre whereas in Argentina, Australia etc it is acres per animal. A single cattle station in Australia is larger than Yorkshire -- the latter is packed with people, by comparison. That is why imports are cheaper (eg, Australasia has about the lowest farming costs in the developed world); & imports alone supplied the _quantities_ needed for the entire population.
Before the (accursed) EU, manufacturers & bakers distinguished between 'homewheat' products -- made with wheat grown in Britain, & other products, made with imported wheat. The latter were always the cheaper: given, inter alia, the horrendous cost of land in a country as tiny as Britain.
Population in England are packed in, not scattered round one per acre. The bulk of the people are in the Southeast & South. Given how far north the country is, the further north, the cooler the climate & the less the sunshine.
2. The same thousands of pounds spent on greenhouse tomatoes grown in England, can be used to bring in _far_larger_numbers_ of tomatoes from places like Kenya -- including shipping costs. That is why the _alternate_ costs of Heathrow are lower than using the same land for market gardening.
The Netherlands have specialised in market gardening since the 15th century -- they've always supplied fruit & veg up & down the coast of Western Europe from Scandinavia to northern Spain.
The point is the entire supply of tomatoes for the British population. Of course toms have always come in from market gardens, & esp the Channel Islands. But these have always been more expensive than imports. The same for other foodstuffs.
Andrew D. Todd - 5/10/2008
I find that in 2000, Britain was home to something like eleven million cattle, six-and-a-half million hogs, forty million sheep, and a hundred and fifty million chickens, perhaps three times as much livestock per square mile as Argentina. To anyone but the most esoteric gourmet, meat is none the worse for having been frozen, and it can be readily shipped in that form at comparatively low expense. So let's keep the greenhouses in perspective. Britain's population of about one person per acre allows room for the odd greenhouse. Interestingly, it seems that Britain imports tomatoes from the Netherlands, which has twice the population density. Tomatoes are very definitely a high-value crop, yielding thousands of dollars worth of crop per acre. Their very high yield in weight (35+ tons/acre) of course reflects the fact that they are mostly water. Tomato paste, of course, like orange juice concentrate, is an inexpensive product of rejected fruit. In dehydrated form, it is likely to be inexpensively shipped around the world. However, the value of a tomato tends to increase, the closer it is to being fresh. That militates against shipping tomatoes for long distances. Of course, with the Channel Tunnel, Europe isn't really overseas from Britain. Europe has an express train service with a hub yard at Herne in the Ruhr, which does overnight service for a twenty-ton European freight car, between any two points in Western Europe. It runs at the same speeds as traditional passenger express trains such as the Orient Express, though not as fast as the new TGV-type trains.
An airport capable of handling jet freighters, cargo 747's, will take up several square miles. For what it is worth, London's Heathrow airport is approximately in the midst of what used to be a market gardening belt, close enough in to allow daily deliveries in the age of horse transportation. With the coming of the railroads, market gardening districts moved further out, of course. You treat transportation as if it were uniquely free. Commercial aviation is in fact driven by air forces. It is not a case of the invisible hand, but the very visible hands of men like Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris and Barnes Wallis. With the increasing price of kerosene, the economics may very well have shifted.
Agriculture college reports from California. Cite typical yields for tomatoes of 35 tons/acre or more. This is for plants grown in the open field.
Report on wholesale tomato prices in Florida in 2005, suggests that normal prices would be on the order of 20-40 cents/lb. This would imply a wholesale crop value of $15,000-$30,000 per acre, not allowing for rejects. A more realistic figure would probably be $5000-$10,000.
Report on the spread of greenhouse tomato growing in North America. The Canadians often have the advantage, despite their famously awful climate, because of their comparatively enthusiastic adoption of Dutch technique. The greenhouses enable them to produce comparatively high-value vine-ripened tomatoes in winter, whereas the field growers have to pick tomatoes green in summer, store them in refrigerated warehouses, and then chemically ripen them with ethylene.
Sudha Shenoy - 5/10/2008
Considering (a) the population density in Britain (b) the sheer lack of land (c) the quantities of greenhouses required to provide the current supplies of tomatoes & therefore the _alternate_ costs, it becomes clear why tomatoes are imported. The whole movement is a reaction to Britain's integration into the international economic order -- ie, free trade.
Andrew D. Todd - 5/9/2008
Solar heating has long been popular in the Pacific Northwest, which has much the same climate as Northwest Europe, but is very heavily "green." In the Pacific Northwest, they do seem to be building solar greenhouses. The difference is not one of climate, but one of mind. It's Ken Kesey country. Britain may have a lot of rain and clouds, but it is not very cold in winter. It all comes out about even in the end. You might only need to keep the greenhouse 10-20 deg-C above the outside. Space heating is the easiest of solar applications, easier than water heating, and much easier than solar electricity. There is a relatively large margin for adverse circumstances.
Here are some links for solar heating in Britain.
A solar housing development in Shropshire
A firm in Wiltshire supplying solar heating products.
Money quote: "We cannot install solar [water] heating onto a thatched roof. With temperatures up to 250°C not unheard of in summer – and in a test one of our systems reached 149°C in November in southern England – we think this would be tempting fate."
Their best solar collector is designed on the thermos-bottle principle, with a transparent outer tube, using a vacuum for insulation. Convection cannot take place in a vacuum, and the other two modes of heat transfer, conduction and radiation are not terribly effective at such, um, modest temperatures (radiation really comes into its own at thousands of degrees). One could in principle construct a window pane with vacuum insulation. There was something about fifteen years ago which was very similar, a flat vacuum tube, a cathode ray tube, which, for a time, looked as if it might be a cheap flat-screen display for computers. The designers used large numbers of little spacer blocks between two sheets of glass to hold the glass sheets apart. Now, for conventional household use, it might not be very popular to have a window with an internal grating of rubber-clad steel, but for greenhouses, that need not be a problem.
Another solar energy firm in Devon.
A short "foundation pamphlet," about solar water heating. Quotes a figure of 1000 KWh of raw sunlight per square meter of rooftop, per year, in Britain, though not specifying which season. That would be 114 watts, continuous, or about half of typical American figures.
A small commercial solar greenhouse in New England, in a much harsher climate than Britain.
ANNE RAVER, CUTTINGS; What a Little Chicken Breath Can Do, Published: March 7, 1993
Something from the last energy crisis... Plus ca change, or whatever it is the Frenchman says?
GARY ADKINS, "SOLAR ENERGY," _Illinois Issues_ (University of Illinois at Springfield), April 1981
Sudha Shenoy - 5/8/2008
Have a look at the amount of sunlight in Britain's climate.
Andrew D. Todd - 5/8/2008
I don't know very much about organic farming, but I do know something about thermodynamics, and I would like to deal with the one specific issue of greenhouse agriculture versus imports.. Energy has both a quantity, and a quality, defined in the negative as entropy. Hence you have the second and third laws of thermodynamics. Transportation tends to require high quality energy, such as electricity or kerosene. Depending on such considerations as whether one could get a backhaul, a freighter jet might, at a guess, wind up using a pound of kerosene for every one or two pounds of green goods flown in from Africa. The kinds of things which make attractive air freight are the kinds of goods which don't weigh anything to speak of, such as clothing.
Low-grade heating, such as heating a greenhouse to a modest temperature, can be done with low-grade energy, and low-grade energy is fairly ubiquitous. Britain is not a very cold climate, and it is probably feasible to build solar greenhouses, particularly if you use the kind of semi-active design pioneered by Steve Baer of Zomeworks, in which insulated shutters open and close at various times of the day, and create dead air zones. The dominant mode of heat loss from greenhouse glass in winter will be wind-driven convection. So the idea would be, in the daytime, to continuously aim the shutters at the sun, so as to minimize their interference with the sunlight, while creating windbreaks over the greenhouse glass. At night, and in adverse weather, the shutters would close. Glass would of course be placed only where there was a southern exposure, insulated frame-construction being used elsewhere.
Gus diZerega - 5/6/2008
Interesting points - but rather than continue here, I'll add a post at the top that takes the issue to a framework that might interest more readers.
Kevin Carson - 5/6/2008
As a side issue, the most virulent strains of e. coli are found primarily in the acidic stomachs of grain-fed beef cattle. The e. coli scare in the U.S. involved "organic" spinach which was fertilized with the manure of such factory-farmed cattle.
Sudha Shenoy - 5/6/2008
1. The article (& therefore the extract) referred to _specific_ (specific) products: milk, potatoes, tomatoes, chickens, pigs. The conclusions are from studies for Defra, & from the University of Hohenheim. The article (& therefore the quotes) gave the _range_ of results for milk, potatoes & tomatoes (not just cow burps.)
The Manchester Business School study also referred to milk, potatoes, & chickens.
NB, in a country with as little land as Britain, land use is a _key_ issue.
2. In the British climate, tomatoes & many such crops, _can_ only be grown in greenhouses. Therefore their energy use _has_ to be compared with imported food, grown by poor farmers in places like Kenya. British buyers are told that organic food from Britain uses less energy (inter alia.)
NB, Britain relies overwhelmingly on imported food -- because it _has_ to.
3. Potatoes & apples figure largely in the British diet. Therefore any residues from copper/sulphur pesticides are significant, given the _relative_ (relative) importance of potato & apple production. Rotenone is used (as a last resort) on some (some) fruit/salad crops.
4. Disease: Research found (as stated in the article & extract), that organically-raised chickens & pigs (in Austria & the Netherlands) were _more_ diseased/infected than conventionally-reared creatures. Many organic chickens had been _vaccinated_ against one particular infection. These specific points were made in the article, & therefore in the quotes.
No doubt human have always eaten diseased meat from unhealthy animals, far smaller in size than at present. Organic farming simply continues this age-old practice. This has to be made clear.
5. The article brought out specific aspects of organic farming not generally known. It was _not_ a general survey of the subject. Note it was a newspaper article: it _had_ to limit itself.
6. The article was published in The Independent ( a left-wing _British_ paper); it immediately referred to: a _British_ govt dept, a _German_ university, studies in _Holland, Denmark_, Austria_; & the Soil Association were immediately identified as a _British_ organisation. The final quote referred to the role of _British_ fascists in founding the Soil Association.
I doubt if many HNN readers concluded that the post (& the article) referred to the American situation.
Gus diZerega - 5/5/2008
I am no expert on British organic agriculture, and conceivably it is less viable there than here, though I doubt it. But your post and its title, as I read it, suggested far more universal claims.
No one to my knowledge suggests heated greenhouse agriculture is less energy intensive than growing equivalent crops in an appropriate climate. This is a straw man regarding the two means of growing food because it ignores WHERE they are grown. A more reasonable and interesting question is - which is least energy intensive IN THE SAME LOCATION.
More importantly, your response to the antibiotic issue seemed to me to be an evasion. Most meat in either case is not 'diseased.' In fact, from what I have read, the most seriously diseased meat in the UK in recent years was from factory farm raised cattle fed ground up animals who carried the prions that caused mad cow disease. Some people died horribly from eating it. None was organic.
People have been eating meat for perhaps 1 million years. Principles of healthy cooking made the issue of diseased meat a non issue so long as reasonable precautions were taken (though, alas, heat has no effect on the prions that cause mad cow disease).
Only when serious over crowding began with industrial agribusiness did disease become such a pervasive problem that antibiotics were needed to make those practices profitable. They have made it possible to eat rare pork more safely - but at what larger price? I refer you again to the report I cited. This is a serious issue given the rising cost of antibiotics and the inability of many people to afford health insurance.
I looked at copper use by organic farmers in the UK. The following quotation puts the claims of the 'researchers' in better perspective:
"Pesticides are mainly used on one crop, potatoes, which accounts for 82% of copper. Some copper and sulphur are also used on orchard fruit like apples. All other organic arable farming in the UK has no need, and no possibility, of using pesticides."
The big "expose" is deeply misleading.
Given the right-wing CEI's recent garbage on Rachel Carson, I am very sensitive to this kind of thing and to right wing efforts to distort how important questions are debated.
(see http://www.dizerega.com/?p=71 and http://www.dizerega.com/?p=83 )
Here are some additional excerpts from an Independent article that suggests the blanket presentation you gave is misleading:
"The report for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs found "many" organic products had lower ecological impacts than conventional methods using fertilisers and pesticides. But academics at the Manchester Business School (MBS), who conducted the study, said that was counterbalanced by other organic foods - such as milk, tomatoes and chicken - which are significantly less energy efficient and can be more polluting than intensively-farmed equivalents.
"Ken Green, professor of environmental management at MBS, who co-wrote the report, said: "You cannot say that all organic food is better for the environment than all food grown conventionally. If you look carefully at the amount of energy required to produce these foods you get a complicated picture. In some cases, the carbon footprint for organics is larger."
Note - this is a very measured statement. And makes no attempt to rank one approach with another over all.
More importantly, the measure of superiority or inferiority was very narrow. For example,
"The study did not take into account factors such as the increased biodiversity created by organic farming or the improved landscape."
And finally - we get the cow methane stuff again. Green house gasses are a problem only when they come over extended periods and in large quantities from carbon sequestered in coal, oil, and natural gas. Cows, and before them buffalo and the like, have been burping for a very long time. Again, we have a total non-issue used to hide the real issue: CO2 production from sources extraneous to the natural cycling processes of the gas.
So - to summarize - many benefits of organic agriculture are deliberately ignored, the pesticide issue is misleading in terms of what organic agriculture means in the US (where most HNN readers are), the energy issue is misleading because organic crops grown in the UK are compared to non-organic crops grown in Africa and the stuff about cows is simply silly.
So yes - I do question the priorities of those who make such a to-do about this kind of thing. What does it have to do with liberty? Are organic farmers seeking to outlaw other kinds of agriculture?
It seems to me some members of this list have developed a deep antagonism to environmental values because they see them as not being addressed easily in traditional classical liberal terms. This is sad because the government has on balance proven pretty inept as well.
Sudha Shenoy - 5/4/2008
1. The article dealt with certain factual claims (statements of fact) made by the Soil Association with respect to organic farming in Britain. It was a newspaper article & therefore could not provide a scientific bibliography. The references to Defra's research, & that done by the University of Hohenheim provide a starting point. _Do_ such studies exist? If not, it should be easy enough to show this.
The article dealt with organic farming in cramped Britain. There was no mention anywhere of spacious California. How far are conditions in the latter also found in Britain? And vice versa?
2. Pesticides: the point is that organic farmers _do_ use 'natural' pesticides: at least some of which are _not_ safe. In _fact_, then, the choice is between two different sorts of pesticides. If one sort produces one set of problems, another sort produces another type.
Similarly with antibiotics. No doubt they leave residues. But organically-raised creatures suffer diseases, & are smaller in size. So again the choice is between antibiotic-treated meat or diseased meat, from smaller carcasses. TANSTAAFL.
3. "hostility to the natural world", "nothing to do with free markets, but with supporting business as usual", "glee in finding supposed weaknesses", "since when does libertarian...thought need to take a stand on organic farming of all things?", etc.
Whew. HNN is a _history_ website (repeat, _history_ website.) It is supposed to provide a forum for _historians_ to comment on developments in _current_history_.
The Soil Association represent an extremely significant element in certain areas of thought in Britain. The article compares these ideas with at least some facts about organic farming in Britain. Any discussion of the _historical_ phenomenon, 'organic farming in Britain from the 1920s onwards', would _have_ to take into account the points made in Johnston's article. Not to do so is to be professionally remiss.
(Please also see my response to Anthony Gregory, above. --Incidentally, the writer's surname is 'Johnston' with a 't'.)
Gus diZerega - 5/3/2008
Thank you Kevin. Your comment is a much needed breath of fresh air.
Since when is libertarian and classical liberal thought needing to take a position on organic farming of all things? Why the apparent glee in finding supposed weaknesses?
I am struck with the apparent need of many self-identified free market types to take positions on issues that have nothing to do with free markets and a lot to do with supporting business as usual, wherever it may be.
Corporate agribusiness is one of the most subsidized industries wherever it exists. It is not and has never been a product of economic liberty.
As to the report's claims, I'll make one more observation.
The use of antibiotics in agriculture is a major reason why bacteria develop immunity so rapidly - at potentially catastrophic human cost. This problem is called an externality and at one time free market people were concerned with issues like that. Dealing with them honestly is essential to ANY position claiming to take property rights seriously and not simply as a slogan.
A recent report endorsed by representatives of agribusiness as well as other involved parties recommended that non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in agriculture be ended because of the threat it poses to human beings. There is much more. The report is titled "Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Production in America," and was sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
What a mess
Add to that contradiction an apparent deep seated hostility to any position suggesting the natural world be treated as something other than a simple warehouse of goodies to be used without concern for the future resources and one begins to wonder what the real motivations are in this anti-environmental obsession.
Whatever it is, it is unrelated to freedom.
Kevin Carson - 5/3/2008
I've seen Johnson's article linked around the libertarian blogosphere, the general attitude displayed (especially by Ron Bailey) being "Aha! I knew it all along!"
The problem is, this is a very weak reed to lean on. For one thing, Johnson repeatedly contrasts "conventional farming" to "organic farming," with absolutely no mention of the diverse array of organic farming methods and scales of operation.
Since he quotes a wide range of studies without any detailed bibliographic information, there's no way of knowing the methodology actually used. But the generalizations in his article itself are essentially meaningless unless we control for the scale and method of organic farming. In general, small-scale intensive methods of farming, both organic and chemical, are more efficient in terms of output per acre than is large-scale commercial production. So there is an inverse relationship between size and efficiency of land use that most likely cuts across the organic-"conventional" distinction, rendering Johnson's generalizations absolutely meaningless.
To repeat, there is a wide range of operating scales and methods that all fall within the technical definition of "organic," but differ greatly in the inputs required and the intensiveness with which the inputs are used.
At one end of the spectrum, we have enormous, mechanized cash crop operations that use essentially the same methods as conventional agribusiness--with the sole exception of substituting organic for synthetic fertilizers and pest control. A good example is the giant California "organic" operations that produced the tainted spinach scare in the U.S. two years ago.
At the other end is raised-bed horticulture, the most efficient being the Biointensive technique developed by John Jeavons. This technique maximizes output per square foot and intensively returns all organic materials to the soil through composting, and is intended primarily for household use. Jeavons' techniques can, if utilized to full efficiency, feed one person on 4000 sq. ft. (about 1/10 acre).
Johnson refers to organic pesticides like rotenone as if they were universally used, when in fact many organic growers shy away from such potent neurotoxins. And a variety of other techniques exists, like companion planting, insecticidal soap, Bt, etc.
Johnson's article has the air of an intellectually lazy person just looking for confirmation of what he knew all along.
Anthony Gregory - 5/2/2008
Sudha Shenoy - 5/1/2008
1. The Soil Association in Britain has always taken the moral & scientific high ground with respect to organic farming. It is those points that are covered in the article referred to.
2. That people _choose_ to buy organic products is a completely _separate_ issue, quite independent of the _facts_ of organic farming. The article is concerned with the latter, & with the misrepresentations of the Soil Association & most buyers of organic products.
3. Investigating the facts, & moral condemnation, are two separate & independent activities. Bringing out the facts about organic farming -- per contra the claims of the Soil Association -- & morally condemning people for buying organic -- are completely different activities. The article has endeavoured to deal with the facts.
Anthony Gregory - 5/1/2008
If I prefer organic food, and think it tastes better, and most of the higher costs of production are internalized (at least as much as, if not more so than, conventional agriculture) and I pay for it, what's the problem?
I mean, cattle is more environmentally problematic than a lot of crops, but if people at least pay for their own beef, this is not so much a concern. So what if organic costs more to produce? If it also costs more to buy, where's the issue?