Most of us can buy organic food I would imagine, and it usually does taste better. But we shouldn't force our ideals of what others should and should not eat when organic is not a viable option, and any food is better than tastier food. That was Borlaug's message.
Acting like first-world boutique farming represents a viable model for the entire world - despite all the evidence - just because new age idealism says it should be, is the height of western arrogance.
I find the belief that mega-agricultural conglomerates are at all interested in our long term well-being to be the height of technological arrogance. The market incentives are just not aligned with our interests.
It's not that genetic engineering can't be safely and responsibly leveled, but simply that given the track record of the foods provided by these organizations, I don't see why they will behave particularly responsibility towards our interests in the future.
It's also disturbing that you're attempting to turn the debate into one of classism or racism:
When you start labeling foods as modified to create two classes of food, you're screaming loud and clear, "I don't give a shit about people that aren't just like me, and I don't respect the differences between first and third world realities".
Why is my desire to know exactly what I'm purchasing in any way remotely related to how I feel about people who "aren't just like me" or living in a third world economy?
As to your last comment: Why would labeling GMO foods as such create a food class system, and why is this wrong? (not something you claimed btw, just part of my rant :) Because only people rich like you will be able to choose the non-GMO variety, because you are undermining the development of safe GMO foods with that label, and because without GMO foods large numbers of poor people will starve. To me, thats a pretty clear connection. As to why class matters? Because North America has more food wealth than the rest of the world, maybe combined? As to racism: you put that in there, I said nothing about race.
They're not. They're corporations.
As a corporation, their primary incentive is, correctly and necessarily, profit -- not people. If that coincides with "do-good", then they do good. If it doesn't, then they don't.
There's plenty of historical precedent here -- take, for instance, the research into genetic use restriction technology as to require re-purchase of seed stock or a chemical activator every year. The work was shelved due to widespread outcry from farmers and consumers, which directly leads to my next point.
... Because only people rich like you will be able to choose the non-GMO variety, because you are undermining the development of safe GMO foods with that label, and because without GMO foods large numbers of poor people will starve.
So if I want to know what's in my food and how it was produced, I'm a rich American undermining the good of the mankind and causing the starvation of poor people everywhere? That's certainly a bold argument.
Instead, why doesn't the blame lie with GMO organizations that engaged (and continue to engage) in behavior that does not appear to be in our direct interests?
Because GMO research is absolutely vital to continuing to feed our species. Monsanto may be a terrible company - but this is mostly related to patents. Patents bad. Feeding people good.
GMO for the people.
"GMO for the people" is just sloganeering.
And please, let's ignore how industrial-scale farming makes it difficult for agricultural societies to escape poverty. It doesn't apply to everyone, but there are large numbers of people who can grow a surplus of food without requiring large amounts of capital. Unfortunately that food is all but worthless becuase they have to compete with the substantal direct and indirect subsidies industrial agriculture enjoys. The result is that they can't generate extra money that could help them through lean years, or that they could invest in education or equipment that would help them move up.
1) Despite what Norman Borlaug said, the vegetables taste better. I don't really care why. Maybe it has nothing to do with the fertilizer used, rather that they simply don't ripen the tomatoes with ethylene (the other side of the techno-farming coin).
2) I can afford it.
3) I don't trust Monsanto and their ilk to integrate technology to better feed me. I expect them to rely on technology to improve their bottom line, very likely disadvantaging me in the process -- their goals and incentives are simply not aligned with my own.
I think a lot of claims coming from organic fetishists are off the deep end, but they're not entirely wrong. I think a lot of the claims coming from industrial farming fetishists are off the deep end, but they're not entirely wrong. As usual, the world consists of many shades of gray.
The problem is that new age extremism has vilified Borlaug, and the very Green Revolution that makes modern civilization - largely absent from starvation due to inefficient agriculture - possible. This man saved a billion people from starvation and resulting war, won the Nobel Prize, and your average North American has no idea who he is. As a result of the efforts of eco-extremist organizations like Greenpeace, the debate on agriculture is incredibly misinformed, and the very innovations in research that are critical for supporting the increasing global population are vilified by arguments that are entirely religious, rather than scientific. And people don't know that is what they are.
As a wealthy westerner, wanting to eat any kind of food - fine by me. Wanting to end research into genetic improvements in crop yields - absolutely condemnable.
The problem is that new age extremism has vilified Borlaug ...
Isn't calling organic food "first-world, boutique food" and many of its proponents "new age extrem[ists]" bit of hyperbolic vilification in of itself?
Commercial farming practices brought both good and bad, and you illustrate both extremes by railing so strongly against the one of them in multiple posts.
You're clearly using boutique as a backhanded pejorative for the production model. The argumentative slight-of-hand is ridiculous.
Have you ever grown a traditional garden, vs. an organic one? Try it on any kind of scale over 100 square feet, then tell me about the work involved, and tell me whether 'boutique' fits organic or not :D
What were your experiences in attempting this, and where did you find the organic approach led to significant inefficiencies in production? How does your experience compare with that of successful larger organic operations?
Boutique: small scale, upper crust.
1. There are now more obese people than starving people in the world. The diseases that are killing those overweight people are largely nutritional in origin (heart disease, diabetes, at least some cancers).
2. The EU (and I assume the US/Canada as well) are destroying agricultural products en masse, due to subsidized overproduction.
3. Population growth is rapidly decelerating - the largest countries in the world have or are rapidly approaching "first world" birth rates. Western Europe is shrinking.
Borlaug did phenomenal work for his historical period, however, looking at it in a historical timeframe, we should remain aware that the parameters of our world are constantly changing, and thus it's not that simple.
Personally, I think it requires a careful look at the political and economic production and distribution systems around the agriculture and food industries. The whole "granola hippie" versus "libertarian corporatist" debate is simply a huge distraction that misses the point.
[Edited about 1m after posting, for clarity only.]
As a scientist, I think (based on very little knowledge of him) , Borlaug was interested in sustainability and open to criticism.
The problem of sustainability can be addressed by various forms of science - Borlaug probably doesn't deserve to be a lightening rod. The politicization of agriculture (and the sustainability debate) is industrial farming techniques are sometimes (obviously) in conflict with ecologically "holistic" practices - that is, the model of the systems are different, and both models get things wrong.
My two cents:
Profit clouds science as much as fear or ignorance.
Which is what I call environmental extremism - the non-extreme variety has people first, and seeks sustainability for our entire, well fed population.
I agree partly - starving now or later - is the problem.
Isn't humanity just a startup?™ - industrial agriculture has "technological debt". We either pay the debt now, or face bigger debt later.
Borlaug, I don't think, was trying to define and deal with debt - and I think sustainability/ecology does.
Not good will, but rather responding to market demand. The 'organic' buyers are more likely to read the ingredients list.
Probably 2/3 of what we buy is certified organic, 1/3 'conventional'. Everything is local, and I'm pretty sure that everything we buy is better than anything flown in to the organic section at Whole Foods. And I'm definitely sure that the certified organic produce is not uniformly better than the non-certified. The differences farm-to-farm, variety-to-variety, and season-to-season are certainly stronger effects.
Perhaps you point instead is that there is a difference between a mass produced tomato flown in from afar and ripened in a chamber and a home-grown tomato picked at the peak of ripeness? And that the tomatoes on the vine at $3.99/lb are often a better facsimile of the latter than the pinkish tennis ball at 99 cents/lb? In which case I'd agree with you. But I'd hesitate to say that this is because it is 'organic'.
There really are two very different problems. One is how to we feed lots and lots of people in poor parts of the world and the other is how can rich spoiled people like myself get the best tasting vegetables. The solution to these two problems probably isn't the same.
You give somebody a tomato, an apple, a pear from Kroger or Safeway or Publix, and another from an organic farmers market... I'd be just as willing as you to bet on that random consumer selecting the organic produce.
And you can't separate the distribution method from its production method. They're part and parcel of each other. I would much rather buy locally-grown, non-organic produce than organic produce grown in an industrial operation a thousand miles away.
Why? Outside of the arguments of freshness, which could be dealt with by a more efficient distribution mechanism, I don't see any net benefit.
I'll admit that the argument toward supporting local farmers carries little weight with me. Outside of the freshness argument, it strikes me as little more than small-town sentimentalism. There are a number of other industries where we did far better when we dispatched that argument; I'm not yet convinced that food production is any different. I can imagine all sorts of economies of scale that could be exploited, but we have to let the economy scale first.
The American industrial food chain consumes more oil than American automobiles. The industrial food chain enforces a farm mono culture where a plot of land sees only one crop, year on year, for decades. Or maybe two: Maybe soybeans get thrown in the mix. Local polyculture farms raise animals and a number of different crops in a little dance that mimics the natural cycle of life. Cows eat grass, and they and horses are the only animals that can. Birds clean up after the cows. What's left when the birds are done grows more grass. Goto 1.
The industrial farm leaves over-tilled dead soil in desperate need of artificial fertility, and ridding these farms of animals leaves them all on gigantic feed lots with manure ponds.
If you don't see the problems with this, you've buried your head in the sand. And that doesn't even touch the surface of the massive amount of fossil fuel we use to truck produce and meat 2000+ miles to a supermarket that itself is filled with thousands up thousands of food-like substances.
Huge agribusiness has proven you can indeed industrialize food. And to anybody that's ever looked closely at it, it's also proven that you shouldn't.
As my own main food preparer, though, the main issue I have with organic is that it's less convenient. It takes me about the same time to chop up an onion or tomato no matter if it has a four inch diameter (non-organic, from Walmart) or a two inch diameter (from the organic bin at Shoppers Food or where ever), but I have to use a lot more of the organic ones to get the same amount of veggie. Also, organic veggies are far more often misshapen or have bad spots that have to be cut out, which I assume is because tomatoes that aren't being speed-ripen have more time for spots to go bad.
All in all, I'll keep buying food that looks good over food that might taste a little better (assuming I'm just unobservant).
- Organic vegetables aren't chemically ripened, non-organic vegetables usually are.
- Organic snacks use sugar or cane juice, most non-organic snacks use corn syrup.
- Organic snacks use non-hydrogenated oils and real butter. Quite a few non-organic snacks use partially hydrogenated oils.
There's nothing that says corn syrup can't be organic, but 'organic' foods almost invariably use better, alternative, and often more expensive ingredients.
Given this, I don't think anyone would have difficulty identifying the foods.
ALL vegetables without exception ripen because of chemical reactions. I presume you mean that the chemicals that cause ripening in some vegetables weren't put in the vegetables by human agency, but that may not make a difference if they are the same chemicals in either case.
Organic snacks use sugar or cane juice, most non-organic snacks use corn syrup
What is the evidence that this difference has any significance for human health or any other important issue?
Your point is uselessly pedantic. Most conventional tomatoes are picked from the vine early and are then ripened through the application of ethylene. This produces a less flavorful tomato.
And yes, I'm also aware that arsenic is "all natural".
Sugar is less sweet, and foods made with it tend to have a more balanced taste. This is something I consider to be an important issue when it comes to food.
My opinion is of course subjective, though popular. The fact is that corn syrup was never added for the flavor. It was substituted for sugar because it's cheaper than sugar.
I agree with the thesis of the article, though. With the coming (actually, possibly already-existing) overpopulation crisis, high-tech food is going to be important. Unfortunately, the hardcore food-hippies will have to get over that fact.
Also, regarding the lack of efficiency in transportation - where can I learn more? Of course high-volume shipping is more efficient per unit, but does this include incidental transit overhead for those people managing this process? I guess what I'm trying to say is that what matters is the total environmental costs incurred by the entire production/distribution "ecosystem", not the per unit shipment cost reported an invoice somewhere in the process.
As for the efficiencies in transportation, a recent book to take on that subject was "Just Food: Where Locovores Got It Wrong". The basic idea, which makes a lot of sense when you think about it, is that modern logistics systems have spent a lot of time and research on getting very good at what they do. Companies in this business track every penny involved in getting goods from point A to a lot of different point Bs. One big truck going from the farm to a regional distribution center and then twenty smaller trucks going shorter distances from that center to customers ends up being a lot more efficient than a small army of trucks going from the farms to those twenty customer sites.
There are some externalities that do not show up on the bottom line, but I can't see it being more than a drop in the bucket compared to the total cost of the entire effort.
Quotes like this make me sad. This is so ignorant coming from a brilliant man. Organic or conventional farming isn't the issue. The way most Americans consume meat 3 times a day is the issue. It would be like having a debate on oil consumption in this country and two people were arguing about heating homes with oil and nobody ever brought up transportation. Eating meat 3 times a day isn't sustainable. Organic farming is. The way this debate is framed is just beyond stupid for how intelligent the people having it are. Everyone just assumes that meat 3 times a day is ok and it's the organic farming that isn't sustainable. This is laughable.
This isn't an all or nothing thing here. Eating meat in moderation is fine. This country (American) has a taste for federally subsidized, extremely cheap and unhealthy meat. That is the issue. Not farming.
Anyway, this is changing. Look at meat's prominence in California (feed lots aside, I mean consumption) - much less than elsewhere. California leads, the rest of the nation follows.
s/Raising cattle/Raising cattle on corn/
I worry that it has become to tied up in people's sense of identity. Not in the sense of an environmentalist lashing themselves to a tree, but in the sense of two neighbors attempting to win a battle about who loves and cares for their families safety more by buying expensive items. It might still be true that one of them loves their family more, but it is irrelevant to the battle; the real battle is who can buy more of the expensive shit to prove it to the person they are fighting against. This is a class conflict, above everything else that is going on.
And hence the problem with organic food; it provides a more expensive option that is, ostensibly: better for you, better for the environment, better for the farmers, better for the rest of the population, better for wildlife, and likely any of a number of other groups of people or things.
Do we know if any of this is true? No.
Do we know if any of it is false? No.
Does any of this really matter? I'd like to believe it does; it does for me. But I'm not convinced it does for most people.
We can argue that we know the above is true, but the data we have is relatively limited. Even when we have data, it isn't entirely clear what it is measuring, because people have such confused definitions of what "organic" actually means. It has nothing to do with local farmers; it has nothing to do with the complete elimination of pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. It just limits the types of substances used, based on origin, not known health effects; organic farmers are required to use "natural" farming aids. What we have to go on is gut feelings that "natural," whatever we define that to mean, is "better." We also have the gut feeling that "artifical" things, whatever we define that to be, are "bad." This falls apart the instant someone points to something artifical that is better than the natural version -- as an example, please see Canola oil. But it can so fuel the senses that food we consider to be artificial will taste noticably worse. Does it? Who knows; we need more double-blind studies on this.
The problem is that the debate is working from an assumption a priori, that organic food is the better option, at least by the organic proponents. I am not pro-conventional food; I don't believe that most of the people who still buy conventional produce are that religious about it. They'd like to see data on both sides of the debate, and would like to sit down and have a reasonable pro-con discussion. But that can't happen when one side of the debate is screaming "YOU'RE KILLING YOURSELF AND THE PLANET!" It's like the guy who buys the more expensive car seat while screaming at his neighbor "YOU'RE KILLING YOUR CHILD!" The poor neighbor now has a choice: submit to the religious fervor of expensive car seats, or deal with the continued condescention of his neighbor.
We need to start having a rational discussion about this; I'm surprised, given the level-headedness by which we approach other topics, that we are so unabashedly biased on this one. Maybe it's just a vocal minority?
Hurrah. I applaud anyone on HN who urges participants to look at evidence and to examine their preconceptions as we discuss issues thoughtfully.
And, as my young grandson once said: "why would anyone want to eat food with bug spray on it?"
That said, it is a matter of free choice - my wife and I gladly pay slightly higher prices for locally grown organic food. If not organic, we then at least favor locally grown food.
It may FEEL like you're getting more nutrients - but you aren't. You are getting fewer traces of pesticide, which is probably a good thing. But nutrients - no.
It doesn't seem as cut and dry as you've made it out to be above, but I'm no expert.
'The appendix of the FSA report shows that some nutrients, such as beta-carotene, are as much as 53% higher in organic food, but such differences are not reflected in its conclusions.'
I suggest that if you are going to attempt to wield the sword of 'scientific proof' you should at least have some understanding of how it works. 'scientifically false' is a very strong statement. When used without proper evidence it does just as great an injury to science as a combined crystal healer / homoeopathy convention.
That is my whole point.
When a statement is made in isolation it could mean many things
'I think that X' ||
'I've heard that X' ||
'Most people think X' ||
'It seems likely that X' ||
'It is scientifically proven that X'
You've obviously chosen the last one but there is no clear reason why. Even then it would strictly speaking be 'factually incorrect' not 'scientifically incorrect'.
The interpretation most people (i.e. the correct interpretation) of 'scientifically false' is 'scientifically disproven'. When you make a statement like this you muddy the waters for those you aren't alert.
Look at it logically. Let's say further studies do turn out show that organic food does actually have more micro-nutrients (as you seem to accept there is some possibility of). So the original statement magically transforms from being 'scientifically false' to scientifically true'?