Home > Environment, Science > Nothing is more exciting than ranting about farming

Nothing is more exciting than ranting about farming

Ok, so I don’t actually know anything about farming. Dave points us to an interesting TCS article about organic farming. Now, I realize trusting TCS is about as intelligent an idea as whacking yourself in the face with a hammer, but it’s worth a read. It’s not the only example of “organic farming” having adverse consequences with regard to the environment.

Scientists have been able to genetically modify pigs to digest phosphorus in their diet better and reduce it by up to 75% in their manure. Organic farmers have decided that they won’t use GM organisms, so if they raise pigs they end up putting more phosphorus into the environment than necessary. Mother Jones has an old article about the conflict here.

Organic farming began with pseudo-scientific essentialism: that naturally produced substances are better than ones synthesized or modified by humans, even if the two in question are chemically identical. It started with BioDynamics, but organic farmers don’t seem to subscribe to that nonsense at present. Now it’s more just a preference for natural substances, which is still dubious. Anytime you hear someone mention “all-natural” as a positive trait, just remember that cyanide is all-natural, too.

And just so I can take another shot at the anti-GM crowd, who can forget anti-GM activists convincing African nations facing food emergencies to reject GM food aid? GM food that they have no evidence is in any way harmful. Brilliant.

This isn’t to say that there are no benefits to organic farming (it does appear to produce healthier food in some instances), just that “organic” methods are not a good guide to what’s better for us and the environment. Evaluating individual substances and practices on their actual merits is far more useful. It’s such a novel idea, too.

That’s my organic farming rant, anyway. If I claimed to be an environmentalist, I think they’d be revoking my membership card about now.

Categories: Environment, Science
  1. August 9, 2007 at 8:47 am

    I realize trusting TCS is about as intelligent an idea as whacking yourself in the face with a hammer

    Well, I can’t attest to this particular author but Arnold Kling has a Ph.D. in economics from M.I.T. and has been an adviser to both the Federal Reserve and Freddie Mac.

    Jim DeLong has an impressive resume as Harvard Law grad – magna cum laude – and is at the forefront of digital property rights law.

    What kind of bone fides do they need? I don’t take them as gospel in any any sense, but I think they’re both smart and as intellectually honest as anyone.

  2. August 9, 2007 at 10:30 am

    Yeah, there are definite issues with agriculture that make advocating reducing carbon release trying.

    To wit: eating food is less efficient than using fossile fuels, thanks to the energy used in growing feed for livestock, refrigeration, etc; and importing some produce may actually be better for fuel consumption than advocating locally-grown food.

    As for the GM food to Africa thing — I don’t believe it was a love for organics that was at the heart of that issue, it was the fact that the grain at issue was that engineered one-crop-only seed. Basically, if African farmers used it, they wouldn’t be able to use the seeds from their crop to grow another crop the next year. So the grain would have helped them only that first year, and would make them subsequently dependent on GM crops they’d have to purchase each year from a US corporation.

    Kind of like that Nestle formula brouhaha a few years back. Nestle donated formula, the use of which prevented babies from taking to breast feeding. When the formula ran out, either the mothers had to buy more formula, or the babies starved.

    Aid used as a way to “attract” customers! Clever, huh?

  3. August 9, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Dave – That was admittedly hyperbolic and not meant that seriously, but whenever I’ve seen TCS comment on scientific issues or the environment, it’s been less than impressive.

    Jay – That may have happened, but it’s not what I was referring to. GM activists convinced some nations to refuse GM grain to be used directly. Here’s an article from the OCU complaining about safety, not crop cycles.

  4. August 11, 2007 at 8:29 am

    Wanna know what bugs me about organic farming? (Other than we could not feed the world population without industrialized farming?) Of course you don’t. But it’s this – organic food is a marketing niche that feeds on naivetĂ©. As soon as people see “organic” on a label, their price resistance goes out the window. Outfits like the Coop here in Bozeman charge outrageous prices, and people pay them!!! Even WalMart sees this nicne and is exploiting it themselves. Give me the list of people who shop the Coop! I’ve got a great investment idea I want to sell them!

  5. August 12, 2007 at 12:49 am

    Yep, that’s true as well. Exploiting ideology is a powerful marketing strategy and outfits like our local Co-op are reaping the benefits.

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