Organic foods are not just a consumer trend, but vitally important to sustaining our ability to feed ourselves. The absence of pesticides, herbicides, synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics, irradiation, and genetically engineered (GE) ingredients drives consumer demand for organics foods.
Three-quarters of food shoppers now seek the certified organic label because, as mounting evidence demonstrates, they correctly identify it as the healthier choice—for farmers, farmworkers, the environment, and themselves.
Agribusiness interests may express a benevolence about consumers and farmers who chose organics, but will argue that intensive methods, GE seed, and synthetic inputs are safe and necessary to produce enough to feed a hungry world. In fact, conventional agriculture isn’t doing a very good job of feeding the world, but the problem is not one of yield.
Globally we produce enough to supply everyone on Earth with more than enough food energy per day. The problem is what we produce, how we use it, and how it is distributed.
A growing body of research shows that organic crops can return the same yields as conventionally grown crops, while using fewer inputs. Moreover, they may perform better under drought conditions.
Organic farmers have achieved this through their own refinement of production methods, based on years of careful observation and experimentation and a farmer-to-farmer exchange of knowledge. They have done this largely independent of the billions of federal and industry dollars that have been directed to research that benefits conventional agriculture, with its heavy reliance on petrochemical inputs.
With even a modest increase in funding for research to improve yield, develop seed varieties, and refine preventive practices for livestock health, there’s no telling what organic agriculture could become.
Despite promises that genetic engineering would help feed a hungry world, any yield gains attributable to biotechnology have been modest at best. This is not surprising, given that GE seeds were developed to be herbicide tolerant (HT), not to increase intrinsic yield. Planting HT crops has not reduced the rate of herbicide use, but it has led to a proliferation of HT “super weeds.” Many GE crops—including corn and soybeans—have been developed for livestock feed, biofuel, and for use in high fructose corn syrup, not to improve human nutrition.
Organic is synonymous with GE-free, but it is so much more. Organic farming safeguards water quality, builds soil organic matter and nutrients, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, eliminates antibiotic use, emphasizes humane care and preventive treatments for livestock and poultry, and protects biodiversity. It supports small and mid-scale family farms and reduces exposure to pesticides. Because the organic label is backed up by a rigorous annual verification and inspection process, consumers can have confidence in how organic food and products are produced.
Supporters of organic farming are not driven by anti-technology attitudes nor are they advocating that we go backwards. Far from it. Our collective ability to progress—indeed, our future—depends squarely on our good stewardship of the natural resources on which we all depend. Organic farming is a way forward, and a long-term solution for nourishing our farming communities, feeding our families, and protecting our soil, air, and water.