Montenegro is an editor at Seed
FARMING - FACTS AND FICTIONS
scientist Robert Paarlberg sparked a small firestorm on the
web with an essay in Foreign Policy taking aim at the
organic, local, and slow food movements -- a “cause célèbre
that is advocating the wrong recipe for helping to feed those
who need it most.” Touching on topics he has written about
at length in two books (Starved for Science and Food
Politics), Paarlberg rejected claims that organic foods
are either more nutritious or safer to eat, and argued that
organic farming could turn out to be environmentally disastrous:
than one percent of American cropland is under organic production.
If the other 99 percent were to switch to organic and had to
fertilize crops without any synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, the
US cattle population would have to increase roughly fivefold.
And because those animals would have to be raised organically
on forage crops, much of the land in the lower 48 states would
need to be converted to pasture.” An all-organic Europe,
he writes, would need an additional 28 million hectares of cropland
-- equal to all of the remaining forest in France, Germany,
Britain, and Denmark.
biggest beef, however, has to do with the developing world,
and especially Africa. Elitist foodies in the US and Europe,
he believes, are promoting a low-tech approach to agriculture
that is effectively undermining African development. “A
new line of thinking has emerged that opposes bringing improved
seeds and fertilizers to traditional farmers and linking those
farmers to international markets,” he wrote, arguing that
such thinking poses a grave threat to global food security --
and is all the more absurd considering that Africans already
have a de-facto organic food system, where food is purchased
and sold locally, uses very little chemical inputs, and is prepared
in a painfully slow fashion.
we are going to get serious about solving global hunger, we
need to de-romanticize our view of pre-industrial food and farming,”
Paarlberg wrote. “And that means learning to appreciate
the modern, science-intensive, and highly capitalized agricultural
system we’ve developed in the West.”
surprisingly, Paarlberg’s piece elicited immediate outcry
from the alternative agriculture community. In addition to the
flurry of comments on Foreign Policy’s own website, and
experts writing extensive critiques on e-mail listservs, there
was a formal rebuttal published the following day by Anna Lappé,
daughter of the renowned environmental justice activist Frances
Moore Lappé and co-founder of the Small Planet Institute.
counter-argument centered on a number of scientific studies
indicating that it is indeed possible to feed the world using
a variety of organic and agro-ecological methods of farming.
She pointed to a multi-year, multi-disciplinary study by Catherine
Badgely and colleagues at the University of Michigan, which
concluded that a hypothetical worldwide alternative agriculture
system could produce between 95 and 157 percent of the calories
presently produced -- without agricultural expansion and with
no net increased use of resources. Researchers at the University
of Essex who analyzed 287 projects in 57 countries found similar
improvements with a transition to less resource-intensive agriculture.
And the seminal IAASTD report -- engaging 400 scientists and
development experts from 80 nations over a period of four years
-- also determined that “resource-extractive industrial
agriculture is risky and unsustainable, particularly in the
face of worsening climate, energy, and water crises.”
Magazine, we’ve long been fascinated
by the intense debate over the future of food. What does “sustainable
agriculture” truly mean -- and what should it look like?
Given the tensions between achieving global food security and
limiting the environmental impacts of food production, what
kind of system can meet both challenges? And as we watched this
most recent media eruption play out, we were frustrated by what
appears to be ongoing orange-to-apples comparisons. One person’s
definition of “organic” was not the same as another’s.
Some peer-reviewed studies show that organic and agro-ecological
farming can feed the world in 2050. Other, seemingly equally
valid studies, indicate that this can’t possibly be true.
an effort to make sense of conflicting information, and to get
beyond the tit-for-tat towards meaningful dialogue, Seed
invited Dr. Paarlberg to participate in an Oxford-style debate
with Dr. M. Jahi Chappell, a co-author on the Badgely paper
that supported an important role for organic agriculture in
contributing to the global food supply.
the results, please consult the following links:
Row Over Raw Food
Drowning in Plastic
Phone Users Beware
Over Olive Oil
and Your Toxicity
and Salmon Lice
Soya Bean Conspiracy
Red Meat Take the Heat?