Organic foods won’t help efforts to create a truly sustainable agriculture

Maywa Montenegro in Seed:

Fresh-vegetables When delegates from 192 nations arrive in Copenhagen in December for the UN COP15 summit, they will confront a 181-page draft negotiation text, 2,000 bracketed passages still in dispute, and just 11 days in which to come to some sort of consensus. To power them through these discussions, Denmark has promised a smorgasbord of ecologically minded fare: All water will be tap (not bottled), tea and coffee will be fair trade, and the food menu will be no less than 65 percent organic.

Though undoubtedly well-intentioned, this last provision is troubling, but not because anyone really cares about the provenance of Ban Ki-Moon’s turnip greens. Rather, it suggests a willful and dangerous ignorance about the tenuous state of global agriculture, and the prospects for feeding 9 billion people while also addressing biodiversity loss, water shortage, and, yes, climate change. Organic foods are enjoying skyrocketing popularity in the US and Europe, as are their ill-defined sidekicks, “natural,” “whole,” and “real” foods. Yet popular notions that these foods—and the agriculture that begets them—are at once better for people and for the planet turn out to be largely devoid of experimental support. Worse still, “organophilia” tends to go hand-in-hand with technophobic skepticism towards the very sorts of scientific approaches most likely to supercharge an ailing food system while leaving our planet intact.

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