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The non-organic future

A ladybug crawls on an organic bean plant growing in the land between tarmacs at the former El Toro Marine base in Orange County, Calif.

Tess Vigeland: The United Nations says a billion people go hungry on this planet each day. And the overall population is growing. Experts expect we'll top 9 billion by 2045. The looming question: How to feed everyone with limited resources? This week, several major foundations -- including Ford and Gates -- launched a $3 million a year initiative aimed at figuring out how to come up with the food we need.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Adriene Hill looks at what the answer might involve -- and what it might not.


Adriene Hill: The farmers markets in Los Angeles these days are piled high with organic strawberries and kale. To the contented shoppers, this is what the future should be -- fruits and veggies grown on small farms, nearby the city. But, get over it. This isn't the future -- not if we want to feed everyone.

Pedro Sanchez: If you ask me point blank whether organic-based farming is better than conventional, my answer is no.

That's Columbia University's Pedro Sanchez.

Sanchez: There are just too many of us, we just need too many nutrients.

And those nutrients come from plants that need nutrients that organic fertilizers can't always provide.

Sanchez: It's like a bank account, you've got to have a positive balance.

And if you deposit only organics he says...

Sanchez: You're going to go broke.

One reason experts say organic farming isn't the big-scale answer...

Mark Rosegrant: Organic production tends to have somewhat lower yields compared to non-organics.

Mark Rosegrant is with the International Food Policy Research Institute, an organization focused on sustainable ways to end hunger. He says going all organic would require a whole lot more land. Organic farming is, Rosegrant says, a niche market. It's not bad, per se, but...

Rosegrant: It's not an important part of the overall process to feed 9 billion people.

The Economist recently had a special issue on global food supplies. One piece ended with the thought that the reaction against commercial farming -- with it's dependence on chemicals -- is "a luxury of the rich."

So what does the future of farming look like? Rosegrant thinks that genetically-modified crops have to play a part -- especially as pollution causes the planet warms up.

Rosegrant: I think we do think it's part of the toolbox going forward, that for example to get some of the drought tolerance or other kinds of heat tolerance.

The future may also involve more creative farming.


Organic squash grows in the land between tarmacs at the former El Toro Marine base in Orange County, Calif.

AG Kawamura: We're in the middle of what used to be the El Toro Marine base. We're on an airport actually, and we're farming in the open areas between the tarmac.

AG Kawamura is a third-generation farmer. He also is the former California secretary of Agriculture. The afternoon sun bounces off concrete runways and rows of small organic yellow squash. Kawamura and his brother grow organic and conventional crops.

Kawamura: Globally, the idea, it's going to be a big tent. There's big agriculture, small agriculture, there's room for all.

When you grow lots of food, in lots of ways, in lots of places, Kawamura says, droughts and floods and bugs that chomp down on crops become less of a problem. The future may also involve eating differently.

Mark Bittman: We need to address what diet looks like in the developed world and what diet looks like in the developing world, and how to sort of balance things out.

Mark Bittman is a food columnist for the New York Times and the author of "The Food Matters Cookbook." His mantra -- more veggies, less meat. Animals takes a lot more water and food to grow than plants.

Bittman: We hear a lot about how the Chinese are eating more like us, but the reality is we need to be eating more like the Chinese.

For the billion of underfed people in the world today, there are a billion-and-a-half that are overweight. That too needs to change, Bittman says, as we all start thinking more about what we eat.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

Vigeland: When do you buy organic? Adriene asked each of her experts that question. For their answers, and to share yours -- take a look at her blog post.


Read: A note from the editor

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.
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The Facts are: Monsanto chemicals used on GMO crops cause birth defects, brain damage, obesity, pollution, sterilization of mothers and degradation of soil life. People are still hungry in this world because the limitations and problems of our current distribution system, which will only get worse. Organic farming is the only way of a sustainable future.

appalling, disappointing, regretful, sad, soo sad. I will not be donating anymore money to npr!

Bought and paid for... like all the rest. For shame, for shame. Oh the glory of a capitalist society.

this is a sad statement of where American Public Media is headed? From the Sustainability desk no less?

I listen to Marketplace every morning and afternoon. It is part of my ritual. However, I was on vacation the week this aired and just caught wind of it. As others have stated, I'm deeply disappointed and find this piece highly irresponsible.

Monsanto uses scare tactics and millions of dollars in court fees to silence farmers and enslave them into using their products. Because of Monsanto, 93% of soybean and 80% of corn crops belong to them. GMO soybean and corn crops to be exact. And because they hold this patent, whenever Monsanto’s seed contaminate non-Monsanto crops, Monsanto sues the farmers for patent infringement!!!

Shame on you for accepting Monsanto propaganda and reporting it as fact.

This is completely irresponsible and damaging journalism.

I have long been disappointed in NPR over its lack of coverage on holistic health. Now I cannot trust it on agriculture.

This is not the first time I have been disappointed in biased content on NPR radio waves. Let's just say that NPR has slowly evolved into a corporate shill of its own. I think it all started back in the Bush era when the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which funds public radio and tv) outed Bill Moyers as he eloquently spoke out against the Iraq War in his show "Now". Good bye unbiased media. The only thing left now are the bloggers. All MSM is tainted.

Howdy,

In Baltimore in the 1850's there was a political gang called the Plug Uglies. Basically they were used by the powers to be to beat up and intimidate the public who had views different than the powers to be.

In a sense this and other media attack on Organic's reminds me of their tactics.

The problem with this report is that it is long on sound bites and real short on facts.

The facts in this debate between Industrial Ag and Organics often seems to be disregarded on this question of how to feed the world. Actually I believe the answer is closer to something else all together agro-ecological farming which tends to lie in the organic camp.

Some facts about growing systems: For 150 years now at the Rothamsted Experimental Station, UK they have been doing comparisons between a manure based system (organic) and a chemical based, synthetic fertilizers based systems (industrial ag) Wheat yields are shown to be on average slightly higher in the organically fertilized plots (3.45 tones/hectare) than the plots receiving chemical fertilizers (3.40 tones/hectare). More importantly though, soil fertility, measured as soil organic matter and nitrogen levels, increased by 120% over 150 years in the organic plots, compared with only 20% increase in chemically fertilized plots (Jenkinson, 1994)

John Teasdale USDA Beltsville Research Center

Our results suggest that systems that incorporate high amounts of organic inputs from manure and cover crops can improve soils more than conventional no-tillage systems despite reliance
on a minimum level of tillage. Our results suggest that, if adequate weed control could be achieved in reduced tillage organic systems, they would be capable of providing improved soil quality with yield-enhancing benefits compared with conventional no-tillage systems.

Weed Control - The late Dr. Willam Albrecht, a soil scientist at the University of Missouri research indicate various ways an organic farmer can control weeds the chief being to increase soil fertility to the optimum range of the crop being grown.

Recently the United Nations completed a study on this very issue of how to feed the world, Agro-ecology and the Right to Food http://www.srfood.org/images/stories/pdf/officialreports/20110308_a-hrc-... .

That study strongly suggest based on the evidence agro-ecology not industrial ag should be the focus of world in feeding itself.

Check out the recent winner of the Buckminster Fuller's award work in Africa.

Hopefully the rest of the world will follow the prevailing facts based on in the field research.

In the US it is doubtful the powers to be, will let such a solution happen until a disaster like a famine or virus from the genetically modified food occurs since agro-ecology isn't green according to their definition of green which centers on greenbacks.

For back ground I am part of an effort to create a agro-ecological farm in Baltimore about 250 yards north of the City on a spot missed by developers. We raise sheep, goats and poultry. We also grow fruits, vegetables and flowers. We are USDA organic but to is that is a floor not a ceiling.

The farm is 6 blocks from a Starbucks and Whole Food Store yet we need livestock guard dogs due to coyotes and black bears as well as neighborhood dogs. A young black bear was killed about a mile from us last year crossing the Interstate.

The local authorities have tried everything in their power to shut us down including making up rules and regulations that don't appear written down anywhere and were used to apply only to us and none of the other 700 or so conventional farms in the county, to more recently conducting one of the most abusive eminent domain proceedings you would ever wish to observe, makes the Kelo case look like kindergarten. Apparently due process is no long a right

I listed the above so if I have any bias you can figure it out for yourself.

Finally I question the very supposition of the report ..."But, get over it. This isn't the future (organics) -- not if we want to feed everyone." who is we and why would WE want to feed everyone.

Does everyone include the Taliban, Omar Kadaffi or the dude in North Korea.

Think biotechnology plays an essential role in feeding the future? Think again.
Monsanto blatantly lies about their stance and influence on sustainable agriculture on their website, saying that
[people] around the world depend on agriculture and the hard work of farmers for their most basic needs. With global population expected to grow by 40 percent in the next few decades, agriculture will need to become more productive and more sustainable in order to keep pace with rapidly increasing demands.
Sustainable agriculture is at the core of Monsanto. We are committed to developing the technologies that enable farmers to produce more crops while conserving more of the natural resources that are essential to their success.
Producing more. Conserving more. Improving lives. That’s sustainable agriculture. And that’s what Monsanto is all about.
In reality, Monsanto Corporation has an extremely negative influence on existing sustainable systems of agriculture, while imposing a notoriously unsustainable food production take over.
Monsanto is wrong for using an increase in the human population as a reason for their necessity. The women of the world have been giving birth to progressively fewer infants since the 1950’s (Lappé, p. 26). At the same time, population and its growth have been found to have no correlation with a nation’s number of hungry citizens. Regions such as South Korea, Central America, and the Caribbean have highly concentrated populations. Still, they do not have nearly as many of their citizens go hungry as, for example, Bangladesh and Ethiopia, which have much more agricultural land per citizen (Lappé, p. 28).
Although biotechnology industries such as Monsanto claim to improve yields, the yields of the genetically engineered crops tend to be quite inferior to traditional crops. This has been exemplified well in India, the world’s third largest producer of cotton (Robin). Monsanto promoted their Bt Cotton throughout India by claiming that it would decrease farmers’ needs for pesticides and improve their yields and the quality of their crops. These claims have been found to be demonstrably false. Agronomists Dr. Abdul Qayum and Kiran Sakkhari conducted a study surveying hundreds of Indian cotton farmers to compare the quality of genetically engineered cotton and natural cotton. On average, a switch from natural cotton to Bt cotton meant also a 35% reduction in yield (Robin, pp. 298-299). Scientists from the University of Arkansas conducted a similar study analyzing the productivity of soybeans that had been genetically engineered to survive Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, also known as Roundup Ready Soybeans. The study concluded that the root systems of these plants were constricted by as much as 25%. This will lead to a reduction in yield of several bushels (Garcia).
Due to the very nature of GMO’s, vast areas of land throughout the world have become designated to individual types of GMO crops. These crops have become known as monocrops, and they offer a threat of starvation themselves (Garcia). For instance, the potato blight of the 1840’s ravaged Ireland, resulting in over one million deaths (Lappé, p. 15). The vulnerability to such a famine had much to do with the fact that Ireland was mass-cultivating just a few kinds of potatoes at that time. These potatoes became diseased, and people starved because there was not much of an alternative source of food for them. The same disease reached Peru, but the Peruvian people did not suffer nearly as many losses. Although this particular strain of potato was lost, Peru harvested other types of potatoes and food crops that would not be destroyed by the blight (Garcia).
To begin cultivating genetically engineered crops is to enter a so-called “pesticide treadmill” (Garcia; Robin). Genetically modified organisms, by design, require more water, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides (Tietel, p. 119). As farmers increase their usage of these chemicals, the aforementioned pests and weeds evolve to develop resistances to them. This leads to farmers further increasing their usage of these chemicals. Many farmers also end up needing to switch from Roundup, which is very toxic, to the even more toxic chemical 2,4-D. This increases their costs consistently while polluting their land (Garcia). Roundup also sterilizes soil, leading to an increased need for chemical fertilizers (Tietel, p. 119; Robin, p. 265). Since so much of the area of Argentina is designated to growing Roundup Ready Soybeans, it is sprayed by dusting planes and tractors with Roundup at least twice a year (Robin, p. 265). One Argentinian farmer spoke of how he lost his chickens and ducks, manioc and sweet potatoes. His pigs had miscarriages or deformed offspring because of the Roundup (Robin, p. 269).
Monsanto has spent $8 billion on buying seed companies. In the 1990’s, the company began to patent seeds that had not been genetically modified. By exploiting the Patent Office’s decree allowing the patenting of life forms and infiltrating and exploiting government seed banks, Monsanto has gained over 11,000 patents (Garcia). This could lead to a disastrous scenario, and it has. Because the genes that code for resistance to Roundup and the production of Bt belong to Monsanto, Monsanto owns every plant that contains either of those genetic traits. This system has been proven to be extremely harmful to farmers such as Percy Schmeiser, Rodney Nelson, and Troy Roush, along with hundreds more (Garcia; Robin). Crops that have been genetically engineered, such as soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton, still follow the laws of plant behavior in that they reproduce through pollen that travels with the wind or human or other animal hosts. Now that GMO’s have entered the agricultural reality, they will, and, in fact, are entering the crops of farmers that want no part in the “Gene Revolution” (Garcia). Dr. Ignacio Chapela of the University of California in Berkley conducted a study that proved that this infiltration was a reality. In attempting to aid his fellow Mexican citizens to detect transgenic infiltration in their “land races” of food crops, specifically corn, Ignacio Chapela conducted a study. The study required an experimental axis of recognizably transgenic corn, which they acquired from the United States, as well as a non-transgenic control group, which they logically assumed that their “land races” would be. Dr. Chapela and his colleagues were amazed to discover that these “land races” of corn that had supposedly been maintained for thousands of years had already been contaminated by transgenic manipulations. This is the serious problem that has befallen hundreds of American and Canadian farmers ever since Monsanto gained its uncountable patents. Because these governments recognize these patents as “intellectual property” of Monsanto Corporation, natural cross-breeding has ultimately led to the destruction of hundreds of small farms. Percy Schmeiser’s case is a perfect example. What occurred was that farmer Percy Schmeiser had been growing and harvesting non-GMO canola plants for decades. His crops had become contaminated with transgenic DNA without his knowledge. This was discovered when Percy used Roundup in areas of his fields of canola in order to destroy the weeds there, and the canola plants did not die along with the weeds. Monsanto discovered that their patented gene had entered the Schmeiser farm unintentionally, and proceeded to illegally extract samples of the plot. Their goal was to convict Percy Schmeiser of patent infringement because his crops had been contaminated with their gene against his will. Monsanto sends out hundreds of letters each year to farmers complaining about the same exact problem. The vast majority of these farmers, recognizing the pseudo-omnipotence of the biotech giant, pay Monsanto the fees for patent infringement rather than fighting Monsanto’s claims in a court of law. The reason is that Monsanto, an obscenely wealthy company, has so much money that it has found that what benefits them the most is to “drag” the persecuted farmers, who are only worth a “few hundred thousand,” as detailed by Louise Schmeiser, through the legal system until the farmers can no longer pay their legal fees. Monsanto attempted to take advantage of Percy Schmeiser this way, and although it took longer than they were used to, they ended up prevailing. The judge ruled that, regardless of the method, Monsanto’s patented gene was present in Percy Schmeiser’s crops, and he had infringed on their patent. He stated that if farmers’ crops were contaminated by windblown pollen from trucks or other agricultural crops, those farmers could still be found guilty of patent infringement. The number of letters sent out to North American farmers that are of the same exact nature as the ones Percy Schmeiser and Troy Roush received has exceeded 9,000 (Garcia). The more seeds that are patented by biotechnology corporations such as Monsanto, the closer they get to monopolizing the world’s food supply, and the less available food crops and seeds become for poorer populations that depend on subsistence farming for survival. 1.5 billion people in developing countries depend on saving and replanting seeds in order to survive (Robin, p. 196). Monsanto Corporation has basically made this illegal in the United States, Canada, and Argentina, and they are attempting to spread this disease throughout the world (Robin). Currently, the biotechnology industry obtains two sorts of patented GMO’s that are available in our food supply today. They are Roundup resistance and the excretion of the Bt toxin. However, in the most amazingly brash diversion from sustainable agriculture imaginable, Monsanto is developing a technology that has gained the title “Terminator Technology” (Tietel, p. 32; Robin; Garcia). It is absolutely nothing short of amazing that biotechnology corporations such as Monsanto even dare to mention the issue of world hunger when they are simultaneously developing something like Terminator Technology. Monsanto Corporation prefers to use the term “Gene Use Restriction Technology” or GURT (Monsanto, 2011b). The purpose of GURT and the Terminator Gene is to protect the company’s patent from unlawful farmers who might save and replant their seeds. What it truly means is that these GMO’s will excrete a toxin that renders their seeds sterile. The result is that farmers become required to return to Monsanto every year to purchase new seeds. This is the most idyllic way imaginable to transform the entire planet’s agricultural institution into nothing more than the production of commodities for sales and exploitation. This is the exact reason why millions of people are starving and dying throughout our entire species’ population. I, personally, cannot even begin to wrap my head around the fact that such an evil corporation as Monsanto is worsening the issue of world hunger as quickly and greatly as they can, while exploiting it in order to gain support.
In order to offset the epidemic affecting millions of innocent people right now, one of the greatest things that could be done is to demolish the entire Monsanto Corporation. We must force our government officials to withdraw Monsanto’s corporate charter, sell off their assets, and dissolve into no longer being a company at all. They keep doing harm, and they keep lying to us about how they are going to help us, and they keep hurting us. It is insane. It is outrageous. It is time that we stop tolerating this. Eliminating Monsanto Corporation will not cure the epidemic of world hunger, but, as I pointed out earlier, this issue can only be helped by moving food away from an entirely economic commodity and toward a sustainable activity of impoverished individuals and families the world over. It is blatantly obvious that Monsanto continues to thrive by transforming every seed and every gram of edible matter into a commodity that they can patent and own and charge you for. They are an amazingly powerful factor in worsening the problem of world hunger. They need to be stopped.

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