Letters: The non-organic future

Letters in a computer with red mailbox flag

Kai Ryssdal: OK -- your turn. The story on the broadcast that got the most comments over the past week -- by far -- was one that went in search of the answer to this question: Can organic farming feed the world? We took as our point of departure a report from the British government that said, no, organic agriculture by itself can't do it. Chemical fertilizers and, yes, genetically modified crops (GMOs), are going to have to be used as well.

That's when the emails started. Most in defense of organics, like this one, from David Robinson of Denver.

David Robinson: Sustainable organic farming creates jobs, produces better quality food, reduces the need for shipping food long distances, reduces the dependence on oil, has no need for chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, returns more prosperity to local economies and contributes more to overall health.

Amanda Heyman of Minneapolis wrote to detail some of the drawbacks of GMOs: farmers having to buy new seeds every year, and herbicides building up in waterways.

Amanda Heyman: What is actually needed is funding for localized crop breeding that will produce seeds best suited for particular environments. Those seeds will have the best shot at weathering climate change and feeding the world, not GMO seeds.

Not everybody was critical. Tyler Martikainen-Watcke of Reading, Penn., says the shift from subsistence farming to agribusiness has been a boon overall.

Tyler Martikainen-Watcke: I agree we need to move away from petroleum-based fertilizers, but I fear that compost and mined nitrates will not be enough. Instead, I think scientists will come up with a GM solution. It's the low labor input required in 'conventional' farming that has allowed many to move away from the farm, and led America to prosper.

One last thought about that story. No small number of the emails about it -- about a third or so -- said we ran it just because we used to get underwriting support from Monsanto. That was more than a year ago. And just for the record, underwriters have no say in what goes on the air.

Here's an editor's note explaining why we actually did run the piece.

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Thank you for the opportunity to respond and for posting my response. I was glad to see in your "A note from the editor on the 'The non-organic future' that you do intend to do a series of in depth articles in the future. When you do this I will hope that you look in depth into the actual science of genetic modification and into the depth of scientific opinions. GM as it exists today is not precise or controllable. In fact the very process of producing GM foods is unpredictable and destructive. In the words of Dr David Suzik, PHd, a renowned geneticist."Any politician or scientist who tells you these products are safe is either very stupid or lying. The hazards of these foods are uncertain. In view of our enormous ignorance, the premature application of biotechnology is downright dangerous."

Note here that the primary concern is the "premature application" and in this lies the greatest public concern and the greatest danger to humanity. We are dealing with life forms that are not natural in their nature, being introduced into a fragile but balanced ecosystem where everything is connected. In truth, we may need the biotech of the future, based on good science, long term studies and improved understanding to correct some of the severe damage that has already been done to the natural order and the reduction of diversity. GM as it exist today is a travesty foisted upon the world population without their knowledge and a dangerous experiment based not on good science but on the desire to increase profits and control today without consideration for long term consequences.

Look also at the role played by the FDA, EPA and USDA in the story and the conflicts that exist, the overriding of their own scientists legitimate concerns by bureaucrats and political appointees in order to favor the desires of industry instead. It is not that biotechnology will never be useful, that remains to be seen, but as it exists today it is a clear and present danger.

I would recommend in your research to look at the works of Jeffery Smith with his books "Seeds of Deception" and "Genetic Roulette" these would be good primers to kick off your future research and give you good ideas on where to look for real science based facts.


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