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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