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Organic Farm (Photo Credit: Erica Wohldmann)

Organic Farm (Photo Credit: Erica Wohldmann)

There’s a myth about organic farming that needs to be put to rest once and for all. The notion that organic farming cannot feed the world, and that we must rely on industrialized conventional farming if we are to feed our growing population, is simply not true.

Finally, clean food lovers and environmentalists can point to data that debunk this long-standing myth. Researchers in Iowa and California recently provided evidence for what organic farmers around the world have known for centuries. Organic farming methods have nearly the same yield as pesticide-intensive conventional methods, plus, organic produce garners up to twice the revenue.

Sustainable food advocates are very enthusiastic about the latest findings, and appropriately so. After all, a 2006 U.S. Geological Survey found that more than 90% of all rivers and streams tested positive for agricultural chemicals, with most of those containing 10 or more different compounds. More than 850,000 people living on or near conventional farms bathe in and drink well and aquifer water that is contaminated with unsafe levels of nitrates. Agricultural chemicals are even found in human breast milk. The public knows that pesticides and herbicides are not healthy for our bodies or our planet.

So who isn’t excited about these findings? The chemical manufacturers, of course, and others who support and promote conventional farming, such as Monsanto, Cargill, and Syngenta. The UK National Farmers Union, the American Farm Bureau, and the American Soybean Association. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, USAID, and even NASA has gotten involved in the debate about how to feed the world. They all want you to believe that agribusiness, industrial manufacturers and producers of food and farming chemicals and patented seeds, are the only ones who can stave off the impending famine that is sure to come if we listen to environmentalists.

Highlighting the challenge we face as our population rises—expected to exceed 9 billion in the next 30 years—is their primary focus. Leaders of these companies and organizations use every opportunity to warn consumers and policy makers that large-scale industrial conventional farming is our only hope for food security now and in the future. They use every means of spreading this lie—social media, press releases, videos, and commercials. They spend millions of dollars fighting anti-GMO labeling laws in states that successfully get measures on election ballots.

But the rational for the existence of agribusiness, that organic farming is inferior to their toxic chemical infused approach, is fundamentally flawed.

Food waste is the real problem.

Food Waste (Stockcube/Bigstock.com)

Food Waste (Stockcube/Bigstock.com)

There is no local or global shortage of food, and there likely never will be. World hunger is not caused by a food shortage. Experts at the World Bank Institute agree, acknowledging that we currently produce enough food to feed 14 billion people.

If we could find ways to distribute affordable food to the people who need it, then we would end world hunger today.

Take India as an example. There are almost 1 billion hungry people globally, and one-quarter of them live in India. However, largely because of agricultural innovations and farm subsidies, India produces so much food that they have stockpiles bigger than any other country except China.

In most places, food shortages are not the cause of hunger. It’s corruption, mismanagement, and waste. In China, the U.S., Europe, Australia, South America—landfills are chock full of food.

Food waste is costing us a fortune, not to mention our healthy planet.

The estimated food loss in the U.S. in 2010 was $161.6 billion, not including the cost of disposal. This equates to 141 trillion calories, trashed. That’s more than double the number of calories needed every day to feed our country’s 75 million children.

In addition to financial losses, food waste contributes to numerous environmental problems. In fact, if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, following the U.S. and China.

That’s because food buried in a landfill is a significant source of methane – a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In the U.S., landfills account for more than 20% of all methane emissions. Added to that is the fact that 13% of all greenhouse gases produced in the U.S. are associated with growing, making, transporting, and disposing of food. Since we throw away 30-40% of all the food we grow in this country, reducing food waste could significantly reduce greenhouse gases associated with agriculture.

So, listen up. If you like to drink clean water, eat healthy and pesticide-free, non-GMO food – If you like the idea of supporting families and farmers more than corporate executives – If you see value in biodiversity, trees and other animals – If want to bequeath a healthy planet to our future generations – Then you need to make exposing the lies of agribusiness your top priority.

We need to go beyond organic labels. We need organic everything.

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2 Responses

  1. TJ says:

    Food waste is an ENORMOUS problem in this country. We waste more at the consumer level than any other country.

    Individually it’s an easy fix. Don’t ever waste food and don’t ever waste water. Simple. And if you need some help appreciating those things put yourself in a position where they’re not available.

    And while I’m absolutely in favor of organic farming the fact is that it’s currently either unaffordable or inaccessible for most people. It’s hard to blame the farmers given the hurdles they face on many fronts but it’s equally hard to blame the consumers.

    I do take a little exception to the line about ending world hunger. “If we could find ways to distribute affordable food to the people who need it..” Yeah well, if we could develop perpetual motion machines…

    As I see it SOME GMO’s have kept people alive. Not everyone has access to the soil and conditions we do in the U.S. and the ability to plant certain kinds of crops in areas devastated by environmental conditions has been enormously beneficial. So I think lumping the Gates’ in to this conversation, given the fact that they’ve given billions to tiny farms in Sub Saharan Africa where the option is drought resistant seeds or death, isn’t fair.

    This was an excellent article and I sure hope everyone reading it thinks twice before not finishing ALL their food or leaving the water on when they’re brushing their teeth.

    Oh…F Monsanto and Roundup.

  2. Erica Wohldmann says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. As for your suggestion that solving our food distribution problems are as difficult as developing “perpetual motion machines,” I beg to differ. To quote the great hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, “I have a dream.” Solutions to problems that seem impossible to solve come forth when regular people think up great ideas.

    Voyager 1, launched in 1977, has traveled 122 astronomical units (11.3 billion miles or 18.2 billion kilometers) from the sun as of 2012. How’s that for impossible?

    Pretty soon, I’ll be able to travel from my home in LA to San Francisco in just 35 minutes: http://www.cnbc.com/id/102289237 How’s that for impossible?

    And, yes, many organizations do good things, but doing good doesn’t excuse bad behavior, and I’m not sure why we fall for that. Investing millions in a technology that has proven to be problematic (GMO seeds) and prohibits seed-saving traditions used since agriculture began is frightening to me. See here for more:
    http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2010/sep/29/gates-foundation-gm-monsanto

    Finally, GMO seeds do not perform better than the good old seeds we’ve been using since… forever. They do not get better yields, they are not more drought tolerant, and they do not require fewer chemicals – they do encourage super weeds. I’ve pulled those weeds myself. See this article in the prestigious journal Nature for more: http://www.nature.com/news/cross-bred-crops-get-fit-faster-1.15940?WT.ec_id=NATURE-20140918

    I appreciate the food you gave my brain. These dialogues are what we need to move forward. Clearly, we both want better. Let’s make it happen, together.

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