I’ve decided to boycott organic food. Mostly I’m just ironically flipping the practice of boycotting food on its head. No, I’m
not going to boycott food made from nasty, unnatural GM; I’m not boycotting food that treats animals cruelly and I’m not boycotting food made by exploited labourers in Cote d’Ivoire.
Instead I’m boycotting organic food: food synonymous with the wholesome and the natural. Food that is soaked and permeated with social responsibility and environmental sustainability. But alas, organic food is actually a terrible idea. No one likes pragmatism to get in the way of a good moral crusade, but unfortunately organic food really takes the cake for environmental and social destructiveness.
This is of course the real irony. Food that gives its consumers such a sense of moral and political superiority is in fact utterly counterproductive to the goals that seem implicit in its very terminology.
Even if we put aside the fact that the label “organic” is incredibly lightly regulated, the concept of eschewing agricultural technology in the hope of saving the environment is horrendously counterproductive.
Regardless of the soothing, verdant and rustic images that pop into your mind when one walks into Life Organic Newtown, the reality is altogether different. The avoidance of effective agricultural techniques does very little other than to increase
the land use required to produce the same quantity of food.
Given that one of our biggest environmental challenges is the increasing scarcity of wilderness areas, this is a pretty big deal.
If we really want long-term environmental solutions, we need better (read, less organic) farming practices that allow for more intensive use of land, with higher yields for smaller areas.
The whole organic movement flies completely in the face of this. The consequence being that it perpetuates the movement of
humans towards the geographic limits of our ability to continue to produce the material goods that our society needs.
The worst flow-on effect of this, however, is that it is horrendously bad for people in poverty. If we want to provide everyone with cheap and plentiful food, just about the worst way to do that is to eschew the very types of technologies that increase our ability to produce such food.
In fact, the main consequence of purchasing organic food is to ensure that agricultural land is used less efficiently, and therefore that the global supply of food is lower. This in turn raises the price of food, and makes it more difficult for the impoverished to feed themselves.
Perhaps even more importantly, by creating an organic culture in Western countries, technological innovations that make agriculture more productive are encouraged less, and corporations will be less incentivised to invest in productivity enhancing agricultural techniques.
The world needs more food, quickly. We need to feed the hungry in poor countries now, and we need to deal with the challenges of a growing population. Strangling agricultural productivity with the idealistic pursuit of organic food is utterly counterproductive to this aim.
The taste benefits are spurious to say the least. What actually happens when you buy organic is that more children in India go
without a meal, and more wilderness gets cleared to make way for vast industrial agriculture. Bring on GM, bring on pesticides, bring on mechanisation. If you want a food-secure future, we need to take steps forward. Global food solutions are probably worth losing the images of flowing rivers and tranquil trees that one conjures up