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Corporate Organic Reprise - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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November 11th, 2006


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04:27 pm - Corporate Organic Reprise
I recently talked with teaotter about organic food and the rapid increase in large corporations growing organic food, and in addition to agreeing with me, she also had some points that helped make the situation clearer and more simple than I presented in this post.

In addition to killing off numerous animals and plants, destroying land, poisoning groundwater, and making food that both doesn't taste as good and is less safe, conventional agriculture also poisons the environment in ways that kill people. The vast amounts of herbicides, pesticides, and artificial fertilizers used in conventional agriculture are a very bad thing indeed. Eliminating them is good for both the planet and for us. Currently, organic farming is a small boutique industry and its existence does almost nothing to reduce the total amount of herbicides, pesticides, and artificial fertilizers being used (both in the US and worldwide). Having Wal-Mart (for all their obvious vileness), Safeway (a union store that I'm happy to shop in), and all manner of other mainstream grocery stores carrying organic food means that the total amount of herbicides, pesticides, and artificial fertilizers being used will dramatically decrease, because the scale of organic farming will dramatically increase.

Yes, corporations will cheat or attempt to cheat - they always do. However, they will also get caught and fined and based on past experience with other laws, I would very much doubt that they will cheat on more than 5% of the total food. According to current law, food needs to be made from 95% organic ingredients to be labeled organic. So, assuming the worst case, food labeled organic uses 90% less herbicides, pesticides, and artificial fertilizers than conventionally grown food. If 1/3 of US food becomes organic (definitely possible) that's a total reduction of 30% in the amount of dangerous chemicals used in farming. Also, both cost reductions due to economies of scale and increasing demand because much organic food simply tastes better, the total may end up being even higher than 1/3 of food consumed in the US.

This could all happen within the next 5 years (and is starting now). No other alternative that I've heard of and that is remotely possible has any chance of cutting the total amount of herbicide, pesticide, and artificial fertilizer use by 30% (or even 15%) in the next 5 years. Perhaps long-term changes in agriculture, corporate economics, or laws can change the entire situation dramatically in two or more decades, but all of the ideas in books like The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, or Organic Inc. by Samuel Fromartz may be sound, but they don't change the fact that on when it comes to poisoning the environment, change now beats the heck out of change later, and having large corporations producing food that is considerably less harmful to the environment in no way prevents later and better changes. I'm very much a fan of making the changes you can now, while also working those you can't achieve now. Essentially, I regard dismissing or protesting positive changes now because these changes aren't everything you might want as being exceptionally counter-productive and also as allowing ideology to get in the way of practical, immediate gains. In any case, I would be very interested to know if and why anyone disagrees with this argument.

(4 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:bruceb
Date:November 12th, 2006 05:40 am (UTC)
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Very noisy agreement. We need to reward good behavior, or there's no macro-level incentive to engage in it. The desire of the good for its own sake is great, but in the meantime, people will be making decisions based on much more pragmatic and materialistic considerations. Well, I can play that game too. And I think that a move toward the mainstream of organic foods is likely to help prepare some of the, er, ground for serious consideration of deeper measures. At a minimum it's not going to hurt.
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From:heronheart
Date:November 12th, 2006 03:14 pm (UTC)
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I would agree that overall it's probably a good thing that the corporations are going into organic food. But I also think that people who really want to support the environment and good food need to stick with locally, sustainably grown foods. Also, let's remember that the corporations aren't going into organics because they believe in it. The small organic farmers and stores have been growing their market share by 20% per year. The big stores *have* to get into organics or start losing their customers. To me, organics in big stores are a wedge issue that allows us to start educating people about how food is grown, packaged and sold.
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From:heron61
Date:November 12th, 2006 06:54 pm (UTC)
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The small organic farmers and stores have been growing their market share by 20% per year.

True, but there are also absolute limits on how much food they can produce. Such farms simply aren't set up to be able to supply grain or many of the other large-scale commodities, and those are where most pesticides and herbicides are used.
[User Picture]
From:heronheart
Date:November 12th, 2006 07:31 pm (UTC)
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There are lots of small organic grain growers out there and as they are gaining more market share, more small farmers are converting to organic. In fact, one of the biggest problems the organic grain farmers have is that their fields are being "polluted" with pollen and seeds from genetically modified crops, thereby endangering their certification.

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