Brian Gardner's Blog

Whether or not organic farming can feed the future world is one of the big questions of agricultural and environmental politics. It is of major importance to the future development of European and developed world agriculture and of even greater importance for the food-short less developed countries. The question of how the agriculture industries of both developed and undeveloped countries are able to provide enough food for the extra 2-3 billion people who will live on the planet by 2050 is of paramount importance.

It is difficult to understand therefore, why the devout followers of the organic farming faith spend so much of their intellectual energy on rubbishing the findings of economists and scientists who have sough to define the scale of this problem and suggest possible solutions. Recently, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has been subject to amazingly rabid attacks from most notably Greenpeace and the UK Soil Association. The basis of these assaults has been the FAO’s conclusion that the world’s food supply needs to increase by between 70 and 100 per cent between now and 2050.

The organic food lobby claim that these estimates have been used by governments and others to press for significant – as they see it, harmful – intensification of agriculture and the stepping up of production. This automatically assumes that peasants breaking their backs with primitive hand tools and planting ‘traditional’ types of low yielding crops is obviously ‘better’ than their using tractors and the latest most productive plant varieties. It is an attitude that displays an amazing high-handedness.

What is important is that if the FAO is only half right in its prognosis, the world still needs to increase its food supplies by hundreds of millions of tonnes over the next forty years – something that will definitely not be achieved by adopting the organic gospel as laid down by the disciples of the SA’s Lord Peter Melchett.

What is certain is that the combined effect of population growth, rising incomes and intensified urbanisation, will result in almost the doubling of demand for food by 2050. What is most politically – if not morally – important is that demand for food will certainly double in the regions of the world where the need for more food is greatest. FAO continues to forecast that the demand for food will just about double in developing countries by 2050 and by that date some 80% of the world‟s population will live in such countries. It is also imperative that the food supply of those millions suffering from malnutrition is increased to at least a minimum standard.

Approximately three quarters of the needed increase in production could come from increased yields, according to FAO, but only by improved farming methods and use of the best technology. Such a target would not be reached by accepting the 20+ per cent drop in yields resulting from ‘going organic’. The Soil Associations basic ‘belief’ is that organic farming could feed the world in 2050m without the use of GM crops or more intensive farming. But it remains just that: a belief with little scientific evidence to support the claim.

Far from assuming “a ghastly starvation and obesity vision of the future” as stigmatised by Melchett announcing the SA’s critique of the FAO analysis, it is a stark warning of what will happen if the agriculturally under-developed countries of the world do not rapidly adopt new and improved agricultural techniques. The arrogance of Melchett’s statement is breathtaking. The 800,000 undernourished people of the world would no doubt welcome the opportunity to risk obesity.

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  1. Interesting comments. Pity about the use of terms that have not been defined like ”SA” which has no definition and which seems to be South Africa, or indeed the reference to a ”Lord Peter Melchett” where since again this is very confusing because we can understand a persons name but have not heard of a person with a first name ”Lord.”

    Your article raises several issues and adds fuel to others.

    In paragraph no 1 you suggest that the population will rise by around 3 or 3 billion by 2050! I am not sure where this figure arises as it seems large. You make no reference as to its validity.

    Your second paragraph throws in to the discussion that to meet the needs of providing food to meet the perceived needs of the larger population (which may have increased by between 30 to 40% or so) the required food output would have to be increased by anywhere between 70 and 100%! Surely this is fanciful in all the extremes of logic. Even with a third of the population living within the tenets of being under-nourished by 50% the mathematics surrounding the idea that to meet the needs of the changed population to ramp up nourishment to parity across all the Nations is beholden to be unfounded.

    An increase in population of 40% at current rates of nutrition supply of food will require an increase in production roughly 20% higher than the proportionate population increase. The average human being does not need the calorie intake of the USA or Canada and whilst they are (seemingly?) apparently seen as the model for the matching image in the subsequent paragraphs about food needs the likelihood of balancing the rest of the world toward that area is a nonsense.

    The Chinese and Indians have shown that it is possible to manipulate the breeding of crops very successfully without tinkering with the aims of ”genetically modifying” crops and animals as desired by the USA. Yes there is a need to protect food from being manipulated by Genetic Modification but the greatest issue comes from other areas.

    Please remember that after all these years Cattle and Pigs grown in the USA and Canada are still tainted with diseases.

    The prion disease BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephelopathy) in cattle is endemic in the USA and Canada. Imagine the horrors and the concern when you hear the following…”’a family firm who owns a rendering company in Ohio (USA) is asked the question..”What do you do with the fats and offal and the likes from the plant?”…and then….”Is it used to make Biodiesel?”….the reply was given to the Press….”No!”….”It is made in to high protein cattle food!” For this isn’t an isolated event! The same is apparently equally the same for Pork in the USA with Scrapie where systematically they return abattoir waste back to the Pigs as high protein food additive! Both these two Prion-Based diseases are transmissible between species: is it any wonder therefore that proportion of CJD (Creutzfeld Jacobs Disease) in humans has not been eradicated? Is it any wonder therefore that the Public are askance at the thought of eating food made in the USA (beef-burgers, hot dogs etc..etc..) when these base diseases are so rife? Is it any wonder therefore that bans exist in some of the European Countries against importing meat from the USA/Canada because of this real need to protect the Public.

    And again with Milk produced in the USA there is much concern. Milk in the USA is promoted extensively but it is obtained from cows that are systematically pumped up with huge amounts of the hormone BST (Bovine Sumata Tropin) in order to increase yields by over 40% per cow! As yet we do not know the full result of this on humans but there is a concern that the result will be a decrease in fertility of men by over 60% in 10 years time if the practice continues. And again this milk and the derivatives as Powdered Milk made for Children is allowed to be imported to the European Union under existing Trade Agreements.

    Indeed the threat from China is not food grown from crops but the aspiring need of the increasingly wealth of the Public to consume more meat. Increasing meat consumption to an average of two days a week in China would have an enormous consequence on food production – as we hear also that the Government of the CPR (Chinese People’s Republic) have already grasped. And with the population of the CPR (or indeed others) rapidly becoming urbanised the propensity for a repetition cannot be over stated.

    The use of so-called ”Organic” farming techniques as a potential to meet the needs of the World Demand therefore seems unlikely. One of the real issues is not that food production cannot be met by combinations of traditional farming practices or by the parallel use of ”organic” farming practices but by the need to have the correct nutrients in the land. In this therefore we should be reminded that without Phosphorous as a mainstay to the provision of nutrient base for crops we would be totally lost. The projections of a minimum potential turnout that gives us just over 120 years of supply must bot be ignored here. So irrespective of the methods adopted for farming here there lies a major issue. Is it being managed? The immediate response is possibly not. In that case the argument set out in the blog should perhaps have embraced this issue as well.

    Yes ”Organic” farming may have a part to play but there are others which are more of an issue.

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