Organic Farming is a sustainable form of agriculture. As such, it can be designated by various names such as agro-ecology, organic agriculture, biological agriculture or ecological agriculture. The simplest definition of Organic Farming is farming without chemicals, but, this is a very simplistic way of describing a complex, synergistic use of farmland to achieve increased yields without the use of harmful chemicals. “Organic farmers, and ecological farmers in general, farm holistically – they design production systems that capitalize on the positive synergies among enterprises that exist in time and space”.
7 Additionally, Organic farming is based on an agricultural system that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. According to the National Organic Standards Board, “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony”. 8.
Due to its non-reliance on readily available chemicals, herbicides, pesticides and its labor intensive nature, Organic Farming currently has a higher cost of goods.
However, with the introduction of Organic Certification standards, an acceleration of consumer acceptance has helped materialize growth. Over the past two years, Organic Farming products have gone from sales at a specialty health food stores to mainstream stores. In fact, the global market for Certified Organic Foods increased by 10. 1% and reached $23 billion in 2002.
9 Most of the growth has occurred in North America, which overtook Europe as the largest market for organic food and drinks.
Worldwide, there are almost 23 million hectares of organic farmland. Finally, as consumer acceptance of organic foods increase and more farms convert to organic farming methods, costs are expected to drop and lead to lower consumer prices. This will inevitably fuel better, more efficient and standardized organic farming methods further lowering costs and consumer prices. The Problem
While the majority of the developed world enjoys a fair abundance of foods and relatively no hunger, the larger under-developed part of the world is suffering from famine and starvation. This condition will get worse as we approach the mid-century mark because according to the United Nations Population Division Report, the world population reached 6. 1 billion in mid-2000 and is currently growing at an annual rate of 1. 2%. In 2050, the total world population is expected to be around 13 billion people, of which 11 billion will be in less developed regions.
However, the agricultural trade of developing countries during this period represents only 50% of total world exports and it is concentrated in a minority of developing countries, particularly those that trade in fresh fruit and vegetables. “This situation creates an uneven trade balance in food from developed to developing countries. “10 Who will feed the 13 billion inhabitants of our planet in 2050? Where will the food needed be grown? How will we be able to produce such quantities of food? We cannot feed all of the current population of the earth and it is less than 50% of what it will be in 2050.
DeGreef (The head of regulatory and government affairs for Syngenta, formerly Novartis) says “the only ways to increase food availability is to (i) increase productivity, (ii) increase the area cultivated, and (iii) decrease post-harvest losses”11. Obviously, we must rethink our approach to food production. We must analyze current available methods, modify them if possible, or develop totally new and unique food production techniques. Whatever approach is adopted we must balance the costs to society, both in real monetary form and in the more intangible and maybe more costly potential damage to our planet.
We have to look at a cost-benefit analysis and a potential willingness to pay for those who are conscientious about the types of foods that are out in the market. Currently the world is looking at two competing approaches to solve the problem; GMFs or Organic Farming. Proponents on either side have been rigorously arguing that their approach is right. We will present pros and cons for both sides and finally try to analyze which approach will make more sense to follow. GMOs and GMFs Pros Genetically Modified Foods have been publicize as the answer to our food production problem.
Given GMOs quick improvement of crop characteristics, the effect are immediately evident when the modified cell becomes a full plant, farmers can reap the rewards of higher yields, pest resistance and herbicide tolerance at once. Furthermore, as we become more skillful with the technology, we will be able to produce plants that deliver more than just the above benefits. For example, plants that will produce plastics, industrial chemicals, and even vaccines to counteract many diseases throughout the world.
Rice has already been genetically enhanced to produce increased levels of vitamin A (Golden Rice), thus alleviating vitamin deficiency in underdeveloped countries where rice is a staple. Virus-resistant sweet potatoes, insect-resistant potatoes, virus resistant squash, melons and cucumbers are also being developed for Africa. Also, rice with a higher level of bio-available iron is in process of development. Thus, proponents of agro-biotechnology essentially see the benefits occurring in waves or phases with benefits initially to producers and then to consumers. As Dr.
Liz Dennis points out, “the results of the first wave of research will deliver direct benefit to farmers and producers through improved production efficiency, such as plants requiring reduced fungicide and pesticide use, through increased inbuilt pest and disease resistance, and crops better able to cope with environmental stresses such as weeds. ” 12 This research creates options for farmers who want to develop a system that will have a lower environmental effect on their land. Secondly, the gene technology wave will also provide benefits for the consumers through products that have special features of improvement.
For example, “consumers prefer citrus that has few or no seeds and that is easy to peel. Furthermore, oil seed crops like canola are being modified to produce oils of a particular composition to enhance nutritive value or for specialist uses in the food processing industry. ” 13 Even cereals with modified starch or protein content are being created for those seeking more nutritive value to their balanced breakfasts. Thirdly, this wave delivers enhanced levels of pharmaceutical and industrial products from plants, leading our industries to an entirely new business spectrum.
Examples include “genetically modified plants with proteins that act as vaccines and plants with the ability to make industrial oils and plastics, thus offering an alternative to petrochemical oils. Plants potentially could provide components of detergents, nylon, glue, paints, and lubricants. They could provide a renewable, biodegradable source of these high value specialty products. “14 Many applications of Genetic Modification of plants are being developed. They bring a new approach to crop development by eliminating the imprecise and lengthy cross breeding to develop or enhance specific desirable traits.
The beneficiaries of these new enhancements will include: * Farmers – higher yields; less use of pesticides and herbicides; plants that can withstand adverse conditions ( salinity, drought, temperature variations); better shelf life; higher prices for crops that provide higher nutritive content. * Consumers – less damage to the environment by diminished use of polluting chemicals; foods with enhanced properties like better taste, better shelf life, enhanced nutritive values, enhanced features (seedless, thin skin); better availability of “out of season” foods.
Business – increased sales; higher revenues due to proprietary seeds; new markets for enhanced non-traditional products (production of chemicals, plastics, vaccines). * Society – less pollution due to lower use of polluting chemicals, herbicides and pesticides; more sustainable and efficient agriculture; lower foods costs, especially in the developing nations; value added foods that contain vaccines, higher nutritive values and enhanced medicinal features. Farmers that are using GMOs can already see some of these benefits. As Dr.
Liz Dennis points out, “the introduction of insect-tolerant varieties of cotton to Australian agriculture has resulted in an overall reduction in the transgenic crop of 50% of normal pesticide applications. This has the effect of decreasing the risks, for both human health and the environment”. 15 Many farmers choose this method of production because it also leads to more cost-effectiveness ways of farming. If the promises of GMOs and GMFs are realized, they have the potential to truly change the world’s food production and benefit humanity. Cons
The opponents of GMOs and GMFs argue that not only have the promises of this technology not materialized, but also that it can lead to an apocalyptic future; a future that has the soil of the earth irreparably contaminated, as well as ecological disruptions, leading to extinction of species of plants and animals. However, most frightening is the migration of the genetic modifications into man, leading to the possible extinction of our species. Opponents also point out that GMOs and GMFs have not fulfilled their promises and that instead of benefits they are turning into an ecological nightmare.
As Nathan Batalion puts it, “genetic pollution can alter the life in soil forever! Not to be underestimated, the potential domino effect of internal and external genetic pollution can make substance of science-fiction horror movies become terrible realities in the future. “16 Genetically altered foods have not been around long enough to know if they are safe enough for human consumption. In January 27, 1999, the news agency Reuters reported in the New Scientist magazine about a computer model developed by Dutch researchers to mimic human food digestion.
The Dutch researchers found that the computer model predicted that antibiotic-resistance genes introduced into food could jump to bacteria in the gut. It showed that “DNA lingers in the intestine” and that “DNA from a bacteria had a half-life of six minutes in the large intestine. “17 A naturally occurring pesticide bacterium, Bacillus Thuringiensis or Bt, that has been engineered into plants posses another problem as it enters the food supply. Katherine DiMatteo points out that “Bt crops, such as corn, potatoes, and cotton, are genetically engineered to contain genes from this natural pesticide Bt.
When organic farmers spray Bt on their fields, the Bt bacteria is killed by sunlight, so it is not contained in the food or it can be washed off. ” However, when Bt is directly injected in our corps, the gene stays and keeps producing the toxins inside the cells. Never the less, “no one knows what effect consuming Bt crops will have on human health. “18 Everyone who consumes Bt foods assumes that because it is on the market then it must be safe to eat.