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Do you want an organic world? Get ready to food shortages

How fascinating the idea of an organic world is for all of us.

However, we need to consider what would happen if the world became totally organic, given the orientation by which we are now pervaded. One thing is to act on biology in order to achieve better results, and quite another to misinterpret organic as a ‘return to the past’.

The desire to return to an organic farming, basically indicates the will to go back in time, before the scientific research.

Many years ago, food was obtained with hard work, health risks, production uncertainties and inability to predict results but the population of earth was also much lower than today.

As current tenants of our planet, we are now realising that we have become a worrying number of people: how do we ensure food for all while making it accessible with a sustainable impact on the environment? Who takes care of it? With which approach? Not least because those who engage in this effort are often criticised by activists, bearers of conflicting ideologies.

Things on our planet have changed in quantity and quality. There are now so many people to feed that it has become necessary to make predictions and decisions that we once did not care to make.

Is organic therefore a solution? In fact, if we were to embrace the organic ideology completely, it would be necessary to forget the evolution that science has enabled through genetic research, selection, disinfectants and pesticides… Following an “all organic” ideology would mean going back to the techniques in use before the scientific revolution of the 19th century and indulging in embarrassing ‘biodynamic’ procedures that are self-proclaimed as effective. It would mean deciding to ignore the extraordinary amount of innovation that enables us today to feed the world more and better than we could do decades ago. Even in 1945 alone, food security was only available to 50 per cent of the earth’s inhabitants. Today, research has enabled innovations that have greatly lowered that percentage, and yet it is not enough.

At some point, human beings, who have always tamed nature instinctively, had to organise themselves to solve problems of quantitative and qualitative production.

Those who support the organic farming have the right to do so, but it must be made clear that it is a viable concept only as a niche. Due to its own limitations, with a high labour input and a poor economic yield, it is an expensive niche and it is only for those who can afford it. Organic is not democratic. Organic is possible, but for the few. The idea of growing everything organic is not sustainable: there would not be the space to accommodate all the organic farming needed to feed the Planet.

However, organic producers often introduce themselves as a potential saviour of the Planet, bearer of purity, sustainability, taste and capable of reversing the climate change.

 

The statements by organic associations, while hinting at the naturalness of the good old days, do not explain how things really are.

Organic chickens must be fed with organic feeds.  The cost of the organic feed is at least the double of the usual feed and, even so, it is not irreproachable.

You will hear, for example, that organic crops do not use pesticides, when in fact they do, those of the ‘old system’ (copper sulphate and insecticides for example) that remain in the soil and water polluting them. But these are ‘old-fashioned’ systems, part of the organic ideology … what matters is the sound of the term ‘organic’ which is very evocative. On the subject of ‘old-style’ poultry farms, and therefore exchanged as organic, we have a lot of information in this article:

https://moreaboutchicken.com/bird-flu-cases-in-humans-the-truth-about-the-role-of-intensive-farming/

Let us now take a critical look at the qualities attributed to organic, considering above all the plant side as the animal side is defined as organic mainly on the basis of how it is fed … Organic chickens get this ‘stamp of merit’ mainly because they eat organic products.

Let us begin:

It is said that organic is natural: this is because the organic world tends to maintain and recover old plant varieties, which in fact are the varieties grown in the ‘old’ context using the techniques of many years ago and for this reason defined as organic, characterised by low productivity. Today’s varieties, selected for yield and speed of growth, could not survive the techniques of yesteryear because they require better attention (nutrition, protection, etc.) that is repaid by the production yield required today. This observation gives us the opportunity to ask whether organic is economically viable: as just indicated, the productivity of organic is much lower and the production costs higher. Weeding a one-hectare field by hand, if we take a paddy field as an example, requires around 450 hours of work each year. Using chemical herbicides for the same hectare takes only 10 hours per year. This means considerable costs that the agricultural enterprise must necessarily pass on to the consumer. This means that the organic agriculture becomes economically viable only if there are customers willing to pay the higher cost (often double or triple) that it requires. These customers are there, but they are niches. Only niches.

 

Another suggestion is that the organic concept is plant-friendly. In reality, it means using antiquated plant-protection products that do not defend the plant world against all its enemies. Using the organic techniques to treat plants, if we were to make the comparison with the old medicine for humans and modern scientific discoveries, would be like giving up the use of antibiotics against human diseases and using the ‘remedies’ of yesteryear instead. By doing so in both the human and agricultural fields, we would make a massacre.

 

Some claim that the organic system is climate-friendly. This is a fantasy and a statement made without full awareness of what an organic choice really means. 

We must remember that the organic advocates in the 1960s were pushing for agricultural technology not to advance. In 1960 there were just over 3 billion of us on the planet. Today (2023) we are almost 8 billion. If we had listened to the proclamations of the organic advocates, to sustain an organic production we would have had to more than double the area under cultivation: in 2010 it was 1.5 billion hectares and today (2023) it would have had to become twice as much, which would have increased the annual emissions of the agricultural sector by about 4 times, from the current 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon to about 6 billion (Burney J.A., Davis S.J., Lobell D.B. 2010. Greenhouse gas mitigation by agricultural intensification, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107, 12052-12057). In a nutshell, if one were to decide to cultivate exclusively organic worldwide, one would have to double the amount of cultivated land by eliminating forests and grasslands. All this again in relation to the production capacity of the organic system, which is much lower (by at least 50%) than conventional today.

 

On whether the organic is a guarantee of healthiness, let us recall that in 2011 there were 54 deaths and 10,000 hospitalisations in Germany and France linked to the consumption of fenugreek sprouts, grown by a German organic farm, which contained toxins produced by a strain of E. coli (Frank et al., 2011 – Epidemic Profile of Shiga-Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli O104: H4 Outbreak in Germany, The New England Journal of Medicine, 365, Nov. 10, 1771-1780).

 

There is no shortage of documents and analyses testifying to the equivalence in terms of healthiness of organic versus conventional foods, where in many cases the nitrate content of organic products was worse than that of conventional ones.

NB: Nitrites and nitrates are chemicals composed of nitrogen and oxygen, normally found in nature. Some leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach, are rich in them, as they are necessary for their growth. Nitrite and nitrate salts are commonly used to season meat and other perishable products. They are added to foods to preserve them and also help to inhibit the growth of harmful microorganisms, in particular Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium responsible for the very dangerous botulism. Nitrites, along with nitrates, are added to meat to maintain its red colour and improve its taste, while nitrates are used to prevent some cheeses from swelling during fermentation. Nitrate is naturally present in vegetables, with the highest concentrations found in leafy greens such as spinach and lettuce.

https://www.efsa.europa.eu/sites/default/files/corporate_publications/files/nitrates-nitrites-170614_it.pdf

 

In conclusion, we can state that the organic products are not safer products than conventional ones, quite the contrary. Food safety in Europe envisages efficient and independent controls at every step of the production chain, and this in particular is carried out in the poultry sector in intensively protected farms, which, compared to organic farms, provide more stringent protections (consider that organic farms allow animals to be taken outdoors where the risk of contamination is always very high).

Giving up the evolution allowed by science in agriculture, as the short-sighted logic of organic would lead us to do, exposes the world to great risks of famine, especially in developing countries.

 

The project of the healthiest possible growth, on the other hand, derives from the continuous scientific discoveries that contribute to the increasing sustainability of agricultural activities (cultivation and breeding) through the use of modern techniques that study the genetics of plants and animals to select types and varieties naturally capable of greater resistance so as to reduce the use of chemical products, which remain irreplaceable in agriculture as they are in human medicine.

 

The editorial staff of M.A.C.