Joe Fattorini has a long piece in the London Herald today attacking the organic movement en banc. As a hater of Whole Foods, you might say I'm a bit sympathetic. Now I am not saying that the traces of the hormones given to cattle that may find its way into milk and beef doesn't affect us at all but Fattorini has some pretty good arguments:
It's self-indulgent, wasteful and frankly immoral. But you know how it is. I was swept along with the trend, and it felt good at the time. But I don't want to be a hypocrite. So I'm giving up organic food in 2006.
The incident that stiffened my resolve was a white rubber-banded wrist thrusting across me to grab organic apples. Here was someone who professed solidarity with the world's hungry. Yet they support a farming method that would starve over half the world.
The world was farmed entirely organically as recently as 1900. Since then the global population has increased over 3.5 times. Unfortunately, the area cultivated for food has merely doubled. Even so, collectively we're better fed. In the past 50 years, the number who are starving has halved as the population has doubled. This almost miraculous turn of events is down to nitrogen fertilisers.
When it comes to basic needs such as food, the most important development of the last century has been the creation of nitrogen fertilisers. By replacing the nitrogen lost when a crop is harvested you can continue to plant the same plot of land each year without losing productivity. This means the same area of land produces anything up to double the quantity of food.
It's certainly true that nitrogen fertilisers aren't without their problems. Nitrates in water and the eutrophication of lakes are both significant problems. But let's just imagine what would happen without them. Let's farm the current 1.5 billion hectares of farmland organically. A rough estimate suggests that we could sustain a global population of around 2.4 billion.
It's a bit on the long side but well worth reading. Basically by going organic we'd starve a lot of people and malnourish many more.
HT: The Corner