San Diego Center for Molecular Agriculture director Maarten Chrispeels put organic myth-making under the microscope in a San Diego Union-Tribune op-ed this week, and he doesn’t like what he sees. “Perhaps it is time to kill off a few myths about farming,” he writes. “There is nothing natural about farming.” All farming, Chrispeels notes, alters the natural ecosystem — planning, cultivation, and weeding are all “unnatural.” According to Chrispeels, the myth that organic farming is somehow more natural than conventional is rooted in one simple fact: the greenest crop organic activists like to grow is cash.
The recent decision by Mendocino County, California voters to ban genetically modified crops, Chrispeels argues, was driven by financially motivated activists:
The organic farmers of Mendocino County and elsewhere are shrewd business people. By sticking to manure and certain older chemical fertilizers and pesticides, by banning newer ones and by banning GM crops, they have hoodwinked the public into believing they are “natural” farmers. The public is willing to pay a premium for their organic wines, and they are happy for anyone to spread their groundless message that they are farming in nature’s way and others are not.
Chrispeels contends that the most recognized organic icon is, literally, crap: “The use of manure, that symbol of virtuous farming, does not make those practices any more natural.” And all agriculture “whether conventional or organic, can only be maintained by constant genetic improvement because the disease organisms and crop pests keep on evolving.” Chrispeels warns that organic-only notions of “rejecting modern technologies would be a disastrous development if we are to help feed the 9 billion people who soon will inhabit our planet.”
With Mendocino-like bans being pushed in places like Boulder, Colorado, we can only expect many organic marketers to continue their unnatural relationship with the truth.