What bothers me most, however, is that both sides of the organic debate spend millions in press and advertising to attack each other instead of looking for a resolution. Organic supporters tend to vilify new technologies, while conventional supporters insist that chemicals and massive production monocultures are the only way to go. This simply strikes me as absurd. Synthetic doesn’t necessarily mean bad for the environment. Just look at technological advances in creating biodegradable products; sometimes, we can use our knowledge and intelligence to create things that are both useful, cheap enough and ecologically responsible, as crazy as that idea may sound.
I also firmly believe that increasing the chemicals used in agriculture to support insanely over-harvested monocultures will never lead to ecological improvement. In my mind, the ideal future will merge conventional and organic methods, using GMOs and/or other new technologies to reduce pesticide use while increasing the bioavailability of soils, crop yield, nutritional quality and biodiversity in agricultural lands. New technology isn’t the enemy of organic farming; it should be its strongest ally.
As far as I’m concerned, Christie Wilcox’s Scientific American blog posting on the myths of organic agriculture is one of the more complete analyses of organic’s strengths and weaknesses I have seen in a mainstream publication in years1. But it misses the mark more than a few times. I read all the literature I could get my hands on for my senior thesis (“Policies to Improve Organic Agriculture: Prospects to Meet an Agrarian, Ecological, or Resource Vision” – yep, I ran out of creative juices for a title…) and found very few pieces that holistically and neutrally evaluated organic agriculture. Wilcox gets top marks for effort.
Many arguments for and against organics rest on just a handful of scholarly articles, in addition to a wealth of anecdotal accounts. Like her peers, Wilcox does not present a comprehensive review of the literature. However, she is right to question many of the “myths” surrounding organic agriculture, and her overall point about the black and white conversation around organics is spot on.
It’s refreshing that Wilcox critiques organics while sharing its goals. We need more of these kinds of conversations and a whole lot more scientific research of sustainable agriculture if we really are serious about an environmentally-sensitive agriculture for more than just the privileged few.