Is organic farming out of date?

There’s evidence that organic methods can be very productive, as I’ll discuss in this blog when I get around to that. I grow food on an allotment here in Britain. There, like many modern allotmenteers, I use organic methods. I buy organic produce too, plus organic meat, eggs and dairy products.

But are organic methods out of date now that we share our world with genetically modified (GM, genetically engineered, GE) crops? Have people who oppose GM crops lost this war?

A recent legal challenge about GM ended in defeat for an organic farmer called Steve Marsh. Mr Marsh farms in Western Australia. He sued his neighbour, Michael Baxter, after GM seeds (almost certainly from from Mr Baxter’s land) ended up on Mr Marsh’s land. Under the Australian zero-tolerance policy for GM contamination in organic produce, Mr Marsh lost organic status from 75% of his land. So he sued Mr Baxter for losing him money by ‘negligent’ harvesting.

At the US-based Beyond Pesticides, an unnamed author reflects on what Marsh v Baxter might imply for organic farming. ‘Supporters of [Mr Marsh’s lawsuit] hoped it might advance much-needed protections against the economically devastating and oft[en] uncontrolled invasion of GE crops on organic and non-GE lands. Opponents of the suit claim it would have burdened GE farmers with more rules and potentially restricted the amount of crops a farmer could plant…

‘[In his judgement, Hon. Justice Kenneth Martin said that] decertification of Mr. Marsh’s Eagle Rest farm appeared to be a “gross overreaction” by Australia’s organic certification body…

‘[In the United States] organic regulators take a process-based approach to GE contamination… while organic farmers are expected to protect their farms without real guidance or established efficacy, there are currently no established contamination or allowable threshold standards….

‘To add insult to injury, farmers who have not purchased GE seeds and find them on their land face potential litigation from the seed producers for patent infringement… The uncertainty of the courts willingness to protect non-GE and organic farmers, both at home and abroad, has not overshadowed recent successes outside of the courts, in the form of county bans on GE crops and GE labeling bills.’

The article at Beyond Pesticides concludes with advice to US consumers to buy organic food. One of my most loyal blog followers, in the States, comes to my mind now. Eqfe points out that organic food isn’t always cheap and it isn’t always easy to find locally. I like Beyond Pesticides but I think the authors there are ignoring some of the daily challenges people face.

[Edit] I like what my fellow blogger applpy at Thought + Food says on this particular point. She says that it may be time to stop arguing ‘organic’ against ‘conventional’ and, instead, to think in a third way.

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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17 Responses to Is organic farming out of date?

  1. Debra says:

    Just because there are roadblocks doesn’t mean small organic farming isn’t the right direction to go. I don’t think it is out of date at all but maybe coming of age. In my city organic foods are becoming more accessibel and affordable. In fact, our farmers’ markets accept food stamps and the other forms of food assistance.

  2. Pingback: Something’s not working on my blog | Science on the Land

  3. EqFe says:

    In the US the regulatory environment continues to make organic farming more difficult. I understand from a local market gardener that soon the law will require animal manure to be aged more than a year before it can be used as fertilizer. Of course on the flip side if we stopped growing so much lawn and grew more food…

    • Debra says:

      Humanure is loaded with heavy metals and pharmeceuticals. I wonder if the law will ask conventional farmers to purify it.

  4. Rob White : Evans & Pearce Ltd says:

    http://www.gmfreeze.org/news-releases/254/

    Are you aware of the proposed changes detailed in the attached link.

    Many thanks

    Rob White

    Evans and Pearce Ltd

    Tel +44 (0) 1935 850 750

    Fax +44 (0) 1935 851 432

    Visit our new Website

    http://www.evansandpearce.com

    CAUTION – This message may contain privileged and confidential information intended only for the use of the addressee named above. If you are not the intended recipient of this message you are hereby notified that any use, dissemination, distribution or reproduction of this message is prohibited. If you have received this message in error please notify Evans and Pearce Ltd immediately. Any views expressed in this message are those of the individual sender and may not necessarily reflect the views of Evans and Pearce Limited or its associated companies.

  5. EqFe says:

    I don’t usually go to farmer’s markets, since I’m an organic gardener, if it’s in season, I’m growing it, but I did go last weekend, and intend to go to one today. None of the growers this weekend claimed to be organic. The prices were okay, about the midrange of what you would find in the supermarkets, however if one was shoping only by price, there are cheaper alternatives, just buying the loss leadeers. E.G. the average price of grapes in the market $3.99 but I never pay more than $1.99. of course they aren’t in season locally.
    The local organic market charges 2-3 times what the supermarkets charge for fruit, veggies, and herbs. Organically raised chicken is $5.00 plus a pound, I never pay more than $1.29. I’d love to eat more organic food, but frankly we can’t afford to.

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