The organic industry is a case study in rent-seeking. | Henry Miller

Learn Liberty
Feb 5, 2018 · 8 min read

Is organic farming sustainable and environmentally friendly?

Advocates of organic agriculture tout it as a “sustainable” and healthful way to feed the planet’s expanding population. That is wishful thinking, if not outright delusion, but it is being widely promulgated by the credulous media and the foodie elites. The truth is that organic practices are to agriculture what cigarette smoking is to human health.

Is organic food healthy?

Are the products of organic agriculture healthier or otherwise superior in any way? An article published in 2012 in the Annals of Internal Medicine by researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Health Policy aggregated and analyzed data from 237 studies to determine whether organic foods are safer or healthier than non-organic foods. They concluded that fruits and vegetables that met the criteria for “organic” were on average no more nutritious than their far cheaper conventional counterparts, nor were those foods less likely to be contaminated by pathogenic bacteria like E. coli or Salmonella.

Organic agriculture is kept afloat by political rent-seeking.

If organic agriculture isn’t sustainable, doesn’t produce more nutritious food and is far more expensive, what is the purpose of USDA-mandated organic standards and certification? “Let me be clear about one thing,” Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman said when organic certification was being considered: “The organic label is a marketing tool. It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is ‘organic’ a value judgment about nutrition or quality.”

What about genetic engineering?

Perhaps the most illogical and least sustainable aspect of organic farming in the long term will turn out to be the systematic and absolute exclusion of “genetically engineered” plants — but only those that were modified with the most precise and predictable modern molecular techniques. Except for wild berries and wild mushrooms, virtually all the fruits, vegetables, and grains in our diet have been genetically improved by one technique or another — often as a result of seeds having been irradiated or via “wide crosses,” which are created by moving thousands of genes from one species or genus to another in ways that do not occur in nature. Irradiation has produced thousands of useful mutants that comprise a significant fraction of the world’s crops, including varieties of rice, wheat, barley, pears, peas, cotton, sunflowers, peanuts, grapefruit, bananas, cassava and sorghum. Wide crosses have given rise to important varieties of oat, sugar beet, pumpkin, cotton, tomato, rice, bread and durum wheat, black currant, and corn.


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