Feed the world? Organic will; GMO won’t: 1 of 10


YES Organic #1. Yield

Switching to organic farming would have different effects according to where in the world you live and how you currently farm. Studies show that the less industrialised world stands to benefit the most. In southern Brazil, maize and wheat yields doubled on farms that changed to green manures and nitrogen fixing leguminous vegetables instead of chemical fertilisers. In Mexico, coffee-growers who chose to move to fully organic production methods saw increases of 50 per cent in the weight of beans they harvested. In fact, in an analysis of more than 286 organic conversions in 57 countries, the average yield increase was found to be an impressive 64 per cent.

The situation is more complex in the industrialised world, where farms are large, intensive facilities, and opinions are divided on how organic yields would compare. Research by the University of Essex in 1999 found that, although yields on US farms that converted to organic initially dropped by between 10 and 15 per cent, they soon recovered, and the farms became more productive than their all-chemical counterparts. In the UK, however, a study by the Elm Farm Research Centre predicted that a national transition to all-organic farming would see cereal, rapeseed and sugar beet yields fall by between 30 and 60 per cent. Even the Soil Association admits that, on average in the UK, organic yields are 30 per cent lower than non-organic.

So can we hope to feed ourselves organically in the British Isles and Northern Europe? An analysis by former Ecologist editor Simon Fairlie in The Land journal suggests that we can, but only if we are prepared to rethink our diet and farming practices. In Fairlie’s scenario, each of the UK’s 60 million citizens could have organic cereals, potatoes, sugar, vegetables and fruit, fish, pork, chicken and beef, as well as wool and flax for clothes and biomass crops for heating. To achieve this we’d each have to cut down to around 230g of beef (1/2lb), compared to an average of 630g (11/2lb) today, 252g of pork/bacon, 210g of chicken and just under 4kg (9lb) of dairy produce each week – considerably more than the country enjoyed in 1945. We would probably need to supplement our diet with homegrown vegetables, save our food scraps as livestock feed and reform the sewage system to use our waste as an organic fertiliser.


NO GMO #1. Failure to deliver

Despite the hype, genetic modification consistently fails to live up to industry claims. Only two GM traits have ever made it to market: herbicide resistance and BT toxin expression (see below). Other promises of genetic modification have failed to materialise. The much vaunted GM ‘golden rice’ – hailed as a cure to vitamin A deficiency – has never made it out of the laboratory, partly because in order to meet recommended levels of vitamin A intake, consumers would need to eat 12 bowls of the rice every day. In 2004, the Kenyan government admitted that Monsanto’s GM sweet potatoes were no more resistant to feathery mottle virus than ordinary strains, and in fact produced lower yields. And in January 2008, news that scientists had modified a carrot to cure osteoporosis by providing calcium had to be weighed against the fact that you would need to eat 1.6 kilograms of these vegetables each day to meet your recommended calcium intake.

10 reasons why organic can feed the world
By Ed Hamer and Mark Anslow,The Ecologist, March 2008

10 reasons GM won’t feed the world
Mark Anslow,The Ecologist, March 2008


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