Feed the world? Organic will; GMO won’t: 4 of 10


Water and climate are already huge challenges and they will likely be the central issues for this century. Organic farming can reduce water use tremendously, which also lessens the need for fuel for irrigation. Read on to learn about other links to climate…

YES Organic #4. Water use

Agriculture is officially the most thirsty industry on the planet, consuming a staggering 72 per cent of all global freshwater at a time when the UN says 80 per cent of our water supplies are being overexploited. This hasn’t always been the case. Traditionally, agricultural crops were restricted to those areas best suited to their physiology, with drought-tolerant species grown in the tropics and water-demanding crops in temperate regions. Global trade throughout the second half of the last century led to a worldwide production of grains dominated by a handful of high-yielding cereal crops, notably wheat, maize and rice. These thirsty cereals – the ‘big three’ – now account for more than half of the world’s plant-based calories and 85 per cent of total grain production.

Organic agriculture is different. Due to its emphasis on healthy soil structure, organic farming avoids many of the problems associated with compaction, erosion, salinisation and soil degradation, which are prevalent in intensive systems. Organic manures and green mulches are applied even before the crop is sown, leading to a process known as ‘mineralisation’ – literally the fixing of minerals in the soil. Mineralised organic matter, conspicuously absent from synthetic fertilisers, is one of the essential ingredients required physically and chemically to hold water on the land. Organic management also uses crop rotations, undersowing and mixed cropping to provide the soil with near-continuous cover. By contrast, conventional farm soils may be left uncovered for extended periods prior to sowing, and again following the harvest, leaving essential organic matter fully exposed to erosion by rain, wind and sunlight. In the US, a 25-year Rodale Institute experiment on climatic extremes found that, due to improved soil structure, organic systems consistently achieve higher yields during periods both of drought and flooding.


NO GMO #4. Reliance on pesticides

Far from reducing dependency on pesticides and fertilisers, GM crops frequently increase farmers’ reliance on these products. Herbicide-resistant crops can be sprayed indiscriminately with weedkillers such as Monsanto’s ‘Roundup’ because they are engineered to withstand the effect of the chemical. This means that significantly higher levels of herbicide are found in the final food product, however, and often a second herbicide is used in the late stages of the crop to promote ‘dessication’ or drying, meaning these crops receive a double dose of harmful chemicals. BT maize, engineered to produce an insecticidal toxin, has never eliminated the use of pesticides, and because the BT gene cannot be ‘switched off’ the crops continue to produce the toxin right up until harvest, reaching the consumer at its highest possible concentrations.

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