Friday, July 07, 2006

Organics and Paying Farmers for Nothing

Demand for organic food products are way up. That's good news. Supply is not up as fast according to this article about the demand outstripping supply.
America's appetite for organic food is so strong that supply just can't keep up with demand. Organic products still have only a tiny slice, about 2.5 percent, of the nation's food market. But the slice is expanding at a feverish pace. Growth in sales of organic food has been 15 percent to 21 percent each year, compared with 2 percent to 4 percent for total food sales.
We currently subsidize American farmers in a wide variety of ways. We should tweak the regulations to make some of them grow organic instead of leaving fields empty. That way the produce wouldn't have much impact on produce's commodity price because organics don't directly compete. There is some competition of course, but if it slowly causes goods made with pesticides to be wiped out of the market, that's not a bad outcome. It's good for the end-consumer, but more importantly it is good for the earth and especially good for the farmers who have much more contact with the pesticides than any of us.

Oh, and one more thing, organic is a stupid name for food that, according to the article, is grown without bug killer, fertilizer, hormones, antibiotics or biotechnology. That food is good and we should support it, but it isn't any more organic than other food. Remember when pre-meds had to take organic chemistry. Right, organic is a technical word. It means of or relating to compounds that have both Carbon and Hydrogen. Wikipedia weighs in:
An organic compound is any member of a large class of chemical compounds whose molecules contain carbon and hydrogen; therefore, carbides, carbonates, carbon oxides and elementary carbon are not organic.
I guess all this distracts from the main idea of the post, that the government instead of incentivizing farmers to leave fields empty should encourage them to grow organic.


At 7/07/2006 , Blogger BZ said...

In particular, some of the nastiest pesticides, and certainly all of the growth hormones, are organic compounds, whereas innocuous things like sodium chloride (salt) aren't.

At 7/07/2006 , Blogger Dave Henry said...


Creating an ability to post was more difficult than you promised, but here goes.

Like many words, "organic" has more than one meaning. M-W lists as the fourth meaning for the adjective:

"4 a : forming an integral element of a whole : FUNDAMENTAL (incidental music rather than organic parts of the action -- Francis Fergusson) b : having systematic coordination of parts : ORGANIZED (an organic whole) c : having the characteristics of an organism : developing in the manner of a living plant or animal (society is organic)"

It is this sense that organic agriculture first desired - holistic view of agriculate that integrated it into the larger ecosystems and in doing so created an orderly, symbotic subsystem. Since then the definition of organic has been reduced to a negative definition of simply avoiding certain unpleasant additions to agriculture. In my conversations with organic farmers, this was the natural by product of organic agriculture, not the goal.

Hence today the beyond organic movement, that seeks to return the focus to organic agriculture, even if that includes some light applications of the outlawed additions.

For instance, it makes greater ecological sense to eat an local NH non-organic apple grown with a minimal application of herbicides, then to purchase an organic apple from Washington, which is delivered by plane to NH. In the generous ecological vision, the petroleum based supply chain of the organic apple outweighs its comparative benefits.


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