Yes, but can you feed the world?
That question is often big agriculture’s argument against organic and sustainable agriculture.
(And the inverse — that we need chemicals and large-scale farming to feed the world — is often a talking point in support of production ag in general and in specific, genetically engineered crops.)
So what is the answer? Thanks to a recent study by the United Nations Special Rapporteu, the web has been abuzz with the question. Here’s a quick roundup of those discussions:
Mark Bittman’s op-ed in the New York Times (which we mentioned in last week’s roundup, but hey, it’s worth looking at again) brought the issue to the mainstream.
He writes: “… increasing numbers of scientists, policy panels and experts (not hippies!) are suggesting that agricultural practices pretty close to organic — perhaps best called “sustainable” — can feed more poor people sooner, begin to repair the damage caused by industrial production and, in the long term, become the norm.”
This week, Bittman chatted about the issue (among other things) with fellow food writer Tom Philpott in a live chat on Grist.
And, Texas State University professor James E. McWilliams who wrote Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, wrote on Slate about another study that shows because of reduced yield, organic agriculture can never produce enough.
Maria Rodale, on the other hand, spells out in a column this week why organic agriculture is the only way to feed the world.
Oxfam’s Ben Grossman-Cohen also jumped in this week in a piece on the Huffington Post, writing:
“The irony of course is that a large majority of the world’s hungry earns their livelihoods in food production and lives in communities that are highly dependent on farming. They produce the world’s food, yet they go hungry. This irony is also the greatest opportunity to change the game on hunger. If we direct our resources, energy and policy into the modes of production that most efficiently boost levels of food, and the livelihoods of the rural poor, we will meet the challenges of both production and access.”
Elsewhere in food and ag news, there’s been a muckity-muck over a Wall Street Journal story last week that claimed “Hog Farmers Overuse Antibiotics, Government Data Show.” The report quotes Edward Knipling, head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research branch, who was testifying in front of a House Appropriations subcommittee.
Bill Tomson writes in the WSJ story: “Data collected by the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show there is a problem that could be exposing Americans to bacteria like Escherichia coli and Campylobacter that have become resistant to antibiotics, Mr. Knipling told a panel of House lawmakers. E. coli causes infectious gastroenteritis and Campylobacter is a bacterial food-borne illness.”
Well, the story must have riled pork producers, who generally support antibiotic use. A spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council told the WSJ that there is “no scientific, peer-reviewed study showing a definitive link” between antibiotics in pork and antibiotic resistance in humans.
(Melanie Warner, writing on bNet likened the response to “La-La-La We Can’t Hear You”)
By the day after the WSJ story ran, the USDA had issued a clarification, according to the Pork Network.
A story on USAgNet quotes the USDA as writing: “Dr. Knipling never said that swine producers were overusing antibiotics in the herds.’ He also pointed out, the statement said, that ‘some of that data and trends show that the resistance is not developing to the extent as otherwise might be portrayed.”
In last week’s roundup, we linked to a few stories about communities in Maine that were declaring themselves “food sovereign” and we’re always interested in stories about how cities and towns are incorporating agriculture into their governing.
So, interesting that Grown in the City, a new site covering urban food policy and trends, is working on two interactive maps — one that tracks food sovereignty measures across the U.S. (so far, only in Vermont and Maine) as well one that plots urban ag zoning ordinances.
The Rocky Mountain region, which has been part of, if not leading in some places, has many more ordinances than are on the map right now, so if you know of any, you can submit them to the database here.
A hat tip for these links goes to ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, which, speaking of, got some bad, bad news this week.
The service, which is a must-have for many of us either tracking or working in sustainable agriculture lost its funding, at least temporarily, through the most recent Continuing Resolution passed by the House.
Courtney Lowery Cowgill is a writer and editor (formerly of these pages) who also runs Prairie Heritage Farm, a small farm in Central Montana. She and her husband grow vegetables, turkeys and ancient and heritage grains. As a farmer and writer, she works on and follows food and agriculture issues closely and each week, rounds up the top stories on the web in this arena for New West. Have an ag story you think should be included in next week’s roundup? You can reach Courtney at firstname.lastname@example.org.