Organic Baloney - Reprocessed Environmental Globaloney

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Corlyss_D
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Organic Baloney - Reprocessed Environmental Globaloney

Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Dec 20, 2006 10:41 pm

Good food?
Dec 7th 2006
From The Economist print edition


If you think you can make the planet better by clever shopping, think again. You might make it worse

“You don't have to wait for government to move... the really fantastic thing about Fairtrade is that you can go shopping!” So said a representative of the Fairtrade movement in a British newspaper this year. Similarly Marion Nestle, a nutritionist at New York University, argues that “when you choose organics, you are voting for a planet with fewer pesticides, richer soil and cleaner water supplies.”

The idea that shopping is the new politics is certainly seductive. Never mind the ballot box: vote with your supermarket trolley instead. Elections occur relatively rarely, but you probably go shopping several times a month, providing yourself with lots of opportunities to express your opinions. If you are worried about the environment, you might buy organic food; if you want to help poor farmers, you can do your bit by buying Fairtrade products; or you can express a dislike of evil multinational companies and rampant globalisation by buying only local produce. And the best bit is that shopping, unlike voting, is fun; so you can do good and enjoy yourself at the same time.

Sadly, it's not that easy. There are good reasons to doubt the claims made about three of the most popular varieties of “ethical” food: organic food, Fairtrade food and local food (see article). People who want to make the world a better place cannot do so by shifting their shopping habits: transforming the planet requires duller disciplines, like politics.

Buy organic, destroy the rainforest

Organic food, which is grown without man-made pesticides and fertilisers, is generally assumed to be more environmentally friendly than conventional intensive farming, which is heavily reliant on chemical inputs. But it all depends what you mean by “environmentally friendly”. Farming is inherently bad for the environment: since humans took it up around 11,000 years ago, the result has been deforestation on a massive scale. But following the “green revolution” of the 1960s greater use of chemical fertiliser has tripled grain yields with very little increase in the area of land under cultivation. Organic methods, which rely on crop rotation, manure and compost in place of fertiliser, are far less intensive. So producing the world's current agricultural output organically would require several times as much land as is currently cultivated. There wouldn't be much room left for the rainforest.

Fairtrade food is designed to raise poor farmers' incomes. It is sold at a higher price than ordinary food, with a subsidy passed back to the farmer. But prices of agricultural commodities are low because of overproduction. By propping up the price, the Fairtrade system encourages farmers to produce more of these commodities rather than diversifying into other crops and so depresses prices—thus achieving, for most farmers, exactly the opposite of what the initiative is intended to do. And since only a small fraction of the mark-up on Fairtrade foods actually goes to the farmer—most goes to the retailer—the system gives rich consumers an inflated impression of their largesse and makes alleviating poverty seem too easy.

Surely the case for local food, produced as close as possible to the consumer in order to minimise “food miles” and, by extension, carbon emissions, is clear? Surprisingly, it is not. A study of Britain's food system found that nearly half of food-vehicle miles (ie, miles travelled by vehicles carrying food) were driven by cars going to and from the shops. Most people live closer to a supermarket than a farmer's market, so more local food could mean more food-vehicle miles. Moving food around in big, carefully packed lorries, as supermarkets do, may in fact be the most efficient way to transport the stuff.

What's more, once the energy used in production as well as transport is taken into account, local food may turn out to be even less green. Producing lamb in New Zealand and shipping it to Britain uses less energy than producing British lamb, because farming in New Zealand is less energy-intensive. And the local-food movement's aims, of course, contradict those of the Fairtrade movement, by discouraging rich-country consumers from buying poor-country produce. But since the local-food movement looks suspiciously like old-fashioned protectionism masquerading as concern for the environment, helping poor countries is presumably not the point.

Appetite for change

The aims of much of the ethical-food movement—to protect the environment, to encourage development and to redress the distortions in global trade—are admirable. The problems lie in the means, not the ends. No amount of Fairtrade coffee will eliminate poverty, and all the organic asparagus in the world will not save the planet. Some of the stuff sold under an ethical label may even leave the world in a worse state and its poor farmers poorer than they otherwise would be.

So what should the ethically minded consumer do? Things that are less fun than shopping, alas. Real change will require action by governments, in the form of a global carbon tax; reform of the world trade system; and the abolition of agricultural tariffs and subsidies, notably Europe's monstrous common agricultural policy, which coddles rich farmers and prices those in the poor world out of the European market. Proper free trade would be by far the best way to help poor farmers. Taxing carbon would price the cost of emissions into the price of goods, and retailers would then have an incentive to source locally if it saved energy. But these changes will come about only through difficult, international, political deals that the world's governments have so far failed to do.

The best thing about the spread of the ethical-food movement is that it offers grounds for hope. It sends a signal that there is an enormous appetite for change and widespread frustration that governments are not doing enough to preserve the environment, reform world trade or encourage development. Which suggests that, if politicians put these options on the political menu, people might support them. The idea of changing the world by voting with your trolley may be beguiling. But if consumers really want to make a difference, it is at the ballot box that they need to vote.

http://www.economist.com/opinion/displa ... E1_RPRTPSV
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Environmentalists for the most part are the left's version of the intelligent design crowd - people who take something on faith without any scientific evidence to back up their comprehensive claims but who are politically active and committed. And we all know how difficult it is to discredit an article of faith.
Corlyss
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Re: Organic Baloney - Reprocessed Environmental Globaloney

Post by burnitdown » Wed Dec 20, 2006 10:57 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:If you think you can make the planet better by clever shopping, think again.
The difference between conservationists and "environmentalists" in a nutshell....

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Post by jbuck919 » Thu Dec 21, 2006 12:45 am

Corlyss knows that while we disagree about many things, I am with her on this one. It all starts with the notion that "organic produce" is anything but a superstition. In case anyone has not noticed, it does not taste better, and it is not safer. Er, is there a third criterion?

This is slightly veering off the topic, but a great deal could be resolved if we would simply observe NAFTA. We should be getting cheap produce from Mexico directly, not by way of wealthy megafarmers in California who employ illegal Mexican workers in the first place. Why should I have to pay $2.00 for a single Hass avocado when, if the situation were as it is for bananas, it would cost me a fifth of that at most?

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by living_stradivarius » Thu Dec 21, 2006 7:03 am

The tradeoff is between the negative effects of man-made chemicals used in farming and those from the inefficient/wasteful use of land.
It is still good to be aware of the negative effects of pesticides and fertilizer runoff so that we may search for a solution before the Gulf is entirely hypoxiated.
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Post by jbuck919 » Thu Dec 21, 2006 8:28 am

Here's something I learned in a recent documentary. Malaria still kills millions every year and (often repeatedly) sickens millions more. It could be completely and rather inexpensively eliminated by universal use of modern mosquito netting combined with a judicious (as opposed to wholesale) use of good old fashioned DDT, the chemical that eliminated it in the US in the first place. If done properly, there would be no danger to wildlife or the environment. Why is it not done? Not because the West is not ready to rush in and give the necessary aid to Africa, but because their own governments are so incompetent that no comprehensive program is currently possible. This is approximately the same reason that the rain forests, whose potential destruction presents the true nightmare of climate change, are not adequately protected.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by miranda » Fri Dec 22, 2006 8:30 pm

jbuck919 wrote:Corlyss knows that while we disagree about many things, I am with her on this one. It all starts with the notion that "organic produce" is anything but a superstition. In case anyone has not noticed, it does not taste better, and it is not safer.
It's not safer, and industrialized organic farms aren't much different from their non-organic counterparts.

But where I would disagree, is in flavor. At the farmer's market I frequent nearly every week, everything tastes vastly better--the meat, the eggs, the cheese, the produce. And in the summer--the tomatoes and peaches there are fresh enough that they are the closest thing we city dwellers can get to picking them off the vine, or off the tree. Once I had an heirloom tomato, I could never go back to eating that pinkish-red paper-mache that most supermarkets call tomatoes. Even the hothouse ones taste bland. I don't own a car; I take the subway there. The food is more expensive, no doubt about it, but it is of excellent quality.

And the remaining rainforests? I think that they are doomed. There is too much of a demand for meat for them to remain, except in isolated pockets here and there--if that. Where there were thousands of acres of forests are now cattle ranches.
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

jbuck919
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Post by jbuck919 » Fri Dec 22, 2006 9:43 pm

miranda wrote:But where I would disagree, is in flavor. At the farmer's market I frequent nearly every week, everything tastes vastly better--the meat, the eggs, the cheese, the produce. And in the summer--the tomatoes and peaches there are fresh enough that they are the closest thing we city dwellers can get to picking them off the vine, or off the tree. Once I had an heirloom tomato, I could never go back to eating that pinkish-red paper-mache that most supermarkets call tomatoes. Even the hothouse ones taste bland. I don't own a car; I take the subway there. The food is more expensive, no doubt about it, but it is of excellent quality.
Well, Miranda, if you're going to talk tomatoes, they are rather in a special class for different reason than organic cultivation. It is not so much whether they are grown organically as whether they are sun-ripened. I doubt (though don't know for a fact) that the famous San Marzano tomatoes of Italy are grown by so-called organic standards (they are as mass-produced as anything on Earth), but they observe the old-fashioned custom of growing them during a natural growing season and only harvesting them when they are vine ripe. It is failure to observe this natural process, which is inevitably seasonal, that affects the taste of some produce. You could add a number of fruits (which a tomato technically is), but there is much produce that is pretty much the same year round no matter how it is grown.

My father and I have obsessed on the "tomato problem" all our lives; I learned my obsession from him. Living in Florida, you'd think he'd have access to vine-ripened tomatoes year round. Not so. The stores there are stocked with the same hot-house tomatoes from (mainly) California that are mandated by union agreements as everywhere else.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

miranda
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Post by miranda » Sat Dec 23, 2006 1:23 am

i've had a san marzano tomato. it was good, but not great.

The really good ones are the heirlooms I get at the farmer's market, but the best of all are of course, home-grown. We grew our tomatoes with no pesticides at all, and with fertilizer produced from our cattle and horses, and we never had any real pest problems, becaue there were plenty of natural predators around, such as ladybugs (which people buy through the mail now, a fact that I find inexplicably sad.) And the heirlooms are truly beautiful, with interesting names. There's a huge, really sweet variety called the Mortgage Lifter, so named becasue the guy who developed it was able to capitalize on the popularity of his plant and pay off his mortgage with the proceeds: http://monticellostore.stores.yahoo.net/600066.html

Image

The yellow ones tend to be low acid. One of the darker, purplish-red ones on the looks like a Cherokee purple. The green-striped one on the right is a zebra green. They taste so much better than the pricey ones at Whole foods, whch also taste like paper-mache and have been trucked in from California.

And I like to buy food, whenever possible, that avoids the use of pesticides. Why? Becasue I grew up on a farm, and I saw what pesticides do to the ground. Many of the newer pesticides are helping to create resistant strains of insects and bacteria, due to monoculture.

But I do agree with you about the application of DDT in Africa, as long as it used very sparingly and judiciously.

And I do agree with this statement as well:

"The best thing about the spread of the ethical-food movement is that it offers grounds for hope. It sends a signal that there is an enormous appetite for change and widespread frustration that governments are not doing enough to preserve the environment, reform world trade or encourage development. Which suggests that, if politicians put these options on the political menu, people might support them. The idea of changing the world by voting with your trolley may be beguiling. But if consumers really want to make a difference, it is at the ballot box that they need to vote."

And I know ya'all will think that this is a bunch of b.s., but what the hell, I'll post it anyway...

http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/ ... 0shiva.cfm
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

Corlyss_D
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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Dec 23, 2006 3:26 am

jbuck919 wrote:Here's something I learned in a recent documentary. Malaria still kills millions every year and (often repeatedly) sickens millions more. It could be completely and rather inexpensively eliminated by universal use of modern mosquito netting combined with a judicious (as opposed to wholesale) use of good old fashioned DDT, the chemical that eliminated it in the US in the first place.
The scientific literature is full of stories like this. Bjorn Lomborg, recovering environmental activist, produced a collection of similar simple, direct uses of money and energy that could save millions of lives cheaply and effectively but which are not adopted for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is activist, especially environmentalists, who have hijacked issues with trendy leftist "solutions" that demand more attention and funding than will ever produce results. He hosted a conference in which the participants were to examine problems like global climate change, communicable diseases, migration, sanitation, etc, and a range of policy options in terms of the costs vs. the benefits of each. The conference produced a road-map of sensible expenditures for realistic outcomes.
Why is it not done? Not because the West is not ready to rush in and give the necessary aid to Africa, but because their own governments are so incompetent that no comprehensive program is currently possible. This is approximately the same reason that the rain forests, whose potential destruction presents the true nightmare of climate change, are not adequately protected.
Mythologies abound in this field. There are institutions, like NGOs, which have appointed themselves as spokesmen for the problems, and, I submit, which actually have no interest in solving the problems because then they would be out of a job. Foreign aid, for example, has been squandered mindlessly on appealing, feel-good but ultimately ineffective operations. More often than not, the aid goes to corrupt officials who get rich appropriating the goods and selling them to their profit, or who just outright steal the money and put it in Swiss bank accounts. It's not incompetence for the most part that inhibits relief; it's purposeful corruption or complete ignorance or both.

After the public relations disaster of the Indonesian tsunami, individual Americans as well as the American government poured over half a billion into the area directly affected. Little of it reached the victims because the province had rebelled against the Indonesian government and the government had no interest in helping any of them. So where is all that aid now?

I don't know how long the World Bank has been in operation but they discovered microloans only in the 1990s. Microloans to women in countless societies have done more to raise the standard of living than all the surplus wheat and agricultural engineers.

And then there are the saintly but feckless celebrity "philanthropists" like Bono, whose efforts have only allowed tyrants to get richer and buy more and newer arms with which to kill off their opponents. But jeez! It's feels so cool if you are a millionaire or a billionaire to gin up these public appeals in which you look so . . . so . . . energetic and effective in your ability to leap tall cultural differences in a single bound as against the lumbering, ineffective, and corrupt governments - at least as long as the tv cameras are on you and provided the media never checks into results, which it doesn't if you are a private individual.
Corlyss
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