Organic Farmers Sowing Fear?

Media Appearances, Agriculture, Frontier Centre

Wednesday, January 11th, 2006

By Avi Saper

THE organic food industry is using fear-mongering to bolster its profits, says the author of a new book on organic farming.

“We know that scare sticks,” said Alex Avery, director of research at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues in Churchville, Va. “They’ll continue claiming that pesticides are dangerous to the food supply and that modern agriculture is destroying the environment.”

But Avery — who spoke yesterday at a lunch at the Winnipeg Convention Centre organized by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Winnipeg think-tank — said none of those claims has ever been proven.

He said with global populations on the rise and increasing affluence in developing countries, the future of agriculture would need to rely on biotechnology (or what his opponents would call genetic modification) to keep up with the demand for food.

“There is no real hope that we’re going to convert the world to veganism and that the planet’s population won’t grow. We have no real environmental alternative other than to produce more on the acres we have.”

Avery cited a variety of tomato whose yields increased by 50 per cent after one gene was changed.

Organic farming would require much more land to produce a similar yield, he said.

Alex Scott, president of the Organic Producers Association of Manitoba, said there are studies that show organic farms to be just as efficient as conventional operations.

“I guess it depends on whose stats you believe,” said Scott.

Avery emphasized that not enough cows exist to produce enough manure for all the world’s crops.

“We can’t rely only on manure,” he said, adding only 20 per cent of the world’s crop production is supported by manure.

Scott countered that green manure can be used as a viable alternative.

Avery also condemned the practice of free-range poultry farming, saying it “is the root problem for the avian flu.”

The interaction between poultry kept outdoors and wild birds is a major concern that needs more attention, Avery said.

His upcoming book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Organic Food and Farming, was written for “soccer moms” who Avery said have been tricked by the organic food industry’s dishonest advertising.

After Avery’s speech, Tina Aminot of the Concerned Citizens Coalition questioned the effects of hog farming on the safety of Manitoba’s water. Aminot’s concerns stem from the recently announced OlyWest pork plant to be built in the St. Boniface Industrial Park.

Avery said as long as farmers and related industries act responsibly, there is no reason for water safety to be a concern. He added that those who fail to follow regulations should be punished accordingly.

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