Palaces For The People
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
 
Critics of sustainable agriculture ignore the evidence

[http://eap.mcgill.ca/Publications/eap_head.htm]
Critics of sustainable agriculture ignore the evidence

Sustainable agriculture is under attack by proponents of chemical agriculture. Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute, a US think tank supported by dollars from the US agri-chemical industry, is currently the most vocal critic. His remarks are regularly quoted by the mainstream agricultural media, and by conventional agribusiness and policy analysts.

... The Avery analysis fails to recognize other important data and doesn't hold up to a critical assessment:

* He seems unaware of the existing studies on wholesale conversion to organic systems. Midmore and Lampkin3, from their review of these studies, concluded that additional land demands under organic farming systems would be far less than the Avery estimates. Oelhaf4 estimated 17% greater land demands in the USA. Several other studies assume that there are no increases in agricultural land, which reduces overall output. However, domestic food needs are met. Exports do decline in some commodities. If one is committed to the belief that Western nations must feed the world, as Avery appears to be, then export reductions are a serious problem. If one believes, however, that Western export agriculture is a significant contributor to the decline of developing world food production capacity, then the loss of exports, if combined with supports for rebuilding local food economies, provides developing nations a new agricultural development opportunity.
* High yield systems require enormous investments of energy and agri-chemicals to be sustained, and the inability to sustain that investment for the long-term is one of the primary driving forces for sustainability.
* High-yield farming has systematically reduced productivity on millions of hectares of agriculture land5, land that would still be in use were it not for destruction of soil and water resources. For example, 550 million hectares of the world's agricultural lands are losing topsoil or undergoing other degradation as a direct result of poor agricultural methods6. The vast majority of this degeneration results from unsustainable agricultural practices, directly or indirectly a result of conventional agriculture. In the UK, some 6% of the agricultural land base is at high or very high risk of soil erosion, all associated with high yield agricultural practices7. Conventional farming practices in Canada create soil erosion and cost billions of dollars annually in lost incomes and clean-up expenses8. Those same practices are major contributors to the depletion of water resources. "Chemical contamination and eutrophication (from runoff of excess nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorous, from cropland) threaten the productivity of the marine and aquatic systems from which a substantial portion of the world's food supply derives"9....


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