Organic agriculture is a great ideal, but is the approach sufficient to feed the world?
Organic farming teacher Raoul began the joint presentation with a checklist for truly sustainable agriculture in a global context. […]
Organic agriculture has made a good start on these goals, he said, with its focus on eliminating harmful pesticides, soluble synthetic fertilizers, and soil erosion. Every year in the world 300,000 deaths are caused by the pesticides of conventional agriculture, along with 3 million cases of harm. Organic farmers replace the pesticides with crop rotation, resilient varieties of plants, beneficial insects, and other techniques.
But organic has limitations, he said. There are some pests, diseases, and stresses it can’t handle. Its yield ranges from 45% to 97% of conventional ag yield. It is often too expensive for low-income customers. At present it is a niche player in US agriculture, representing only 3.5%, with a slow growth rate suggesting it will always be a niche player.
Genetically engineered crops could carry organic farming much further toward fulfilling all the goals of sustainable agriculture, Raoul said, but it was prohibited as a technique for organic farmers in the standards and regulations set by the federal government in 2000.
At this point plant geneticist Pam took up the argument. What distinguishes genetic engineering (GE) and precision breeding from conventional breeding, she said, is that GE and precision breeding work with just one or a few well-characterized genes, versus the uncertain clumps of genes involved in conventional breeding. And genes from any species can be employed.
That transgenic capability is what makes some people nervous about GE causing unintended harm to human or ecological health. One billion acres have been planted so far with GE crops, with no adverse health effects, and numerous studies have showed that GE crops pose no greater risk of environmental damage than conventional crops.
Genetic engineering is extremely helpful in solving some agricultural problems, though only some. Pam gave three examples, …