"...Clinton's science advisor, Nina Federoff, came out the other day with a ridiculous pro-biotech statement that we don't ask doctors to use 19th century medicine and therefore we shouldn't tell farmers to do 19th century farming. This is a repetition of the silly idea that organic farming has not advanced in the last century. Obviously that's absurd (although I will say that if we had invested more in organic research, no doubt organics would be ahead of where they are today - but that's our fault, not the fault of organic farming!). The Union of Concerned Scientists posted a rebuttal to Federoff (and, thus, Clinton) this week..."
Hillary Clinton Talks About Food
by: Jill Richardson
Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 06:00:00 AM PDT
"What does the State Department have to do with food?" a friend asked me yesterday, when I told him about Hillary Clinton's recent involvement with food issues. The State Department is the home of USAID - the U.S. Agency for International Development - and they are the ones charged with doling out food aid around the world. Thus, Secretary Clinton deals with food issues. The past year or two has been marked by food riots and major food shortages around the developing world. Numbers are thrown around about 800 million or even a billion hungry people in the world, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (i.e. India and neighboring countries). Hillary recently weighed in on world hunger over on Huffington Post. While fighting hunger is a noble cause and hardly controversial, Clinton outlined seven guiding principles and I take issue with some of them:
1. We will seek to increase agricultural productivity, by expanding access to quality seeds, fertilizers, irrigation tools, and the credit to purchase them and training to use them.
5. We will seek to increase trade so small-scale farmers can sell their crops far and wide.
Hillary's words are informed by the wrongheaded notions that hunger is a yield problem and that biotech and other Green Revolution technologies are the way to increase yield. She is further promoting the ideology of free trade, but from everything I've heard, the key to fighting hunger is food sovereignty - helping each country and region of the world feed itself. Poor nations become vulnerable to the whims of the global market if they grow cash crops like vanilla and coffee for the west instead of growing food for themselves. When you focus on feeding yourself instead of the world market, in the worst case scenario (if prices crash) you can eat your crop.
Clinton's science advisor, Nina Federoff, came out the other day with a ridiculous pro-biotech statement that we don't ask doctors to use 19th century medicine and therefore we shouldn't tell farmers to do 19th century farming. This is a repetition of the silly idea that organic farming has not advanced in the last century. Obviously that's absurd (although I will say that if we had invested more in organic research, no doubt organics would be ahead of where they are today - but that's our fault, not the fault of organic farming!). The Union of Concerned Scientists posted a rebuttal to Federoff (and, thus, Clinton) this week, saying:
Organic and similar methods rely on a sophisticated scientific understanding of how a farm operates within an ecosystem—indeed, how the farm itself is an ecosystem of interconnected plants, insects, and other animals. Organic farming systems incorporate techniques like long crop rotations to control pests and leguminous cover crops or manure to add nutrients and build soil. A recent summary of studies on farming systems around the world found that such systems are often nearly as productive as current industrial agriculture in developed countries, but importantly, much more so in developing countries. The study demonstrates that the green and animal manures employed in organic agriculture can produce enough fixed nitrogen to support high crop yields. Where additional synthetic inputs are needed, other low-external-input methods are producing high yields with much reduced environmental impact. These highly productive methods are needed to produce enough food without converting uncultivated land—such as forests that are important for biodiversity and slowing climate change—into crop fields. They build deep, rich soils that hold water, sequester carbon, and resist erosion. And they don’t poison the air, drinking water, and fisheries with excess fertilizers and toxic pesticides.
The Green Revolution "high yield" technologies should be referred to as "high input." You put a lot of things in - things that will run out some day like oil (and petroleum products like fertilizer), fertile topsoil, and water - and you produce a lot of food. But that only works until you run out of those inputs and then the game is up. Sustainable farming doesn't come with an end date when it won't be possible anymore. If we are going to truly help feed the world - not just this year but in all of the years to come - then that's what we need to focus on.
The UCS piece continues, rebutting Federoff (and, thus, Clinton) by saying:
Federoff's view is at odds with the latest science, and represents a status quo kind of thinking. Today's dominant industrial U.S. agriculture relies on huge monocultures of a few major crops like corn and soybeans, and requires large inputs of fossil-fuel based synthetic chemicals to control pests and fertilize the crops. Such an agriculture churns out a lot of commodity crops (most of which are turned into meat and processed foods) while also contributing greatly to air and water pollution. Industrial agriculture is a major contributor of heat-trapping emissions and a major cause of so-called dead zones such as that in the Gulf of Mexico. And industrial agriculture is ultimately its own worst enemy, as it causes massive degradation of the very soil that is vital to farming itself. This kind of agriculture is unsustainable. We will need to move away from it towards the biologically-informed approaches that can both keep yields high while reducing environmental harm.
Although many critics see genetic engineering as a major factor in this debate, it is in fact only a minor appendage onto the industrial agriculture system-one that has done little to either increase its productivity or mitigate its environmental harm. Leaders who rely on industrial agriculture systems-with or without genetic engineering-are the ones truly stuck in the past. The challenges of the 21st century demand a fundamental rethink of agriculture that takes environmental harm into account. Promising methods and technologies like organic are in the vanguard of that effort. We cannot afford to move toward the future without such technologies.
So, Hillary, do what you can to help the world's hungry, but please, actually HELP them. Don't just deliver them up as a new market to American corporations that are peddling unsustainable technologies that will ultimately leave the world's hungry no better off than they are today.