Skip to comments.Agribusiness goes organic
Posted on 10/13/2002 8:43:56 AM PDT by I_Love_My_HusbandEdited on 04/13/2004 2:41:09 AM PDT by Jim Robinson. [history]
When Warren Weber and a band of other shaggy Northern California farmers started growing organic lettuce in the 1970s, they never thought it would come to this: organic Cheetos.
Frito-Lay, maker of the popular neon-orange snack food, is plowing into the organic market. So are dozens of other mega-producers -- the very companies that organic farmers once derided as part of a chemical-dependent, agri- industrial complex choking the American food supply and deadening its farmland.
(Excerpt) Read more at sfgate.com ...
Transcript of High-Yield Conservation News Conference
by Dennis T. Avery , Norman Borlaug
Rudy Boschwitz: Thank you very much. We are dedicated to the idea of ending world hunger, and we believe we are perfectly capable in the world of doing so. But we also have to preserve both the forests and the wild lands, as well as the earths biodiversity of wild species. With 37% of the worlds land surface already farmed, and with the world population expected to top off at about ten billion in 2050, the only visible strategy for saving wild lands and biodiversity is higher crop yields per acre.
We have proven that it works, that high-yield farming works. High-yield agriculture, pioneered by Dr. Norman Borlaug, has saved a billion people and 12 million square miles from the plow. George McGovern notes in his book The Third Freedom that in 1970, when Dr. Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize, 35% of the worlds people were hungry, and that by 1996, despite population increases, that percentage had been cut by more than half to 17%.
This coalition that supports the Declaration for High-yield Agriculture and Forestry to save the wild lands and biodiversity is being led by Dr. Norman Borlaug, the hero of the Green Revolution, who won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize; by Oscar Arias, who unfortunately couldnt be with us, the former President of Costa Rica, who also won in 1986 the Nobel Peace Prize, who is now the ambassador for Future Harvest, a Third World Agricultural Research Network; to my left, Greenpeace co-founder and former director Dr. Patrick Moore; Eugene Lapointe, who is with us this morning, the President of the World Conservation Trust, and former Executive Director of the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species; James Lovelock, the famed environmentalist and author and originator of Gaia Hypothesis; and Per Pinstrup-Andersen, of the International Food Policy Research Institute, who is the winner of the 2001 World Food Prize.
Neither Dr. Andersen or Lovelock are able to be with us today. And then at the end there is Dennis Avery, of the Center for Global Food Issues, which is of course associated with the Hudson Institute. We politicians also get involved in these things, and George McGovern and I, who served on the Agriculture Committee together, and in the field of ending hunger. In that field we certainly were allies. We are also both original co-signatories of this declaration. So it is with great pleasure that I now turn over this meeting to Dr. Borlaug.
Norman Borlaug: Thank you, Rudy. Ladies and Gentlemen. I began my professional career as a forester interested in conservation and wildlife. Then I made a mistake and went back to graduate school and studied plant pathology and genetics and plant breeding, and that changed everything. Ive spent the last fifty-eight years in Third World food-deficit nations. But in the process, Ive come around that circle 180 degrees. And I feel that from evidence thats been accumulated, my original choice of conserving land and natural resources was greater by changing productivity on food and fiber, producing more per hectare, per acre of land, on the land best suited for agriculture -- rather than spreading it out into much marginal land that would have been productive only for a few years, then would have been abandoned and eroded away. But in the process of expanding, it would have destroyed many forests, much wildlife habitat, and opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Many of the indirect values that become especially important in an affluent, privileged society such as the USA or our friends to the north in Canada -- could be Australia, or the Western European countries. But there is great confusion that comes into the picture. But before I divert my attention to that, let me just mention so that you capture the magnitude of change that has come as a result of utilizing high-yield technology to change food production. I could go on for hours talking about it. But let me pick one concrete example.
In the case of India, when the high-yield technology of wheat, which was developed in Mexico -- curious place to develop it because Mexico is not a very important wheat producing country. But because of methods that were used, that opened new doors, and a broad genetic base. And then by training hundreds, many hundreds of young scientists from the developing countries, came to Mexico, learned this and its no magic in a variety that sets the yield potential. But you can build into that variety insurance policies through genetic breeding against the major diseases.
But there are limitations that you can do there too -- no matter how high the yield potential, if it is planted on worn out soils that have been mined of essential plant nutrients, not over one year but over many years, and even before mankind, by Mother Nature. By weathering and leeching. Removing fertility. But especially by opening, plowing up prairies, or cutting down forests, converting them to agriculture, and then not replenishing those nutrients, with what we call fertilizers, be it organic or inorganic.
I say, use all the organic thats available. But we arent going to feed 6 billion people with organic fertilizer. If we tried to do it, we would level most of our forest and many of those lands would be productive only for a short period of time. So theres a lot of misinformation that has come into the whole system.
There are about 80 million metric tons of chemical nitrogen produced at the present time. If you wanted to try to produce this with cattle manure, it would take you roughly -- it would be about 4 billion tons of cattle manure. Imagine the problems of moving it, transporting it, and the odors wouldnt be particularly appealing either. Those would be the choices we would have to make.
And remember how population has grown. When I was born in 1914, world population was about 1.7 billion. We passed the six billion mark in the year 2000. We continue to add about 80 to 85 million more every year to world populations. How are you going to feed them?
Our people ... and of course weve got two problems on food. One is to produce enough of the different kinds. The second equally important aspect is the equity of distribution. And there we run into the problem of poverty, lack of purchasing power that makes it very difficult to distribute the food in certain countries.
And never forget that we had poverty in the land of oversupply during the Thirties. When I was a young boy, I saw that before there were soup lines in Minnesota, before the days of Franklin Roosevelt and Henry Wallace, the Secretary of Agriculture, there was widespread unemployment. I saw people sleeping on the ground in Minneapolis in November asking for a handout, a nickel, to buy a piece of bread. And there was surpluses everywhere.
We still have those problems. India has sixty million tons of grain in storage today, and yet you travel India, and you can still see many people that need more food. But they dont have money to buy more than enough to survive on. The equity of distribution is equally important, and there you get into the trap of unemployment, or underemployment. On the contrast, and I am not advocating this as a political system, Rudy, but you go to China, which has made equally great advances in food production, you dont see hungry people. But the government tells me "yes, we have them, in the mountainous areas where we have no transport, where we have to teach them in the short time to produce their food." Eventually well have transport to move the food into these divisioned areas.
So let me stop there and simply say that after these fifty eight years in foreign agriculture, I think I have saved more land for conservation, for Mother Nature, for forestry, wildlife, habitat, having dedicated my life to increasing yields per hectare and trying to apply it on the land best suited for agriculture. So that you leave undisturbed, in so far as is possible, vast tracks of land for forest, diversity of plant and animal species, wildlife habitat. Thank you very much. I have a couple of graphs here, that shows some of the change, if some of you are interested later, you can pick them up. Simply said, the worlds cereal production in 1950 was about 620 million metric tons. In the year 2000, it was a 1.874 billion -- three times more with only an increase of ten million hectares of cultivated land. Had we tried to produce the harvest of the year 2000 with the technology of 1950, we would of had to increase cultivated land area 1.2 billion hectares more land of the same quality. We didnt have the same quality. It would have been much more. How many forests would have been destroyed? How many species become extinct? And we need to keep these in perspective when we look at this complex picture. Thank you.
Rudy Boschwitz: Thank you Dr. Borlaug. You have saved a lot of land, and one of the participants this morning says that you saved millions and millions of lives as well. Our next, our next participant is Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace, and if you would proceed.
Patrick Moore: Thank you. Ill be brief. Im very proud to be a participant in signing this declaration. Ive met Dr. Borlaug previously and he and I see eye to eye on a lot of things. And a pleasure to meet Eugene Lapointe this morning. Ive followed his career for many years.
The beauty of this declaration is it brings together the potential for an understanding of the relationships among agriculture, forestry, and nature. "Its only one planet" is the main message of ecology. And understanding theres only one land, and its been divided by us into various uses.
Theres two real misconceptions that were trying to correct here. The first misconception is that it would be better to go back to more primitive methods of agriculture because chemicals are bad or genetics is bad, or whatever. This is not true. We need to use the science and technology we have developed in order to feed the worlds population, a growing population. And the more yield we get per acre of land the less nature has to be destroyed to do that.
It is simply a fact that when you convert natural forest lands or other wild lands into agricultural production, you lose a huge amount of the biodiversity in that land. And the only way to maintain biodiversity is to keep as much land as possible in nature and wilderness while at the same time providing for the needs of a growing population. High-yield is the only way to do that. Its simple arithmetic. The more people there are, the more forest has to be cleared to feed them, and the only way to offset that is to have more yield per acre.
The other misconception is that the way to save forest is by reducing our consumption of wood. This is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. We should be growing more trees and using more wood. Because we have to build our civilization out of something. The less wood we use, the more steel and concrete we use. And the more fossil fuels we use to make the steel and concrete, the more CO2 emissions and threat of climate change. Using less wood is logically inconsistent with reducing C02 emissions on this planet. So the solution is to grow more trees and use more wood.
And the public is being told, unfortunately, the opposite by many people -- and they're getting the impression that by using less wood we can save the trees. 80% of all the timber produced in the United States, for example, is from private land. Why is that? Because private land owners can make money growing trees, because people want wood. If those private land owners had no market for wood, theyd clear the forest away and grow something else that they could make money from instead. When you go into a lumber yard, youre given the impression that by buying wood youre causing the forest to be lost, when in fact what youre doing is sending a signal into the market to plant more trees. Thats why theres just about the same area of forest in the United States today as there was a hundred years ago. And thats why theres no more land being used for agriculture today than there was a hundred years ago. It's because of high-yield agriculture.
So the combination of high-yield agriculture, and the demand for renewable forest products, has resulted in a landscape that still has a tremendous area of forest, fostering biodiversity. The US South being the best example, which was once cleared for cattle and cotton, and has now been largely reforested again. Where the highest biodiversity is is in the US South. Not despite forestry, but because of it. Because theres trees growing back on that land again now, protecting soils, cleaning air and water, providing habitat. So this is a wonderful initiative. Because its the first initiative that really brings together a synthesis of these three uses of land. Growing our food, growing our fiber, including our renewable wood, and protecting nature. And we have to make sure we keep a balance among all three of those. High-yield forestry and high-yield agriculture is our best tool to make sure we have nature conservation into the future. Thank You.
Rudy Boschwitz: Thank you, Dr. Moore, and we now will hear from Eugene Lapointe, who is the President of the World Conservation Trust.
Eugene Lapointe: Thank you. Every time I have to speak after great scientists and great humanitarians such as Dr. Borlaug and Dr. Moore, I feel kind of sorry for myself. But on the other hand it convinced me that I did the right choice when I moved on the political side of environmental issues, because I didnt have the proper brain to be on the scientific side. Now please, dont quote me as having said that politicians are stupid [laughter] What I said was that those involved in the political process require a different level of cleverness and intelligence and judgment than those involved in the scientific and humanitarian fields.
I have been a conservationist for 61 of my 62 years of life. And all of my preoccupation from the time that I spend at the age of seven hunting, fishing, from feeding my family, to the time I became involved in the international scene, I had one main preoccupation, one main objective, which was feeding people, where protecting the water and the land, where it was possible to find the resources. And I have came to realize that there is only one way my objective could be achieved in the long term. First of all there was three components required. One was that we had access to the resources; secondly that we could use those resources in an intelligent, in a rational, sustainable manner. And the third element was we could develop a mechanism to use the potential of these resources.
I'll go back in history for a little while. At the end of World War Two, the famous General Patton came out with the statement that shocked, sent waves, through the military establishment, and political establishment, at that time. He said quote, Were winning the war the wrong way. With the war of the environment, as it has developed over the last three decades, we have been exposed to a different version of this winning and losing. Weve been taught how to lose the battle of the environment the right way. How can that be done? Because we are being offered solutions, we are being offered programs, we are being offered various courses of action, planning and so on, which have nothing to do with the realities of this world.
The solutions that are being offered by the environmentalist movement are quite often in total opposition to the objectives that we are trying to achieve: protection of the environment, feeding people. And we are [inaudible] precisely that will make sure that we dont achieve it. And why? Its because those solutions are designed to split people from the land and the water. They are designed to keep people further and further and further away from the realities of this world. And they are designed to take away from the debate and the protection and conservation of the environment, human elements such as creativeness, innovation, and initiative. So important, this finding of any solution for any human activity.
Fortunately, the picture is not that bleak. There is still the possibility that we will be able to have a new logo, that we are winning the battle of protection of the environment the right way. And the Center for Global Food Issues, in its initiative called High-yield Farming and Forestry, is probably the best example of that. Where we can achieve true innovative and practical solutions. The major objective that all of us should have is feeding people while protecting the waters and the lands that we have. Teach us again how to win, and how to do it correctly. And this is carrying out the right message that we should all absorb. I am both pleased, and highly honored, to be associated with such an impressive number of reputed scholars, intellectuals, and leaders in the signing of the declaration in support of the high-yield farming and forestry. For me, it falls right in the overall concern that we have throughout the planet for the future generation as well as the present generations.
And I hope that by doing so, by enhancing the potential of farming and forestry, we will achieve two major objectives, and I am pointed out by Dr. Moore. First of all, we will be able to demonstrate that this is good not only for feeding people, this is good for protecting habitats, this is good for protecting other species, other creatures, other living creatures. And also I hope that similar programs will be developed throughout the world on issues like fisheries. On all of those issues where the resources are used to feed people. But they are not, of course, unlimited, so we have at the same time to take care of them. So I am sure that the initiative will become also a model for other activities, human activities, in the world. Thank you very much.
"Great burger, honey! Tastes like the beef was raised in an atmosphere of social justice and equality."
On the other hand, I find these these sorts of comments irritating:
"This isn't what we meant. When we said organic we meant local. We meant healthful. We meant being true to the ecologies of regions. We meant mutually respectful growers and eaters. We meant social justice and equality."
So maybe they could come up with a second designation -- "socially just" produce -- to keep the granola and volvos crowd happy. Of course, it would be grown by aging Marxists on small-scale farms, and as such it would be too expensive for the unwashed masses to squeeze into their budgets.
But that's where the "organic" label would come in. That's what us proles would buy. Our produce would be socially unjust, grown on large-scale organic farms owned by greedy capitalists, but that's just the way it'd have to be to make affordable, high-quality produce available to the people.