Time to tell the truth about organics

Time to tell the truth about organics

November 12, 2014

IS IT OK to gloat? After all, it’s not every day we see those trying to turn back the clock on modern agriculture so resoundingly defeated. There are plenty of them too, from the multinational Luddite organisation Greenpeace to the Safe Food Foundation (one of many fronts for the Greens), the GM-Free Australia Alliance (headed by Bob Phelps, who has made a career campaigning against genetically-modified food), and the left-wing law firm Slater and Gordon.

I am somewhat curious as to whether they will put their hands in their pockets to pay the costs of their hitherto hero, WA farmer Steve Marsh, whose case against his neighbour, Michael Baxter, they championed and who is now stuck with paying the costs of the man he sued. Somehow I doubt it; zealots are rarely generous.

Perhaps a few moments of gloating are permissible, but I prefer to think this victory gives encouragement to the normal, rational, optimistic members of society. Those who understand we only have enough to eat because of modern agriculture. Those who know we need scientific innovation if we are to feed everyone in future. And of course, those who believe scientists when they tell us GM food is safe. On that, the science is well and truly settled.

And if we are to have a moment of normal, rational optimism, perhaps it is time to start burying the notion that organic food is normal, rational or optimistic. Because it is none of those.

When it started to gather momentum, following the 1962 release of Rachel Carson’s book about DDT, Silent Spring, the organic industry might have had a point. Pesticides were broad spectrum and persistent in the environment, and not always used as judiciously as they are today. There were pesticide residues in many foods which, while well below hazardous levels, had the potential to accumulate in rare cases. The organic movement grew out of a desire to avoid these residues.