[ExI] Rationality and Irrationality
msd001 at gmail.com
Tue Dec 18 02:45:21 UTC 2007
On Dec 17, 2007 4:20 PM, <aiguy at comcast.net> wrote:
> I think it is irrational of you to think that everyone will agree with you
> just because you feel that Global warming is caused by human beings and can
> be reversed by human beings limiting carbon dioxide emissions. I also think
> it very arogant to believe that anyone who does not agree with you is either
> lacking in science education or putting greed ahead of the planets welfare.
If we can give up our oil addiction and guilt the world into believing
in the "green" program, we can further raise the price of the dirty
habit for those who can't afford the switch to carbon-free
alternatives. (You know, like charging $4.50 for the same box of
cigarettes that was < $2.00 only ten years ago: the more people quit,
the more they can charge the remaining recalcitrant smokers) I have
little doubt the US will tap Alaskan oil fields, but not before the
selling price is five times what it is now. In order to make that
happen, some changes are obviously required. Americans will not pay
that much to drive, it wouldn't be worth it to go to work - so an
artificial 50% increase now is just enough pain to adopt hybrid and
electric vehicles so we can tolerate another 300+% increase tomorrow.
Consider the way we manage genetically modified corn: (keeping
farmers dependent on returning to the source labs each year to
resupply the expensive higher yield corn)
While looking for a public link to backup my suggestion that GMO corn
subsidies may also be creating a dependence on first-world labs rather
than self-sufficiency literally 'in the field', i found this
interesting link: (which is no longer available on the site from
which it appeared to originate) [once the Borg (Google) assimilates
(caches) your web content, you can never take it down]
Will the World Throw Away High Yield Agriculture?
Alex A. Avery
Speech to the National Potato Promotion Board, Denver, Colorado
The Rev. Thomas Malthus' famous question about whether humanity can
continue to feed all the people was posed exactly 200 years ago.
It has taken us nearly all of that 200 years to be sure of an
affirmative answer. Only recently have we been certain that the
opening of the 21st century should see a new and fully-sustainable
balance between food, population and the environment because of:
* Radically-declining birth rates virtually all over the world;
* Enormous advances being made in the scientific knowledge of how
to boost food production;
* Vastly more affluence than any generation before has had, and
thus more capital to invest in the roads, storage facilities, ships
and research labs that encourage food production, distribution and
* An array of technologies—contraceptives, biotechnology,
computers, satellite communications, cryogenics and a host of other
technical advances—that can help to achieve a constructive balance
between human needs and the ecology.
Compare this situation with any year before 1960. Before that year,
massive famines seemed certain for much of the world; poverty was the
global norm; the Green Revolution had not yet demonstrated its power.
By comparison, the world today has a virtual certainty of food
production success. If humanity is to starve or displace wildlife in
the 21st century, with today's technology and a declining population
growth rate, it could only be because we lack the political will.
However, that may be the case.
Today, the real question is not whether the world can produce enough
food for a peak population of 8.0-8.5 billion people. It can. We could
already produce enough to satisfy minimal caloric requirements for
that many people if known technologies were fully extended, and
production was divided equally among all consumers.
The world's recent famines have been due to "mistakes of government,"
such as civil wars and Mao Tse-tung's ill-considered communal farms.
Little hunger has been due to the lack of available food.
Forty percent of the world's current crop output, in fact, goes to
livestock and poultry feed so that affluent people can eat
high-quality diets full of meat, milk, and eggs. In a hunger
emergency, we can eat both the feedstuffs and the livestock, and later
worry about rebuilding the flocks and herds.
The Food Challenge is Affluence
The food challenge of the 21st century, in fact, is not the challenge
of population growth, but the challenge of affluence. Virtually all
the people of the 21st century will be affluent by today's standards
and able to afford education, nice clothes and TV sets. Such people
are unwilling to accept minimal diets.
The same modern couples who are willing to practice family planning,
with two children instead of 15, demand that their two children get
rich diets high in meat protein for growth, and milk calcium for
strong bones. Affluent people insist on fresh fruits and vegetables
all year round. Such diets take far more resources than boiled rice or
There is no vegetarian trend in the world; instead we are seeing the
strongest surge of demand for resource-costly foods in all history.
Currently, only about 4 percent of the First World's population are
even vegetarian, and most of these vegetarians consume lots of
resource-costly eggs and dairy products.
There will even be a pet food challenge. The U.S. has 113 million pet
cats and dogs for 270 million people. All over the world, ownership of
companion animals and pet food sales rise with incomes. Already,
China's one-child policy is stimulating pet ownership. It is
reasonable to project that China in 2050 will have more than 500
million cats and dogs. And, woe unto the public official who stands
between a pet owner and Fluffy's favorite food.
The debate in development economics is whether the challenge of
affluence requires a 250 percent increase in the world's food output,
or a 300 percent increase. The universal human hunger for high-quality
protein, combined with the pet factor, convinces us that the world
must be able to triple, certainly more than double, its farm output in
the next 40 years.
What About Potatoes?
As you all are likely well aware, the market of the future for North
American potato growers is Asia, as Asia is the future market for
almost all North American farmers. Whereas in Ireland, potatoes were
the food of the poor, in Asia, potatoes are percieved as a luxury
food—sold almost entirely as french fries in Western-style fast food
outlets, such as Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonalds. However, as
Asia's economy grows, fast food is loosing its label as a "luxury"
food and is entering the mainstream of Asian society.
So we can look to the fast food sectors as an indicator of where the
market for potatoes is likely to go in the next several decades.
The Fast Food Industry is skyrocketing in Asia. One Hong Kong-based
market analysis firm, Asian Market Intelligence, estimates China's
fast food sector have nearly $5 billion US dollars in sales in 1997,
20% from Western fast food outlets. Even better, the fast food sector
has grown at an average rate of 50 percent annually in recent years.
But this hardly does justice to the phenomenal growth in the frozen
french fry market in recent years.
The US agricultural attache in China reports that China's direct
purchases of frozen french fries have increased ten-fold in the past
three years, and re-exports through Hong Kong have tripled. McDonalds
and KFC account for two thirds of the market share in french fries,
demonstrating the close connection between french fry consumption and
fast food chains.
Even more promising, from a long-term perspective, China's
supermarkets are beginning to stock frozen french fries for home
consumption. This trend is especially marked in the north, where deep
frying at home is common.
These trends indicate that french fries and potato products are making
significant cultural inroads in Asia. A wave of young Chinese
consumers raised on "treats" of McDonalds and other fast food is
transforming the Chinese market. These trends will only increase in
both scope and depth. More restaurants beyond simply fast food will
start serving french fried potatoes, just as salsa and nachos have
extended their base beyond Mexican restaurants. Already, french fries
have moved out of simply Western-style fast food restaurants, and into
Chinese fast food outlets.
Currently, China is estimated to import as much as 20,000 tons of
french fries in 1997, with greater than 95 percent of this coming from
the United States. China recently decided to lower import duties on
french fries and the sector is making improvements in infrastructure
to ensure the maintainence of high quality. China, although it
produces potatoes, has yet to produce a quality potato with the proper
characteristics for french fries.
Even in Japan, where Western foods have been popular for several
decades, french fry consumption has been increasing recently. Because
of the rising popularity of hamburger joints, french fry imports have
been rising at 7-10 percent annually. This is a 250,000 to 300,000 ton
potato import market, with almost 90 percent of these coming from the
If China consumed half of the Japanese French fry consumption, it
would be a 2 million ton potato import market. Is that possible? You
bet, but it will take time for the Chinese to reach that level of
individual income and for Chinese tastes to be Westernized to the
level of the Japanese. However, it is not just the Chinese who will be
our ultimate consumers. Asia includes three of the four largest
nations: China, India, and Indonesia. And let's not forget Malaysia,
Korea, Taiwan, and Pakistan. The opportunity for export growth is
But at the same time that this enormous opportunity is emerging
overseas, there are significant uncertainties arising here at home.
Many thought just a couple of years ago that the only thing we had to
worry about was opening up the trade barriers. Once we got that, we'd
be OK. After all, we'd just solved that darned old "Delaney Clause"
mess with the passage of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) and
the Freedom to Farm bill was going to get the government off our
backs. Well, as Dennis and I were saying then, "hold on a minute."
Everyone realized fairly quickly that the FQPA was going to cause some
problems. Beyond the basic problems I have with methedology in
assessing exposure of pesticides and the aggregate/cumulative risk cup
analysis done by the EPA, the process is happening quite fast and
growers are going to have to watch the process like a hawk from this
When Tim asked me to speak here today, he wanted me to cover the
current FQPA situation and where it is going. The simple answer is
that it's going fast and loose.
The EPA is basing their pesticide review decisions on old data in some
cases. As a result, the agency is not fully accounting for how
important some of these compounds really are to potato growers.
Methamidophos or Monitor is one example.
The fungicide TPTH was saved because potato growers demonstrated that
it was a key chemical to many growers. But the EPA's estimates were
inaccurate and if the industry hadn't been watching closely, it would
have been lost. It's that simple. Does that mean that you will be able
to save every chemical currently allowed? Don't bet on it.
At this point, Carol Browner has only a short time left. With Al Gore
in the Presidential race, things could change rapidly. That is exactly
how the FQPA was enacted in the first place. My advice and the advice
of many I've spoken to is to watch the agency like a hawk. More
importantly, if there are data gaps on the use of specific chemicals
undergoing review that are important to the potato industry, GET THE
DATA!! With FQPA already the law, the only significant defense you
guys have is solid data. The more data the better because in the
absence of data, the EPA will make "default" assumptions about
I must add, that potato growers have a few things in their favor over
growers of some other crops. While the market for pesticides is larger
in corn or soybeans, your market is no small potatoes. You are an
important market for fungicides and insecticides, a market that the
chemical companies want to keep. That means, under FQPA's unified risk
cup, where chemicals with similar modes of action and from other crops
are combined when calculating consumer exposure and risk. As the risk
cup gets full, manufacturers will have to dump pesticide uses in order
to keep the risk cup from overflowing. Potatoes, while not the
biggest, will likely be behind many other commodities when it comes
time to ditching uses.
To make things doubly uncertain, on top of FQPA, biotechnology is now
controversial. We went from getting rid of Delaney and going after
trade access, to overly stringent pesticide laws and a consumer
confusion crisis in three years. The Chinese curse of "May you live in
Interesting times" is definitely upon us.
For those of you who think that pesticide issues are completely
separate from biotechnology issues, let me clarify things for you: it
is all part of one, much larger conflict.
Robert Shapiro, head of Monsanto, actually believed when they started
developing biotech crops that the activists would see the virtue in
biotech crops and would eventually support the technology. After the
biotech fiasco broke in Europe, Shapiro was so niave that Monsanto's
advertising campaign gave out the web site addresses of the
The promise of biotechnology is immeasurable. We couldn't begin to
forecast what developments will be coming in twenty years if biotech
is allowed to move forward and there is even modest consumer
acceptance. Already we have the New Leaf and New Leaf Plus potatoes.
I'm told that the New Leaf Plus is good, but not perfect. There may be
some yield drag. But the trial results I've seen so far look pretty
good. A drastic reduction in the average amount of insecticide sprays
and excellent virus protection. One set of photos even showed pheasant
tracks in a NLP potato field, and the researcher mentioned that it was
the first time in here over ten year career that she'd seen such
In the pipeline are a whole range of biotech potato improvements,
ranging from greater virus and fungus resistant varieties to bruise
The reality is, however, that if we fail to communicate the benefits
and need for biotechnology, we risk loosing it to over regulation and
consumer fear. It was no surprise that Greenpeace and Friends of the
Earth were vehemently against the new agricultural technology. It was
a surprise, however, that many in agriculture were caught off guard by
the environmentalist opposition. Where have such people been during
the last 20 years. There hasn't been a single new agricultural
advancement in this century that hasn't been opposed by some group,
In the early part of this century, some, despite the high risk of
milk-borne tuberculosis, vehemently opposed milk pasteurization. Then
it was hybrid corn. The it was insecticides, especially DDT. Then it
was herbicides. Now it's biotechnology.
As proof that the opposition is to modern agriculture, not social or
human health concerns, I call your attention to the comments of two
prominent critics of biotechnology in response to the announcement of
the development of the Golden Rice by scientists funded by the
Rockefeller Foundation. Golden rice is rice engineered to contain Beta
carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A, and inactivates a protein in
rice, phytase, that inhibits iron availability. The Rockefeller
Foundation funded the research to develop golden rice because Vitamin
A deficiency and iron deficiency plague many rice-based cultures. It
is estimated that 4 million children go blind each year because of
vitamin A deficiency. An estimated 2 billion women suffer birth
complications as a result of iron deficiency. Golden rice was
developed as a humanitarian effort to relieve these simple dietary
deficiencies. The International Rice Research Institute is now
developing regional varieties of rice which incorporate golden rice's
traits and will then give the germplasm to national governments for
But just look at the response from environmentalists and activists.
Margaret Mellon is with the Union of Concerned Scientists, in
Washington, D.C. She claims that golden rice is simply a ploy by the
agribusiness community to put a humanitarian face on a dangerous
technology. She says "there are ten simple things we can do to solve
these problems without biotechnology, from building roads and
distributing iron tablets to encouraging people to grow gourds."
Let me get this straight, instead of allowing people access to a rice
seeds they could grow themselves which would alleviate all of these
problems, we're supposed to just build an entire network of roads and
infrastructure so that we can distribute pills and pumpkin seeds? News
flash, Ms. Mellon, if they had such diverse backyard gardens and
infrastructure, they likely wouldn't be nutritionally deficient to
Vandana Shiva, an Indian "community activist," is even more silly. She
states that all we have to do is get poor Asians to eat more meat,
milk, eggs, dairy products, and green leafy vegetables. Even sillier,
she suggests that golden rice is dangerous because it could poison
people with too much vitamin A! These are people suffering from
chronic vitamin A deficiency. Besides, Ms. Shiva is extremely ignorant
of the physiological realities. The golden rice contains only Beta
carotene, not vitamin A. Beta carotene is a precursor to vitamin A,
which means it is extremely difficult to overdose on Beta carotene.
One nutritionist I spoke to said that a person would have to eat 10
times the normal amount of rice each day for months before any
problems would show, and even then, they would have ample warning that
something is wrong because their skin would begin to turn orange well
before toxic levels of vitamin A occurred.
The activists opposition to golden rice exposes their real colors.
They aren't against bad biotechnology, the activists are against all
biotechnology. How else to explain their opposition to golden rice. It
can't be because they fear it will be used as a tool of multinational
corporations to monopolize agriculture—it was funded by a
philanthropic charitable foundation and will be given away to farmers
free. It can't be because they fear environmental or ecological
consequences—the golden rice contains no new plant genes, only
existing genes from wild plants. The only explanation is that these
people are luddite elitists pandering to their own paranoia.
"Golden rice" will offer improved health to billions of women and
children in rice-eating countries who could not have been helped
through factory-food additives—at a tiny cost to society and no cost
We must stop hoping and waiting for people to realize how important
these technologies are for us and the planet and begin communicating
on a level that consumers understand.
Land—the Scarcest Natural Resource
We in agriculture have a duty to help people understand that the
intense increase in food demand I spoke of earlier will force even
greater competition between farming and wildlife for land.
· Agriculture already uses about 37 percent of the earth's land
surface, and any land not already in a city or a farm is wildlife
· If the world has 30 million wildlife species (a reasonable
biologist's "guesstimate") then 25-27 million of them are probably in
the tropical rain forests, with most of the remainder in such critical
habitats as wetlands, coral reefs and mountain microclimates. These
are places we have not farmed, and should not farm.
Through pesticide use, fertilizers, confinement meat production and
modern food processing, modern high-yield farming has already saved
millions of square miles of wildlife habitat.
Our peer-reviewed estimate is that the modern food system is currently
saving something on the order of 15-20 million square miles of
wildlands from being plowed for low-yield food production. That makes
it the greatest conservation triumph in modern history.
Thus the key to conserving the natural world in the 21st century will
be what the Hudson Institute calls "high-yield conservation." Meeting
both the food and forestry challenges, while leaving room for nature,
will depend on our ability to continue increasing the yields per acre
from plants, animals and trees on our best land, and transporting to
where the people are demanding it. Our success will also depend
heavily on how urgently we explore such high-tech methods as
biotechnology in food and forestry.
Hamstringing High-Yield Conservation
Yet the world's most advanced societies are attempting to legislate
low-yield agriculture. All over the First World, government funding
for agricultural research is being cut back, or shifted to low-yield
"sustainable" farming. Governments in affluent countries subsidize
low-yield organic farming, while regulators respond to public opinion
by depriving the world's high-yield farmers of time-tested pesticides
and raising the safety hurdles to unjustifiably high levels.
In Africa, which has not yet had its Green Revolution, aid donors are
demanding that farmers increase food production without modern pest
protection or plant nutrients.
Large numbers of well-fed, affluent, influential people are opposing
biotechnology, the most important unexploited advance in humanity's
knowledge of how to increase food production rapidly. There is serious
question whether the power of biotechnology will be marshaled in
agriculture soon enough to make its undoubtedly huge contribution to
simultaneously saving people and wildlife.
Are modern societies attempting to surrender the planet back to
hunger, malnutrition and massive losses in wildlife habitat? And if
The Environmentalist Campaign Against Modern Farming
The opponents of modern, high-yield agriculture and biotechnology are,
ironically, gathered under the banner of environmentalism.
§ With the help of Rachel Carson's brilliantly-flawed book, Silent
Spring, eco-activists long maintained that modern farmers are
poisoning children with cancer-causing chemicals. After 50 years of
widespread pesticide use and billions of research dollars, science is
still looking for the first case of cancer caused by pesticide
residues. The U.S. National Research Council, the Canadian Cancer
Institute and other medical authorities are trying to tell the public
that the cancer fears are unfounded.
§ For fifty years, wildlife groups have universally claimed that
modern farm chemicals were poisoning wildlife on a massive scale.
However, the wildlife losses to today's narrowly-targeted and
rapidly-degrading chemicals are trivial -- especially when compared
with the millions of square miles of wildlife habitat saved by
farmers' high yields.
§ Eco-activists claim that more food means more people. But we are
clearly in the first era of human history when more food has not meant
more population. Births per woman in the Third World are down from 6.5
in 1960 to 3.0 today, and the birth rates have fallen fastest in the
countries where the crop yields have risen most rapidly.
§ Environmentalists claim that modern farming is destroying the soil
with rampant erosion. But farmers have used herbicides and tractors to
invent conservation tillage, which cuts soil erosion per acre by 65 to
95 percent. A recent soil erosion study in Wisconsin finds that the
farmers there are suffering only 5 percent as much erosion as they did
during the "Dust Bowl" days of the 1930s.
§ Environmentalists oppose liberalized farm trade, though this is the
only hope for much of Asia's wildlife.
We must now realize that modern agriculture is being targeted, not
because it is bad for the environment, but because modern farming 1)
represents the greatest success of technological abundance; and 2)
because farming controls much of the world's land and water. The
environmental movement seems to want managed scarcity for a few
people. It seems to want more bison and prairie dogs—and fewer corn
plants—on American land even if that sacrifices wildlands and
The Future with Biotechnology
The world is in the early phases of exploring biotechnology's
potential—the "biplane stage," to draw the analogy with airplanes. But
already we see enough to know that biotechnology will be enormously
important to conservation.
Saving Wild Species with Aluminum-tolerant Crops
Two researchers from Mexico discovered a way to overcome the aluminum
toxicity that cuts crops yields by up to 80 percent on the acid soils
characteristic of the tropics. Noting that some of the few plants that
succeed on the world's acid savannas secrete citric acid from their
roots, they took a gene for citric acid secretion from a bacterium and
put it into tobacco and papaya plants. Presto, they had acid-tolerant
plants. The acid ties up the aluminum ions, and allows the plants to
grow virtually unhindered. The Mexican researchers have since gotten
the citric acid gene to work in rice plants, and hope that it can be
used widely in crop species for the tropics.
Acid-soil crops have enormous potential for wildlife conservation.
Acid soils make up 30 to 40 percent of the world's arable land, and
about 43 percent of the arable land in the tropics. Thus far, they
have been one of the major barriers to providing adequate food in the
very regions that are critical to wildlands conservation, the Third
World tropics. These are the very areas where the populations are
growing most rapidly, where incomes are rising most rapidly, where the
food gaps are expanding most rapidly -- and where most of the world's
biodiversity is located.
Raising Yields with Wild-Relative Genes
Two researchers from Cornell University reasoned that more than a
century of inbreeding the world's crop plants had significantly
narrowed the genetic base of our crops. They also reasoned that the
world's gene banks contained a large number of genes from wild
relatives of our crop plants. They selected a number of genes from
wild relatives of the tomato family, a crop where yields have been
rising by about 1 percent per year. The wild-relative genes produced a
50 percent gain in yields and a 23 percent gain in solids. The same
researchers selected two promising genes from wild relatives of the
rice plant -- a crop where no yield gains had been achieved since the
Chinese pioneered hybrids some 15 years ago. Each of the two genes
produced a 17 percent gain in the highest-yielding Chinese hybrids;
the genes are thought to be complementary, and capable of raising rice
yield potential by 20 to 40 percent.
Improved Meat Animals with Biotech
Heretofore, methods for introducing new genes into livestock had a low
efficiency -- less than 10 percent. However, in the 24 November issue
of The Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers
report a new method for producing transgenic animals that approaches
100 percent efficiency. Researchers put the foreign gene into the
animal's egg before it was fertilizer rather than shortly after.
Obviously, this is another important step in creating animals with
greater tolerance for pests and diseases, better feed conversion
ratios and other practical advantages.
Saving Forests with Biotech Trees
The world could increase its forest harvest ten-fold if we planted
just 5 percent of today's wild forests in high-yield tree plantations.
Such plantations are good-but-not-great wildlife habitat because they
are not "fully natural," but they could apparently take all of the
logging pressures off 95 percent of the natural forests.
Trees have always been difficult to improve through crossbreeding
because the time frames are so long. Biotechnology is already helping
to provide the higher-yielding trees through cloning and tissue
culture -- which permit us to rapidly copy the fastest-growing, most
pest-resistant trees in a species. When we master the tools of
biotechnology more fully, we should be able to increase forest growth
rates, drought tolerance, pest resistance and other important traits
more directly, and even more effectively.
A Global Trend Toward More Activists
It is the nature of activists to push for something different.
In Peru, activists demanded an end to the chlorination of drinking
water because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found chlorine,
at high levels, could cause cancer in laboratory rats. Peruvian
officials took the chlorine out of the water, and the cities promptly
suffered a cholera epidemic that killed 7,000 people.
I don't blame the activists. I blame the people who trusted the
activists, and the people who should have represented the other side
of the question. I also blame the press, which should have sought out
the broader reality.
Like it or not, the world is on a trend to have more activists, in
more countries. Democracy and affluence encourage activists and the
free, open debate of public questions. The internet and instant global
communication will also spur the creation of more activists. If modern
agriculture is to succeed, it must learn to succeed in an
It's not just agriculture, of course. Global warming activists have
created global summits, an international treaty, and captured the
political soul of a major U.S. presidential candidate—with less
evidence than they've had of harm from modern agriculture.
But the activists have come so far, won so much power and prestige
around the world that they can't stop.
The Achilles Heel of High-Yield Agriculture—Regulation
It is true that the Green Movement has rarely won an election,
anywhere in the world. But the desire to preserve Nature is so urgent
in First World cities that the Greens haven't needed to win elections.
Environmental concern is so widespread that politicians race each
other to embrace key points of environmental strategy. In America,
Wirthlin polling a few years ago indicated that 75 percent of the
public agrees with the statement, "We cannot set our environmental
standards too high—regardless of cost."
Because of the high public approval for the environment, we have an
Environmental Protection Agency with virtually no Congressional
oversight. The bureaucrats who work for EPA read newspapers and
polling results. They assume that they can regulate "environmentally
offending" industries, such as agriculture, in virtually any way they
Modern farming's reputation with the urban public is now so bad that
it can no longer persuade the Congress to block unfavorable
legislation, or force Federal agencies to modify unfavorable
regulations and rulings. Not even farm-state politicians will commit
political suicide on behalf of farming.
Betrayed by Modern Journalism?
Unfortunately, today's mainstream media are not living up to their
professional obligations for objectivity and resarch. Somewhere during
the Vietnam era, journalists got the idea that refereeing the game of
life was not as satisfying as playing on the winning team. Among the
causes they have adopted as their own in recent decades is the
Recently, our Center put out a press release noting that the water
quality in North Carolina's Black River has improved over the last 15
years, even though the hog population in its watershed had quintupled
to one of the highest densities in the U.S. Of the 300+ media outlets
we sent the press release to, one lone skeptical reporter called to
inquire further. She asked whether the hog industry had sponsored the
study. No, we told her, the data was from the State environmental
agency. "But that's not what my readers want to hear," she lamented,
then hung up.
That's how far behind the public affairs curve modern agriculture
currently finds itself. This is not a problem that can be dealt with
by writing press releases, or by hosting community tours of farms and
milk processing plants.
Can We Educate the Public on High-Yield Conservation—in Time?
Someone must tell the urban public about the environmental benefits of
high-yield modern farming. I submit that it will have to be
Agriculture and agricultural researchers must talk about saving
wildlands and wild species with better seeds. We must talk about
conquering soil erosion with high yields (so there's less farmland to
erode) and conservation tillage (which radically reduces erosion per
acre of farmland). We must talk about preventing forest losses to
slash-and-burn farming (the cause of destruction for two-thirds of the
tropical forest we've lost). We must point out that where high-yield
farming is practiced, the amount of forest is expanding. We must point
out that the losses in wildlife habitat overwhelmingly occur where the
farmers get low yields.
Agriculture and its researchers also need to point up the high risks
of organic food. The Centers for Disease Control has been afraid to
publicize it, but their own data seem to show that people who eat
organic and "natural" foods are significantly more likely to be
attacked by the virulent bacteria, E. coli O157:H7. Consumer Reports
wrote that free-range chickens carried three times as much salmonella
The facts are clear: organic food is fertilized with animal manure—a
major reservoir of bacterial contamination—and composting is neither
careful enough nor hot enough to kill all of the dangerous organisms.
We must analyze every eco-activist proposal in terms of its land requirements:
* Organic farming for the world would mean clearing at least 5
million square miles of wildlife for clover and other green manure
* Free-range chickens for the U.S. would take wildlands equal to
all of the farmland in Pennsylvania.
* Reducing fertilizer usage in the Corn Belt would mean clearing
many additional acres of poorer-quality land in some distant country
to make up for the lost yield.
* Blocking free trade in farm products and farm inputs will
probably mean clearing tropical forest for food self-sufficiency in
It should not be solely up to agriculture to prevent such a needless
disaster. Agriculture has no history of public affairs campaigns or
any real experience in conducting them. However, I see no other entity
with the knowledge, the financial requirements and the direct interest
to do it.
I doubt that the National Academy of Sciences or the National Research
Council can turn public opinion around. The NRC's recent report,
Carcinogens and Anti-carcinogens in the Human Diet, is a landmark. It
essentially says pesticide residues are no threat to public health.
But the public is not reading the document, and the media are not
reporting it. Moreover, a significant number of NAS members are
encouraging the attacks on high-yield farming.
How can we present the environmental case for high-yield agriculture
if the journalists will not write it and politicians fail to support
Modern agriculture must take its case directly to the people, through
My model is the American Plastics Council, which spends about $20
million per year to keep plastics virtually out of the environmental
discussions in America. The Weyerhaeuser Company is another good
example of positive imaging; Weyerhaeuser has been telling me for
decades that it's the tree-growing company. Not the tree-cutting
company, not the tree-using company, but the tree-growing company.
David Brinkley, the most respected journalist in America today, has
also shown us the way. ADM, the big corn and soybean processor,
sponsors the Brinkley ads and they are doing a fabulous job.
* Brinkley notes that farmers are still the most indispensable people.
* He shows a cute little girl in Taiwan, and points out that her
mother wants her to have meat and milk in her diet so she will grow
strong and vigorous. Who could oppose that?
* The ads show families of deer and wild birds, and note that "the
higher yields achieved by modern farmers are providing food -- and in
some cases even shelter --for families around the world."
Many of the firms with billions of dollars invested in modern
agriculture are already talking to urban America. DuPont and Dow have
whole rosters of consumer products and millions of dollars worth of
consumer advertising. Cooperatives like Land-o-Lakes and Countrymark
have consumer ad budgets too. Wildlands conservation would be a
winning message with both their customers and their farmer members.
So far, agriculture has failed to accept the challenge, and the
momentum for high-yield conservation is waning. We are not increasing
public investments in high-yield research. We are not creating support
for the farm community. The regulators are continuing to strangle farm
In the long run, of course, farmers and farm researchers will be
vindicated even without a public affairs campaign. But that
vindication could come too late for the wildlands and the wild
species—and too late for most of today's high-tech farmers and
At this point, it looks as though we will fail to meet the food
challenge of the 21st century—not for lack of time, but for lack of
realism in our public life. Our forefathers would have been ashamed
Alex Avery is Director of Research and Education at the Center for
Global Food Issues. He received his bachelors degree in biology and
chemistry from Old Dominion University. Previous to joining the
Center, Alex was a McKnight research fellow at Purdue University
conducting basic plant research. Alex represented the Center at the
United Nations World Food Summit in Rome in 1996. He is co-author of
the Hudson Institute briefing paper Farming to Sustain the
Environment, which addresses issues of agricultural sustainability
from a practical and global perspective.
Alex has written on agricultural, food safety, regulatory and global
population issues for major newspapers, including The Washington
Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Des
Moines Register. He has also been published in USA Today magazine,
Regulation magazine, Feed Management, and scientific publications such
as Environmental Health Perspectives and the Journal of the American
Dietetic Association. His article on international food regulations
will appear in the Wiley Encyclopedia of Food Science & Technology,
In addition to his publications, Alex has spoken to a wide range of
groups, including the Australian Weed Science Society, American
Veterinary Medical Association, American Phytopathological Society, as
well as numerous industry and university audiences.
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