Organic farming is not good for the environment. Even if one assumes that yields on organic farms are identical to the yields achieved on conventional farms, organic farms have a distinct biological disadvantage when compared to others – they need to get fertilizer from organic sources. The organic code rejects fixing nitrogen from the air and it rejects acquiring nitrogen from other chemical processes.
Nitrogen is vital for plants to develop chlorophyll and without it they’d not be able to convert the sun’s energy into energy for themselves. Organic farms typically need biological agents to supply the needed nitrogen. Two common agents include trawled fish (yes, you read that right) and animal waste. In each case a large swath of land or ocean resources are required to be farmed, fished, or mined to secure the nitrogen needed to fertilize these organic fields. When you read about “organic yields matching conventional yields” the data is completely misleading. What you are being shown is how much food per acre of land where crops are grown. What you are not being shown is how much food per acre of land used to promote the growth of said crops. And this number is considerably smaller than the former. Indeed, it is not unlikely that “fully loaded” organic yields are half that of conventional yields.
Now there are many more points to make about large scale conventional farming versus organic farming, but that is not where I want to take this. Hold that constant for now. So, it turns out that organic farming is actually harmful to the environment – it probably uses more resources to produce a particular quantity of food and it definitely dramatically increases the amount of land under plow or sea under net in order to support itself. Indeed, we don’t have a planet large enough to feed 7 billion people using organic methods.
Furthermore, the cost of organic food is (especially off-season) higher than conventional food. Furthermore, there is an increasing trend to create “sustainability indexes” for cities or states or countries that include a measure of organic farming as a positive sign of “sustainability.” Furthermore there are organic farmers who benefit a great deal from educational efforts to promote organic, from video and television misinformation about the virtues or organic, and certainly from concerted efforts by organizations (such as university dining facilities) to purchase more organic foods. Not only that, university teachers and researchers gain a good deal by securing research grants to study organic farming and to promote it and teach about it. Special interest groups benefit by promoting organic farming and have used the political process to do exactly this (my students might remember the mailing I received from the government promoting local organic farms).
So if organic farming is more expensive (which disproportionately harms the poor) and if organic farming is bad for the environment, and if special interests have a stake in “screwing” the rest of us to benefit themselves, then how come folks are not absolutely enraged about this (and really about the rest of the “E”nvironmental movement – notice I did not say the “e”nvironmental movement). Where’s the rage? On what grounds do you let this insanity continue while you sleep soundly advocating for more of it? Inquiring minds want to know. I honestly think the simple answer is, “Because for some people the environment is not about the environment.” Otherwise, do we really want to go to sleep at night thinking that hundreds of millions of people are too stupid to recognize this? In either case the implication is sobering. So, dear readers, please help me come up with a third explanation that will lighten up my load of cynicism for the day!