Organic Farming Would 'Level Most of Our Forests,' Critic Charges

July 7, 2008 - 7:03 PM

Washington ( - The expansion of organic farming would mean the eventual destruction of most of the world's forests, according to a Nobel Prize winning scientist.

Dr. Norman Borlaug, awarded the Nobel prize for his work as a plant geneticist, joined agricultural policy experts Tuesday in arguing that high yield farming and genetically modified foods are the key to saving the wilderness and feeding poor people in the developing world.

"We can use all the organic that is available, but we aren't going to feed six billion people with organic fertilizer and we would level most of our forests," Borlaug said.

Dr. Borlaug maintained that switching all food production to organic, (farming without synthetic chemicals), would lower crop yields. "If we try to go back to low yield agriculture, we would have no option but to clear more land," he explained.

Tuesday's news conference in Washington was sponsored by the Center for Global Food Issues, and was billed as the "Declaration in Support of Protecting Nature with High-Yield Farming and Forestry." Among those signing the declaration were former U.S. Senator George McGovern (D-S.D.) and James Lovelock, the scientist who many environmentalists consider a pioneer of the green movement.

Dennis Avery, director of the Center for Global Food Issues, a free market food advocacy group, said the latest research shows organic food yields are nearly 50 percent lower per acre than modern methods. Avery said if Europe were to switch to exclusively organic farming methods, the cropland needed to produce the resulting lower yields would equal "all the forest area in Germany, France, Denmark and the UK (United Kingdom)."

"How many people in Western Europe would vote for organic farming if it was put in terms of clearing all their forests?" Avery asked.

Patrick Moore, head of the environmental advocacy group Greenspirit, and a former founding member of Greenpeace, was also on hand to promote the joint declaration on high yield agriculture and forestry.

Moore, who left Greenpeace in the 1980s after becoming disillusioned with what he considered the group's radical approach to environmental concerns, said genetically modified food (GM) helps boost yields.

"Frankenstein foods, terminator seeds and killer tomatoes are all metaphors taken from scary movies. Those are the most effective metaphors that the movement against GMs can come up with to scare people. The reality is -- their message is as fantastical as the movies upon which they are based," he explained.

Moore, citing the resistance of GM crops to pests, called the technology the greatest boon to third world farmers because "these people are going to be able to afford to buy houses and live a decent and dignified lifestyle because of these new high yield crops."

He also lashed out at the groups, opposed GM foods. "This is the problem, this ideological position against GM period. This zero tolerance approach is not appropriate for one of the most important scientific discoveries and technologies that we have ever come across," Moore said.

Save the Trees, Use More Wood

Moore explained that advances in forestry techniques have resulted in wood becoming one of the most environmentally friendly products.

"We should be growing more trees and using more wood," explained Moore. "The less wood we use, the more steel and concrete we use. The more fossil fuels we use to make the steel and concrete, the more C02 emissions that threaten climate change."

Moore explained that a greater demand for wood products leads to more forested land, noting that 80 percent of the timber produced in the U.S. comes from private property. He predicted that if "those land owners had no market for wood, they would clear the forest away and grow something else they could make money from instead."

"When you go into a lumber yard, you are given the impression that by buying wood you are causing the forest to be lost, when in fact what you are doing is sending a signal into the market to plant more trees," Moore added.

Organic is the Future?

Ronnie Cummins, the national director of the Organic Consumers Association, criticized the declaration on high-yield farming and forestry, saying many studies have shown that organic farming can produce "comparable" crop yields to those produced by non-organic farming.

The U.S. should "convert as rapidly as possible to organic agriculture," Cummins said, adding that organic food currently makes up about three percent of the U.S. food supply.

"Organic is the future, let's bring it about as quickly as possible," he said.

Cummins also repeated the green movement's opposition to genetically modified food, noting that GM food "brings no benefits to consumers or to the environment and it's extremely risky."

But Moore believes, "If Greenpeace or the other anti-GM groups were to admit that there was even one good GM crop ... then they would have to admit there might be others and then they would be reduced to a rational discussion of this subject like the rest of us mortals."

Eugene Lapointe, former secretary general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), also signed the declaration Tuesday. Lapointe said he was not surprised by the opposition from environmental groups.

"[GM foods] are a solution to a major problem and most environmentalists are not solution oriented. They are drama, they are scandal, they are problems manufactured. Without the problem the drama and the scandal, you lose fund-raising capabilities," Lapoint said.

E-mail a news tip to Marc Morano.

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