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Alexander J. Stein

Economist interested in agriculture, food, nutrition, health, technology, sustainability, economic development & poverty alleviation worldwide. This is a personal account; posts are not necessarily endorsements. More at www.AJStein.de
Sep 21 '14

Food security and the evaluation of risk - Smyth &al (2014) - Global Food Sec

See on Scoop.it - Food Policy

Achieving global food security over the next 40 years will require sustained increases in agricultural productivity. This will require increased investment in agricultural R&D. If there are systemic reasons why agricultural R&D is inhibited, they warrant investigation.


New products and technologies require regulatory approval if they are to be commercialized. Approval, or not, is based on risk assessment with only those products that pass the risk assessment contributing to productivity improvements. If the likelihood of meeting the acceptable risk threshold is reduced, investment in R&D will be negatively impacted.


This paper investigates the changing methods of risk assessment for agricultural products and notes a deterioration in the likelihood that risk assessment exercises will be completed successfully. Genetically modified products are used as an example.


The changing nature of risk assessments is found to be inhibiting international market access, reducing trade and, hence, making investments in productivity enhancing technologies in agriculture less interesting. Achieving future food security goals will be more difficult… 


In its attempts to deal primarily, but not exclusively, with the GM issue, the EU is attempting to broaden the way risk is defined to include a host of socio-economic factors. Given that all new technologies will create some economic losers, redefining risk assessment will make seeking approval for new technologies less predictable and transparent. This, in turn, will alter the incentives to invest in new technologies needed to meet future food security goals.

While the GM issue has been the driving force behind the moves to alter risk assessment, once the new method of risk assessment becomes part of accepted international procedures… it can be applied to any new technology. This is a different issue than the EU simply refusing to approve GM-crops - which also alters the incentives to invest and has been written about previously.

The politicization of risk does not deliver either safer food or technological improvements. Science-based risk assessments have been successful in denying the commercialization of unsafe foods while politicized risk assessments continue to rule that consuming GM foods is a danger to one’s health or the environment.

lf this regulatory divergence meant only that consumers in some rich countries have fewer food choices, the making of this kind of Type 2 error would not be a particular focus for concern. The EU has also made the granting of the most preferred market access for the products of developing countries… contingent on accession to the CPB – meaning that the non-scientific risk assessment methods are spread to developing countries that may most need productivity enhancing innovations.

Given the long term negative impacts on technological improvement in a period when concerns regarding future food security are high, a re-assessment of politicized risk seems prudent. While the focus of this paper has been on one particular agricultural technology… the real danger lies in the potential acceptance of politicized risk more generally. Once it is applied to one technology and accepted as a guiding principle, it can be extended to other technologies.

New technologies will always have their doubters and detractors. They inevitably create potential ‘losers’ who have a vested interest in having
a technology denied. While future food security may not be dependent on fully exploiting the potential of agbiotech, it does depend on technological advancement. Formally allowing non-scientific factors to enter into risk assessments gives process legitimacy to some factors that are normally relegated to political pandering to protectionist vested interests.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2014.08.001


See on sciencedirect.com

Sep 16 '14

Model-Based Tolerance Intervals Derived from Cumulative Historical Composition Data: Application for Substantial Equivalence Assessment of a Genetically Modified Crop - Hong &al (2014) - J Ag Chem

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Compositional analysis is a requisite component of the substantial equivalence framework utilized to assess genetically modified (GM) crop safety. Statistical differences in composition data between GM and non-GM crops require a context in which to determine biological relevance.


This context is provided by surveying the natural variation of key nutrient and anti-nutrient levels within the crop population with a history of safe use. Data accumulated from various genotypes with a history of safe use cultivated in relevant commercial crop-growing environments over multiple seasons are discussed as the appropriate data representative of this natural variation.


A model-based parametric tolerance interval approach, which accounts for the correlated and unbalanced data structure of cumulative historical data collected from multi-site field studies conducted over multiple seasons, is presented… to generate reference ranges for evaluation… of statistical differences identified during substantial equivalence assessment of a GM crop. 


http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf502158q



See on pubs.acs.org

Sep 16 '14

New food from potato somatic hybrid: nutritional equivalence and safety assessment by a feeding study on rats - Nouri-Ellouz &al (2014) - J Sci Food Ag

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Potato tubers from the STBd somatic hybrid line that exhibited improved tolerance to salinity and resistance to fungal and PVY infections were characterized. They were compared for their chemical composition to the Spunta variety produced by conventional agronomic practices. This study aimed to compare nutritional value and safety by feeding rats with STBd or commercial tubers added to the standard diet… 

The analysis… did not reveal any significant differences between the hybrid line and the control… all values were within normal ranges reported in the literature. The feeding study on rats showed that overall health, weight gain, food consumption, morphological aspects and weights of organs were comparable between rat groups fed the STBd hybrid and the Spunta variety… The STBd potato line was therefore considered to be as safe for food utilization as the commercial variety.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jsfa.6898


See on onlinelibrary.wiley.com

2 notes

Sep 12 '14

Global Food Trade May Not Meet All Future Demand - U Virginia (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Food Policy

As the world population continues to grow, by about 1 billion people every 12 to 14 years since the 1960s, the global food supply may not meet escalating demand – particularly for agriculturally poor countries in arid to semi-arid regions, such as Africa’s Sahel, that already depend on imports for much of their food supply.

A… study… examines global food security and the patterns of food trade… Using production and trade data for agricultural food commodities collected by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the study reconstructs the global food trade network in terms of food calories traded among countries.

“We found that, in the period between 1986 and 2009, the amount of food that is traded has more than doubled and the global food network has become 50 percent more interconnected… International food trade now accounts for 23 percent of global food production, much of that production moving from agriculturally rich countries to poorer ones”… food production during that more than two-decade period increased by 50 percent, “providing an amount of food that would be sufficient to feed the global population with an increasing reliance on redistribution through trade.”

The study provides a detailed analysis of the role of food trade in different regions of the world, with maps showing areas of food self-sufficiency and trade dependency… most of Africa and the Middle East are not self-sufficient, but trade has improved access to food in the Middle East and in the Sahel region… that otherwise would not be able to produce enough food for its populations.

The investigators found, however, that trade has not eradicated food insufficiency in sub-Saharan Africa and central Asia. “Overall, in the last two decades there has been an increase in the number of trade-dependent countries that reach sufficiency through their reliance on trade… Those countries may become more vulnerable in periods of food shortage, such as happened during a food crises in 2008 and 2011, when the governments of some producing countries banned or limited food experts, causing anxiety in many trade-dependent countries”… 

13 agricultural products – wheat, soybean, palm oil, maize, sugars and others – make up 80 percent of the world’s diet and food trade… China is greatly increasing its consumption of meat, which already is changing land-use patterns in that country – meat production requires significantly more land area then crops… “An increase in consumption of animal products is further enhancing the human pressure on croplands and rangelands”… 


Some countries, such as the U.S. and Brazil, are “blessed” with climates and soils that are conducive to high agricultural yields, and also the technologies – industrial fertilizers, sophisticated large-scale irrigation, new resilient cultivars – and financial resources to sustain high yields, and therefore are major exporters of food to agriculturally poor nations. However, as populations grow and climate change brings currently unforeseeable changes to growing conditions, it is possible that exports to other nations could be reduced.

“The world is more interconnected than ever, and the world food supply increasingly depends on this connection… The food security for rapidly growing populations in the world increasingly is dependent on trade. In the future, that trade may not always be reliable due to uncertainties in crop yields and food price volatility resulting from climate change. Trade can redistribute food, but it cannot necessarily increase its availability.”

https://news.virginia.edu/content/global-food-trade-may-not-meet-all-future-demand-uva-study-indicates

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/2014EF000250


See on news.virginia.edu

Sep 11 '14

Compositional differences between near-isogenic GM and conventional maize hybrids are associated with backcrossing practices in conventional breeding - Venkatesh &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Jo…

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Here, we show that differences between genetically modified (GM) and non-GM comparators cannot be attributed unequivocally to the GM trait, but arise because of minor genomic differences in near-isogenic lines. Specifically, this study contrasted the effect of three GM traits (drought tolerance, MON 87460; herbicide resistance, NK603; insect protection, MON 89034) on maize grain composition relative to the effects of residual genetic variation from backcrossing… 

The F1 hybrids of all lines were grown concurrently at three replicated field sites in the United States during the 2012 growing season, and harvested grain was subjected to compositional analysis. Proximates (protein, starch and oil), amino acids, fatty acids, tocopherols and minerals were measured. The number of statistically significant differences (α = 0.05), as well as magnitudes of difference, in mean levels of these components between corresponding GM variants was essentially identical to that between GM and non-GM controls… 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12248


See on onlinelibrary.wiley.com

Sep 11 '14

‘Fukusensor:’ a genetically engineered plant for reporting DNA damage in response to gamma radiation - Peng &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Journal

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Transgenic plants can be designed to be ‘phytosensors’ for detection of environmental contaminants and pathogens… we describe the design and testing of a radiation phytosensor in the form of green fluorescence protein (GFP)-transgenic Arabidopsis plant utilizing a DNA repair deficiency mutant background as a host. 


Mutant lines of Arabidopsis… which are hypersensitive to gamma irradiation, were used… Mutant and nonmutant genetic background transgenic plants were treated with 0, 1, 5, 10 and 100 Gy radiation doses, respectively, using a Co-60 source.


After 1 week, the GFP expression levels were drastically reduced in young leaves of mutant background plants (treated by 10 and 100 Gy), whereas there were scant visible differences in the fluorescence of the nonmutant background plants.


These early results indicate that transgenic plants could serve in a relevant sensor system to report radiation dose and the biological effects to organisms in response to radionuclide contamination.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12247


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Some people mistrust GMOs, some (and probably often the same) mistrust nuclear energy. What an irony to use one of these technologies to better control or protect from the other… 


See on onlinelibrary.wiley.com

Sep 11 '14

On Risk and Regulation: Bt Crops in India - Herring (2014) - GM Crops & Food

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Genetic engineering in agriculture raises contentious politics unknown in other applications of molecular technology. Controversy originated and persists for inter-related reasons; these are not primarily, as frequently assumed, differences over scientific findings, but rather about the relationship of science to ‘risk.’

First, there are inevitably differences in how to interpret ‘risk’ in situations in which there are no established findings of specific hazard; ‘Knightian uncertainty’ defines this condition. Science claims no method of resolution in such cases of uncertainty.

Second, science has no claim about risk preferences in a normative sense. In genetic engineering, Knightian uncertainty is pervasive; declaring uncertainty to constitute ‘risk’ enables a precautionary politics in which no conceivable evidence from science can confirm absence of risk. This is the logic of the precautionary state.

The logic of the developmental state is quite different: uncertainty is treated as an inevitable component of change, and therefore a logic of acceptable uncertainty, parallel to acceptable risk of the sort deployed in cost-benefit analysis in other spheres of behavior, dominates policy.

India’s official position on agricultural biotechnology has been promotional, as expected from a developmental state, but regulation of Bt crops has rested in a section of the state operating more on precautionary than developmental logic. As a result, notwithstanding the developmental success of Bt cotton, Bt brinjal [eggplant, aubergine] encountered a moratorium on deployment despite approval by the regulatory scientific body designated to assess biosafety.

https://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops/article/950543/


See on landesbioscience.com

Sep 10 '14

Genetic use restriction technologies: a review - Lombardo (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Journal

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs), developed to secure return on investments through protection of plant varieties, are among the most controversial and opposed genetic engineering biotechnologies as they are perceived as a tool to force farmers to depend on multinational corporations’ seed monopolies.

In this work, the currently proposed strategies are described and compared with some of the principal techniques implemented for preventing transgene flow and/or seed saving, with a simultaneous analysis of the future perspectives of GURTs taking into account potential benefits, possible impacts on farmers and local plant genetic resources, hypothetical negative environmental issues and ethical concerns related to intellectual property that have led to the ban of this technology.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12242


See on onlinelibrary.wiley.com

Sep 10 '14

Enhancing C3 photosynthesis: an outlook on feasible interventions for crop improvement - Singh &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Journal

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Despite the declarations and collective measures taken to eradicate hunger at World Food Summits, food security remains one of the biggest issues that we are faced with. The current scenario could worsen due to the alarming increase in world population, further compounded by adverse climatic conditions, such as increase in atmospheric temperature, unforeseen droughts and decreasing soil moisture, which will decrease crop yield even further. Furthermore, the projected increase in yields of C3 crops as a result of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations is much less than anticipated.


Thus, there is an urgent need to increase crop productivity beyond existing yield potentials to address the challenge of food security. One of the domains of plant biology that promises hope in overcoming this problem is study of C3 photosynthesis. In this review, we have examined the potential bottlenecks of C3 photosynthesis and the strategies undertaken to overcome them… 


In addition, other areas which promise scope for improvement of C3 photosynthesis, such as mining natural genetic variations, mathematical modelling for identifying new targets, installing efficient carbon fixation and carbon concentrating mechanisms have been touched upon. Briefly, this review intends to shed light on the recent advances in enhancing C3 photosynthesis for crop improvement.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12246


See on onlinelibrary.wiley.com

Sep 10 '14

Field trial of Xanthomonas wilt disease-resistant bananas in East Africa - Tripathi &al (2014) - Nature Biotechnology

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Banana is a major staple crop in East Africa produced mostly by smallholder subsistence farmers. More bananas are produced and consumed in East Africa than in any region of the world.Uganda is the world’s second foremost grower with a total annual production of about 10.5 million tons. The average daily per capita consumption in Uganda ranges… to over 1.6 kg, one of the highest in the world… 


Banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW) disease… is threatening banana production, the livelihoods of the smallholder growers in East and Central Africa, and the stability of food security in the region. The disease has caused estimated economic losses of about $2-8 billion over the past decade and substantial reductions in production have resulted in major price increases… 

The disease is very destructive, infecting all banana varieties… The economic impact of the disease is potentially disastrous because it destroys whole plants leading to complete yield loss… There are currently no commercial pesticides, biocontrol agents or resistant cultivars available to control BXW… 

Given the rapid spread and devastation of BXW across Africa, the lack of known genetic resistance in banana… and the difficulties associated with conventional breeding of this highly sterile crop, genetic transformation through the use of modern biotech tools offers an effective and viable way to develop resistant varieties… 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nbt.3007


See on nature.com

Sep 8 '14

Prevalence and impacts of genetically engineered feedstuffs on livestock populations - Van Eenennaam & Young (2014) - J Anim Sci

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Globally, food-producing animals consume 70 to 90% of genetically engineered (GE) crop biomass. This review briefly summarizes the scientific literature on performance and health of animals consuming feed containing GE ingredients and composition of products derived from them. It also discusses the field experience of feeding GE feed sources to commercial livestock populations and summarizes the suppliers of GE and non-GE animal feed in global trade.


Numerous experimental studies have consistently revealed that the performance and health of GE-fed animals are comparable with those fed isogenic non-GE crop lines. United States animal agriculture produces over 9 billion food-producing animals annually, and more than 95% of these animals consume feed containing GE ingredients. Data on livestock productivity and health were collated from publicly available sources from 1983, before the introduction of GE crops in 1996, and subsequently through 2011, a period with high levels of predominately GE animal feed.


These field data sets representing over 100 billion animals following the introduction of GE crops did not reveal unfavorable or perturbed trends in livestock health and productivity. No study has revealed any differences in the nutritional profile of animal products derived from GE-fed animals. Because DNA and protein are normal components of the diet that are digested, there are no detectable or reliably quantifiable traces of GE components in milk, meat, and eggs following consumption of GE feed…


Countries that are cultivating GE corn and soy are the major livestock feed exporters. Asynchronous regulatory approvals (i.e., cultivation approvals of GE varieties in exporting countries occurring before food and feed approvals in importing countries) have resulted in trade disruptions. This is likely to be increasingly problematic in the future as there are a large number of “second generation” GE crops with altered output traits for improved livestock feed… There is a pressing need for international harmonization of both regulatory frameworks for GE crops and governance of advanced breeding techniques…

http://dx.doi.org/10.2527/jas.2014-8124


See on journalofanimalscience.org

Sep 4 '14

Do you really understand modern farming? 10 myths of GMOs and organics - GLP (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

In my quest to learn about genetically modified foods and our food supply, many things have surprised me. Some of them may seem apparent and obvious, but as a city-dweller, I was unaware of numerous aspects of our food. I find comfort in the fact that many individuals that I share these gems with are equally surprised, leading me to believe that you may find some items as interesting as I do.

1) The vast majority of fruits and vegetables are not transgenics… Every time I picked up a fruit in the supermarket that was particularly large, I thought to myself “huh… that’s got to be a GMO”. You know those grapes the size of tennis balls that squirt juice everywhere when you bite into them? Every time I ate one, I’d close my eyes and thank the mysterious GMO gods for that sweet delicious nectar. Little did I know that none of these fruits was a GMO…

2) Organic food production uses pesticides. I had always believed that by definition, organic food production did not use pesticides. Not only that, but some of the pesticides used are more toxic than those applied in conventional farming. The difference is that the pesticides used in organic farming are not synthetic, yet they are not necessarily better…

3) Many plant traits are developed using mutagenesis. And can be labeled “organic”. Mutagenesis is the use of radioactivity or chemicals to create random mutations… More than 2000 foods have been created by mutagenesis, including the durum wheat used to make fine Italian pasta… and even ruby red grapefruits… Imagine that!! The delicious, organic grapefruit from my farmers’ market was developed using radiation to randomly create mutations, and somehow that’s less scary than a GMO. Why the organic food movement isn’t fighting to label the mutant ruby reds seems hypocritical… 

4) There’s lot of peer reviewed research on GMOs, both publically and privately funded. I mean a LOT. Searching for the term MON810 in PubMed (a database hosted by the NIH), finds over 150 hits. That’s 150+ studies that have looked into some aspect, such as identification or safety, on a single[!] seed/trait… the most common misconception about GMOs is that there are few independent studies. In an attempt to address this misconception… 

5) Types of traits used to generate GMOs are selected to improve farming conditions. There aren’t many GM crops in which the trait introduced was selected because it would make me want to buy it in the grocery store… at the moment, most crops are designed to help consumers indirectly by benefitting farmers, such as Bt crops that cut down on the amount of pesticides sprayed to fight worms, or glyphosate-resistant crops, which help farmers reduce the use of toxic chemicals to fight weeds. We, the consumers, see the benefits of these traits because reduced farming costs equate to savings at the grocery store… 

6) The amount of misinformation and the distrust surrounding GMOs is staggering. And depressing. It ranges from the subtle, in which statements are taken out of context or the complete findings of a paper are not discussed, to outright lies… GMO critics often peddle white lies as well as downright deceptive (and dangerous) statements such as claiming that GM insulin poses a health risk… 

Dr Neil DeGrasse Tyson said it best… “If your objection to GMOs is the morality of selling non-perennial seed stocks, then focus on that. If your objection to GMOs is the monopolistic conduct of agribusiness, then focus on that. But to paint the entire concept of GMO with these particular issues is to blind yourself to the underlying truth of what humans have been doing—and will continue to do—to nature so that it best serves our survival… 

I was surprised at how many people distrust GMOs because of their belief that Monsanto is an ‘evil’ company. That’s not a good reason for distrusting a technology with broad applications. It’s like saying that you don’t trust computers because of Microsoft. But conventional and even organic food growers buy Monsanto seeds too, and Monsanto doesn’t have a monopoly on GM technology… 

7) Transgenic seeds are not sterile. I was certain that transgenic seeds could not be replanted, even if a farmer wanted to. I was dead wrong… the seed is not sterile or unviable…

8) Peer review often may not mean very much. Papers should be evaluated based on their quality…


9) The world’s most reputable scientific organizations have evaluated the data on the safety of GMOs. That’s right, there’s a scientific consensus on the topic of GMO safety… right now it’s very strong and consistent: GMOs are safe…

http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/09/04/do-you-really-understand-modern-farming-urbanite-examines-10-myths-of-gmos-and-organics/


See on geneticliteracyproject.org

Sep 4 '14

Africa’s hidden hunger - EurActiv (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Food Policy

Though great efforts have been made to tackle hunger in Africa over the past decades… the ravages of serious malnutrition and hunger are not always visible… “hidden hunger,” shows itself in other ways – but it can be just as devastating and deadly. And while deaths from many other diseases, including acute malnutrition, have declined, hidden hunger remains pervasive… 

In Africa, hunger remains the leading cause of death in children, accounting for half of all deaths of children under the age of five and killing more than AIDS, TB, and malaria combined.In fact, many scientific studies have shown that a malnourished child is much more likely to contract an infection, to suffer from other illnesses, and to suffer from them longer…

Indeed, childhood malnutrition is now confirmed to be the leading cause of the global disease burden, with the World Health Organisation attributing to it 45% of all deaths under the age of five in 2011… The long-term damage caused by malnutrition has a domino effect, impeding educational achievement, and ultimately, hobbling national economies. Addressing this ongoing crisis requires money – an estimated $10 billion per year – and new and better strategies to bring life-saving solutions to the mothers and children who most need them.

But the cost looks far less daunting when one considers the cost of hunger. UNICEF estimates that the cost of Africa’s child malnutrition is $25 billion a year. And this is not the whole story. Malnutrition costs an estimated $3.5 trillion every year to the global economy, owing to loss of productivity and higher health-care costs.

To meet this challenge, save lives, and improve economies, Africa needs a comprehensive strategy and increased investment in agriculture. The Africa Union has declared 2014 the year of agriculture and food security in Africa, and the continent’s agriculture sector is expected to grow significantly. In theory, that should improve overall nutrition; but increased investment in agriculture is not a panacea. We need to concentrate on building nutrition-sensitive agriculture programs that include small-scale farmers, households, women, and children… 

http://www.euractiv.com/sections/development-policy/africas-hidden-hunger-308217


See on euractiv.com

Sep 4 '14

Sir Paul Nurse criticises those who distort scientific evidence - Guardian (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Senior scientist urges peers to challenge influential figures who misuse science to support preconceived beliefs. 

Britain’s most senior scientist has launched a fierce attack on influential figures who distort scientific evidence to support their own political, religious or ideological agendas. The president of the Royal Society , Sir Paul Nurse, said scientists must challenge serial offenders from all spheres of life who continually misused science to support their preconceived beliefs… 

Nurse urged researchers to call offenders out in the media and challenge them in the strongest way possible. “When they are serial offenders they should be crushed and buried.” 

The Nobel prize winner… said: “Today we have those who like to mix science up with ideology and politics, where opinion, rhetoric and tradition hold more sway than adherence to evidence and adherence to logical argument.” Offenders, he said, ranged from politicians and religious figures to industrial leaders, NGOs and charities.

"We have to be aware of, and beware, organisations that masquerade as lobbying groups, which we see a lot in climate change. We have to be aware of politicians that cherry pick scientific views, even ministers who listen to scientists when it’s about GM crops and then ignore them when it’s about climate change" … 

Nurse’s call to arms goes against the stance of some scientists who refuse to debate people who have certain world views… while other scientists are reluctant to become embroiled in debates… because they are so exhausting and time consuming.

Nurse said: “It can be terribly time consuming. There is a constant regression to little points that constantly require rebuttal, so it can be very stressful. But once the debate is in the media or on the airwaves or TV we have to be engaged.”

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/sep/04/sir-paul-nurse-criticises-figures-distort-scientific-evidence


See on theguardian.com

Sep 3 '14

Small vs. large: Which size farm is better for the planet? - WaPo (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Food Policy

prThere’s a kind of farm that has caught the imagination of the food-conscious among us. It’s relatively small, and you know the farmer who runs it. It’s diverse, growing different kinds of crops and often incorporating livestock. It may or may not be organic, but it incorporates practices — crop rotation, minimal pesticide use, composting — that are planet-friendly. Customers are local… The vision… is a popular one. But is it a viable one? 


I talked with a passel of people who either study (agricultural economist) or live (farmer) this issue, and there were a few ideas that generated enough consensus that I’m willing to call them facts: 

1. Small, diversified farms are less efficient than large ones… 2. Small, diversified farms bring benefits to their communities… 3. Local’s market share is small… 4. Farmers selling directly to their customers aren’t making a living… 5. Farms pollute, and large, chemical-intensive commodity farms have damaged the environment… That doesn’t mean that all large farms pollute, or that no small farm does… 6. Large industrial farms grow primarily corn and soy, which consumers buy as meat and processed foods… But that’s not the farmers’ fault. They grow what the market demands. If we want to fix that, and I think we should, we’d be better off talking to the government, which determines subsidies; food manufacturers, who turn crops into what we actually eat; and consumers, who vote with their wallets… 

The idea that we should replace the large, polluting farms with the small, diversified farms ignores what might be the best solution… Small and large both have benefits. Saying we need both isn’t some kind of namby-pamby, can’t-we-all-get-along compromise. It’s the optimal system, with each kind filling a different demand.

 

What if advocates on each side focused on getting their own house in order? If you’re in the small camp, work on efficiency. Perhaps you can reconsider organic’s natural/synthetic line in the sand, which increases costs without benefiting either customer or environment. Down the line, think about incorporating genetically modified crop varieties that are disease- or drought-resistant. Find ways to cut back on waste. 

And those in the large, why not make some of the basic organic-style practices, like cover cropping and no-till, standard? Consider a target level of organic matter in the soil, to cut back on water use. How about strengthening the conservation practices required for farms to receive federal dollars, even linking them to results like runoff reductions or increased organic matter?

Ultimately, we all vote with our wallets, every day. The best way to get an environmentally sound system that grows healthful food is to buy healthful food from environmentally sound farms. And it doesn’t have to be farm stand kale. It could be frozen peas. 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/small-vs-large-which-size-farm-is-better-for-the-planet/2014/08/29/ac2a3dc8-2e2d-11e4-994d-202962a9150c_story.html


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"Small farms are inefficient but are more likely to grow healthful foods and might be more environmentally friendly, while large farms are sometimes environmentally unfriendly but raise large amounts of food efficiently and affordably."

» Inefficient farms need more inputs/resources (e.g. land) to produce the same output/harvest. Whether this is “more environmentally friendly” (e.g. if they need land that otherwise could become/remain pristine nature) is very questionable… 


See on washingtonpost.com

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