Saturday, December 31, 2011

Is Organic Agriculture Becoming Corrupted?

An article that's sure to receive a fair deal of attention:

Organic Agriculture May Be Outgrowing Its Ideals (New York Times)
But even as more Americans buy foods with the organic label, the products are increasingly removed from the traditional organic ideal: produce that is not only free of chemicals and pesticides but also grown locally on small farms in a way that protects the environment.

The explosive growth in the commercial cultivation of organic tomatoes here, for example, is putting stress on the water table. In some areas, wells have run dry this year, meaning that small subsistence farmers cannot grow crops. And the organic tomatoes end up in an energy-intensive global distribution chain that takes them as far as New York and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, producing significant emissions that contribute to global warming.

From now until spring, farms from Mexico to Chile to Argentina that grow organic food for the United States market are enjoying their busiest season.

“People are now buying from a global commodity market, and they have to be skeptical even when the label says ‘organic’ — that doesn’t tell people all they need to know,” said Frederick L. Kirschenmann, a distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. He said some large farms that have qualified as organic employed environmentally damaging practices, like planting only one crop, which is bad for soil health, or overtaxing local freshwater supplies.
My Permaculture took issue with the concept of 'small solutions' - he felt that Permaculture should be the way all agriculture is done. He's right, of course, but the problem is that bigness tends to corrupt everything. Once something gets big, the pressure to subvert it is overwhelming. Hence the emphasis on small-scale and local. That's one of the problems with modern society - everything is so big that it's out of control. No one feels in charge anymore, so these systems run on inertia and individuals feel powerless against the system. That's why corporations like Wal-Mart are inherently treated with skepticism and distrust, no matter what their 'green' claims.

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