A Perfect – and Dangerous – Example of Outdated and Lazy Science
Many conservatives and libertarian-minded folks follow Dennis Prager and his popular Prager University. But unfortunately he’s a poster boy for environmental devastation and nutritional deficiency.
His recent video post featuring Bjørn Lomborg, president of Copenhagen Consensus Center, impugning organic agriculture is a perfect example of outdated and sleazy science.
He cites a 2012 Stanford University study on health policy showing no difference between organic food and regular, as well as an Italian research project looking at 20 years of comparisons without any difference.
Paid for by chemical industry proponents, these studies have been debunked soundly as propaganda.
Isn’t it interesting that when anti-gun researchers accumulate data, the conservatives yell “follow the money,” but when chemical companies fund research, apparently bias is off the table?
The clip touts the same tired expressions regarding the health of animals, finding no difference on dairy farms. Without any basis whatsoever, Lomborg notes that outdoor animals have more access to parasites, pathogens and predators. That’s true, but indoor animals create a more virulent environment for pathogens and parasites due to their proximity.
And then he continues with the “less productive” argument, saying that to get the same production from organic cows would require 59% more land for milk, 82% more land for meat and 200% more land for crops, requiring the total additional farmland equivalent of the whole state of California.
The kicker: Going organic would cost the American economy $200 billion annually. Apparently a dead zone the size of Rhode Island in the Gulf of Mexico has no economic impact.
Then he looks at two organic, natural pesticides (copper sulfate and pyrethrum) and accuses them of causing worker illnesses in foreign countries. Goodness, all sorts of things cause illnesses in foreign countries.
The bottom line: All chemicals used on U.S. food account for perhaps 20 cases of cancer per year, meaning you have the same chance of being mauled to death by a cow as getting cancer from chemicals on food. I wonder what kind of statistical gymnastics this analysis required.
He finishes with the moral flourish: Hungry people (especially Africans) need cheaper food, which can be obtained only with chemicals. So anybody who eschews chemical agriculture wants people to starve.
Welcome to my world. This is what conservatives have accused me of for my whole life.
Government Production < Independent Innovation
So is PragerU right?
First of all, realize that industrial organics is not the same as ecological, soil regenerating, naturally authentic production.
Goodness, under organic certification we have factory farms and monocrops, neither of which is acceptable in a nature-as-template protocol.
The problem with government-certified organics is that it is too often a marketing gimmick and certainly does not represent the cutting edge of ecological production.
On our farm, for example, we get four times the beef production per acre as the average farm in our county.
Yes, it’s partly due to fertilizing with compost rather than chemicals, but it also has a lot to do with daily moves and sophisticated management.
Anyone can go cherry-pick a production group and find poor managers and good managers. The best nonchemical producers spin circles around the best chemical producers, but that’s not how researchers get data.
Government-certified anything will never compare to the lunatic fringe of private, independent innovation. Never.
But since researchers always use the middle muddle for comparisons, they deny themselves examples of the best.
Ignoring the Facts
Second, these researchers studying production do not add up complementary cumulative numbers.
A great example is in regards to genetically modified (GM) rice. When universities and the food industry began touting how much more productive GM rice was, here’s how the research was done.
A team went to Vietnam to do side-by-side plantings. But in the best managed plantings, farmers don’t just plant rice. They also have ducks to control weeds, fish to eat snails and leafy greens around the paddy edges to trap insects.
In the GM paddies, they couldn’t grow any of these complementary items because the required chemicals killed them all. But the researchers, in measuring production, did not include the ducks, fish or arugula in their production statistics; they were there only to measure the rice.
Anyone can see this is unfair, but this is what the press prints. The press, of course, sells ads to chemical companies, not to duck and arugula companies.
I remember well when our Virginia commissioner of agriculture printed in his annual report that if we went to organic agriculture, we’d just have to decide which third of the world to starve to death.
I looked into his research. And I learned scientists at Virginia Tech took some growing plots they’d used for chemical research for decades and designated them as organic. Adjacent ones were conventional chemical. They grew corn for a comparison crop. One got all the chemicals; the organic plots received nothing.
You can imagine the difference in the crops. Hence, half the world would starve if we extrapolated the production from the organic crop.
The problem is that real organic farming is not just a prohibition of things; it’s an addition of things. They didn’t apply compost. They didn’t give it a couple of years to develop living soil.
Anyone with an ounce of sense can see how this research is unfairly skewed – even designed – to disparage nonchemical production. But again, this is official research.
Empowerment Through Stability
Finally, to suggest I want hungry African children to starve is quite an indictment. No one in Africa is starving because food is expensive; they’re starving due to social-political dysfunction.
They need to be able to grow food instead of running from machetes and ethnic cleansing campaigns. If they can’t afford food, they certainly can’t afford chemicals.
No, the answer for starving people is self-empowerment through social stability and stable property. Prager’s accusation is offensive to any thinking person.
Of course, this Prager clip conveniently looks the other way in regards to factory farm pollution, the halo of asthma conditions around these facilities and the abundant empirical evidence that pasture-based meats are far superior nutritionally to their conventional counterparts.
Ditto for compost-grown tomatoes and fruits. This kind of chemical-praising, nature-demonizing tirade does not make conservatives or libertarians gain credibility or emotional equity in our culture. It makes our side look like a bunch of conquistadors, and that’s a shame.
If you want to see the cutting edge, come visit our farm.