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Two questions for Monty Don about organic farming

July 15, 2012

I should start by stressing that organic farming is not an area of particular interest. I only have a superficial understanding and knowledge of the subject, but I think it is clear that:

  1. In relation to fruit and veg, one of the main reasons for the growth in the market for organic products is that the public believes the produce is healthier, safer and more nutritious. However, according to the Food Standards Agency (2009) and the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture in Switzerland (2009), the overall balance of evidence does not support this view.

  2. Another reason for the growth in the organic fruit and veg market is that the public believes that organic is good for the environment, and that the UK would be a better place if crop production shifted from modern intensive farming to organic.

I will return to point (2) later and challenge it, but, first, this is what happened a couple of days ago to trigger this blog.

On Wednesday 11 July, @mark_lynas tweeted about a proposition in California (funded by Big Quacka) to demand labelling of genetically engineered foods. I shared the view that this was just an attempt to scaremonger, as there is no significant risk associated with such products according to the Royal Society of Medicine (2008). Also, the US National Academies of Sciences (2004), stated: “To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.”

Mark Lynas, who is an environmentalist activist who takes a scientific and balanced view, went on to tweet: “It’s unnecessary. Organic lobby trying to get a skull and crossbones on competitors’ produce.”

Then Mark Lynas tweeted: “How about a label on organic foods: ‘Warning, land-inefficient product, may cause damage to the environment’”

This tweet challenges point (2), which I stated earlier, which is that organic farmers claim their way of growing crops is better for the environment. Mark’s counterargument is that organic must be bad for the environment if crops require, let’s say, 25% more land to generate the same yield.

Unfortunately Mark’s tweet and my retweeting upset Monty Don, President of the Soil Association. Monty tweeted in response:

@TheMontyDon come on Simon, you can do better than that. That is just pathetic.

 

That struck me as somewhat harsh and rather lacking in a sense of humour, so I tried to engage with Monty. We worked together on “Tomorrow’s World” back in 1994/1995 and even went on a filming trip to Australia, and I know he is a decent chap. Here is the twitter exchange that followed.

@TheMontyDon come on Simon, you can do better than that.
That is just pathetic.

@SLSingh Hello Monty, good to hear from you. What exactly are you objecting too? Very happy to chat on the phone if that is easier.

@TheMontyDon Objecting to mischeivous, ridiculous, truly unhelpful remark Simon. Adds nothing to any debate. And I know you as a very bloke.

@SLSingh Which tweet? I had a busy tweeting day today. genuinely keen to understand your concern.

@TheMontyDon the one about labelling organic products ‘land inefficient’ Simon. Just plain silly.

@SLSingh Semi-joke but based on evidence http://bit.ly/JsELwF  “overall, organic yields are significantly lower than conventional yields”

@TheMontyDon yields in relationship to inputs? to health? to ecology? to diversity? No. Picking at a corner of this subject is silly

The exchange was a bit more complicated than the slightly edited version above, but these are the main and interesting points.

In short, Monty (supported by some tweets from @suebeesley) was arguing that the yield per acre point in isolation is not significant, and that it is only possible to discuss organic farming in a holistic manner. For example, @suebeesley seemed to argue that organic crops may require more land to generate the same yield, but this did not matter in the bigger pictures because: “So, once you add in the land ‘cost’ of externalities for non-organic, and reduce meat consumption in organic, the gap is bridged?”

So part of the organic argument seems to be that we should eat less meat to free up land currently occupied by cows in order to be able to grow more organic crops. This would mean that we could feed ourselves organically without having to turn more of the countryside into farmland.

That’s a fair point, but it relies on a major change in eating habits. A start would be for the organic movement to stop selling meat, but I think many supporters of organic are not vegetarians.

In any c
ase, even if we all eat less meat, then I would argue that we should continue with intensive farming of crops and that any land that is recouped from cows, sheep, pigs and chickens could be used for more intensive farming for export or GM biofuel crops or wind turbines or house-building or returned to nature. Basically, I would argue that the land could be used for anything except inefficient organic crops.

I accept that the argument is more complicated than I could convey in a handful of tweets, but I think that my core point (copied from Mark Lynas) is still valid, which is that the public do not realise that if we were to increase our consumption of organic crops, then it would mean turning more of the countryside into fields.

I think it is fair to say that we could say goodbye to between 5% and 10% of the countryside if we were to hand over crop production to the organic industry.

In conclusion, I don’t think my tweet was “pathetic”, “mischievous, ridiculous, truly unhelpful”, “plain silly” and “silly” again,

Finally, Monty, can I ask you two questions?

  1. Do you agree with the conclusions of the meta-analysis in Nature (2012), which reviewed 66 studies comparing the yields of 34 different crop species, and which concluded that the yield per acre for organic farming is 3% less for fruit, 11% less for legumes, 26% less for cereals and 33% less for vegetables. So, while organic fruit production is fairly efficient, everything else performs poorly to very poorly. By all means say that there are other factors to be considered when considering organic farming, but was this a good piece of research on the issue of yield per acre? If not, why not?
  1. While I have the ear of the President of the Soil, Monty, what is all the nonsense about supporting homeopathy for farm animals? Really? No, seriously, really? Chris Atkinson, your Head of Standards, wrote in 2011: “Encouraging healthy farm animals can be supported by using complementary therapies – which include homeopathy – where these can be shown to be effective.” Please tell me the conditions for which homeopathy is appropriate and the evidence that means it has been “shown to be effective”.

You can leave a comment of any length below. By all means add additional detail, but please answer the questions above in (1) and (2).

7am 16 July, 2012
Ps. I can’t reply to all comments, but I will reply to Sue Beesley, as her tweeets were part of the original exchange. I accept that peak phosphorus is an important issue, and there are several issues to be addressed in the years ahead. However, my understanding is that we might have enough phosphorus for “between 300 and 400 years”, according to
the World Phosphate Rock Reserves and Resources study, and most experts seem to agree that supplies are sufficient until the end of the century. By that stage, GM or better utilisation of phosphorus or recovery of phosophorus or more deposits of phsopshorus will have changed our assessment of this issue.
Sue, I am disappointed that you have completely ignored the two questions I posed to Monty and ignored the statements that were backed with references, and instead you focused on the only statement in my blog that was clearly marked as a personal view. As that sentence appears to be a distraction, I have removed it. My main point was that organic is not safer or healthier, according to two major reports.
Thanks for the kind words.
As you and I both recognise, I am not an expert, but my main point is that even with my level of very limited knowledge I can see some issues that the organic movement fudges, and hence consumers are largely unaware of these issuess (e.g., lack of health benefit, lack of safety benefit, inefficient land use).
My initial tweet was somewhat slammed by Monty, so I am trying to move the debate forward by airing ideas at more length. It would be a shame if Monty was willing to respond to a tweet on several occasions, but not willing to reply to a more serious blog. Unlike you, I am optimistic that he will respond, and that he will address the specific questions.

2pm 16 July, 2012

PPs. And you should also read this related post by Mark Lynas, triggered by the same twitter conversation.

http://www.marklynas.org/2012/07/how-land-inefficient-is-organic-agriculture/

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29 Comments
  1. sam morrison permalink

    It seems like both sides are being fairly selective to me. Mark/Simon’s point about organic farming is a salient one; but equally it seems one-eyed to judge purely on returns. Organic farming is not just a salve for middle-class consciences, it’s also about maintaining a biodiversity that is absolutely vital to human (and animal) survival. Is there a middle-ground to be found?

  2. kompani101 permalink

    It seems to be a common trait of the ‘alternative’ groups that producing a statement is evidence enough. Checking the scientific validity of what is being claimed is not required just the strength of character is enough. There is very much a ‘it just is’ way of thinking. I hope you get a very full and scientifically valid reply from Monty Don.

  3. uqbal permalink

    @sam morrisonIf we imagine we ban modern farming and try to feed a country solely on organic fields, we would need some 30% more land dedicated to agriculture. This would imply the destruction of woods, forests and other environments and would result in a dramatic loss of biodiversity (both flora and fauna, btw).

  4. sam morrison permalink

    @ uqbalI agree that’s no answer. What I’m wondering is if "intensive" farming can be adapted to a degree where it does not have the impact on wildlife it currently does. It seems there must be some compromise between the two.

  5. PJB permalink

    Be interesting to have the data on what proportion of set-aside land (so previously fields) would cover the increase in land required for an organic farming nation. Also, interesting the language about "turning countryside into fields", sounds a bit like gripes about covering the countryside with concrete.I think there’s a clear positive in organic food, I can (and have blind tested) a taste difference – but there is a scale from (say) ??2.50 factory farmed chickens through farm assured, free range to organic.Also I get anaphylactic shock (mildly thankfully) with peanuts – not so with organic peanuts. I don’t claim to know why or how, but it is the case.On a precautionary principle I would far rather take appropriate measures with bacteria (with which we have lived for millennia in one form or another) than new chemicals and methods which are averred to be safe – there are historical situations where "scientifically proven" or "scientifically considered" safe claims has been demonstrated unwise, as a result of further scientific discovery.I am emphatically not anti-science, but I not happy with the modern scientific world very often asserting that the absence of demonstrated issues in the short or medium term means that there will be no issues in the long term.Ever since science began scientists have had belief in a truth, only to have that truth thrown over later. I wish modern science would remember that.

  6. uqbal permalink

    @Sam MorrisonDoes it have such an impact? Evidence should be produced, at this point, but I can hardly imagine that the same field, if forced to produce less, would be more gentle toward wildlife.Maybe you’re thinking of pesticides -but we need evidence for that as well, even because organic farming, although trying to avoid some chemicals, does use other substances (regarded as "natural") which can also have a deep impact on the surrounding environment.The discussion is a bit difficult, on this ground, for organic supporters -if I may-, because it is hard to assess the "naturality" of something which is not natural at all, I mean a tilled field.

  7. sam morrison permalink

    I’m thinking of the loss of hedgerows in particular, but also other things that have an impact on wildlife, pesticides included. There is well-established evidence for that, including the current plight of the bees:http://www.tgdaily.com/general-sciences-features/62424-common-pesticide-named-as-cause-of-bee-declineI think your last line is more ironic than you intended. While we can argue about what is ‘natural’, there’s a big difference between ploughing the soil and spraying it with chemicals – and disposing of as much competing flora as you can.

  8. Sue Beesley permalink

    My core point about the higher yield of wheat grown with agro-chemicals is that, in the long run, these high yields are not sustainable because the inputs required to achieve these results are both finite and environmentally costly to extract and transport. By way of example:..here’s Monsanto on the subject of the importance of phosphorus to high wheat yields: http://bit.ly/NpVIwm..and here’s a picture of one of Florida’s many phosphate mines: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/04/us/04phosphates.html?_r=1I make no apology for posting partial snippets of information in reply. I respect you greatly, Simon, having followed your media battle with chiropractors and cheered you all the way. But I’m afraid opening this topic with the statement that you have a superficial knowledge of the subject and little interest, coupled with the wholly subjective remark that you suspect organic food is less healthy because of ‘bacteria’ just won’t do. I almost didn’t bother replying and wouldn’t be at all surprised if Monty doesn’t bother either. You haven’t really earned it.

  9. Europeantrees permalink

    This is a clear illustration of the biggest problem facing progression for UK land management, where in the slack translation of a few scientific journals to suit media a simple fact is avoided by both sides, resulting in an unwinnable tennis match. Soils are the base of the wider ecosystem that includes human beings – but are subject to a complexity and diversity that no one in the UK seems to be really bothered about – either the Soil Association or wider Agricultural Industry. A soil type can change within 1m and as such ALL science is only relevant in this subject in the particular location researched – hence the wide disclaimers within the conclusions of any peer reviewed material. I’m a tree man and in my industry we have only really started to get our heads around the extraordinary relationships between soil organisms and tree roots, which is revolutionising our industry. This understanding is allowing us to reverse the huge infant deaths toll of young trees across Europe – and further we can start to work on encouraging carbon storage into the soil, which has been so disastrously ignored by land management practice for far too long – leading to a situation where much land; garden, field and plantation forests, are heavily reliant on NPK produced from NON renewable sources. To state that such land in production is better environmentally really is preposterous, because it is simply unsustainable! We need carbon and organic matter in our soils – not for sequestration but for plants to live and be able to exist in perpetuity.I sincerely hope that sometime soon we will see the UK land management practitioners allowed the voice they deserve – rather than the tittle tattle from NGO, Media and Lobbyists who jump into the equation after reading just one or two articles of the thousands they actually need to in order to join the dots. And then embrace true SD, by way of terroir or a similar approach (site specifics), whereby the products will come from a well balanced landscape and be better quality all round as a result (and worth considerably more money!) without damaging the biodiversity which creates that taste.

  10. quackonomics permalink

    "In any case, even if we all eat less meat, then I would argue that we should continue with intensive farming of crops and that any land that is recouped from cows, sheep, pigs and chickens could be used for more intensive farming for export or GM biofuel crops or wind turbines or house-building or returned to nature" Not sure about the biofuels bit here, as it has tended to drive up food prices, by starting a food-v-fuel competetion. As regards to eating meat, there’s an interesting book by Simon Fairly In Meat: a benign extravaganc about some erroneous assumptions about the environmental impact on meat eating are dody (dont get me wrong, I think the moral case agaist industrialised meat produced and animal cruelty are valid!) Like the fact that the problem is not neccessarily feeding animals the food grown on land we could use, but rather the model which promotes that. Rangelands, straw, stovers and grass from fallows and rangelands ??? food for which humans don???t compete ??? meat becomes a very efficient means of food production.

  11. Skepteco permalink

    A lot of the extra land required by organic farming is to graze the animals whose manure is essential- so reverting to a less-meat based diet and organics would not work as there would be a shortage of manure! Organics generally also requires more tilling and manual labour- if there was a significant increase in organic farming many people would have to go back to the land and live as peasant farmers- which is what many organic proponents do wish for.@Sue Beesley "My core point about the higher yield of wheat grown with agro-chemicals is that, in the long run, these high yields are not sustainable because the inputs required to achieve these results are both finite and environmentally costly to extract and transport."Organics also relies on "unsustainable" inputs inc. diesel for machinery- for less productivity. We will find substitutes for these eventually, but organics hardly solves the problem in itself.@PJB:"On a precautionary principle I would far rather take appropriate measures with bacteria (with which we have lived for millennia in one form or another) than new chemicals and methods which are averred to be safe "sounds like the naturalistic fallacy to me! Death rates from ecoli poisoning were very high before industrial farming, and still are in less developed parts of the world- it is rather worrying to here people seriously argue that "bacteria"- which have been successfully killing us for hundreds of thousands of years might be preferable to "chemicals"- modern farming is far safer in so many ways than its traditional forms.As regards other environmental impacts, clearly farming in general is the biggest impact of all our activities, irrespective of type- you can easily reduce the impact by reducing the productivity! The way forward is new technologies inc. GE (GMOs) and precision farming techniques, which really can reduce impacts and inputs while retaining or even increasing yields. See y recent interview with Prof. Pam Ronald: http://skepteco.wordpress.com/2012/07/13/interview-with-professor-pamela-ronald/

  12. James Greaves permalink

    This is an unpleasant insight into perceptions surrounding the organic debate. The only commentator with a sense of reality & knowledge being ‘Europeantrees’. Homeopathy for animals is as daft as widescale adoption of GE agriculture. The referred research into crop yields does not account for the long term health of the soil, a factor gloriously ignored because it is difficult to understand. The middle line is that we must reduce our chemcial dependency, but we cannot simply give up on chemicals when we need to also have resilience against an increasing array of pests and diseases including those that may cause harm to humans. The big agri companies have disgraced themselves as much as the soil association have with their meanderings into pseudo science, by way of not acknowledging the seriousness that many chemicals do not do what they say on the tin. Glyphosate enters groundwater – it has been discovered in the urine of many animals and humans. Neonicotinoids harm bee populations yet mainstream agriculture is happy to sit back and watch peer review research after peer review research flood in and still take the ‘sales brochure’ blurb from bayer as the fact. The only way forward and to borrow the metaphor of watching tennis is to sell your tickets to the match and go and talk to scientists and those working on the frontline because hardly any, if any at all, of the bloggers and journalists and celebrity gardeners who dominate the fatuous online debate have the first clue about this subject and are making it worse by creating a friction that may sell copy or increase hits but does little more than stall any real progression towards sustainability.

  13. DCKitching permalink

    It seems to me that the shortcomings in conventional agriculture that are mitigated by organics, are at least partially compensated for by organic’s own shortcomings. A third way is required, especially given that the world will need more food [even given the distribution aspects]. A dimension that seems to be overlooked in a simple organics versus conventional farming debate is variations in regional needs and circumstances. We’re looking for global solutions here. The needs of rural African farmers vary from those of farmers in the UK’s East Anglia.My belief is that a combination of conventional farming, organic approaches to land management, combined with judicious application of GM, as well as utilising Permaculture models where appropriate is the way forwards. A matrix of advantages and disadvantages of these four approaches, mapped to a realistic model of what comprises acceptable risk and costs within a given geographic context, accounting for what are usually deemed ‘externalities’, is needed to stall this endless argument about which of the four approaches should be adopted. A combination of all four is required, depending on needs.This would reflect the interdependent nature of the food debate, in terms of social, environmental and economic aspects, and the various knock on risks associated with each approach across other issues like population growth, local biodiversity loss, local economic and social needs and local water availability. It would also retain diverse skillsets within the agricultural sector, helping to cushion against resource shocks.The problems we face are manifold, interlinked and are growing in severity. It’s time to come together and consolidate the best of the options available to us, and compromise a little.

  14. Monty Don permalink

    It is helping no one by reducing this to itemised point-scoring. Surely the idea is to understand what is happening rather than prove things right or wrong? Suggest you inform yourself a lot more before taking this any further. If you are genuinely interested in understanding what it is all about start by reading Michael Pollan, Colin Tudge and Rob Hopkins. No specific scientific work so you may not feel comfortable with it but very good cross section of the field.Importantly it is not a contest or case of anything being right or wrong. It is all about everyone concerned joining thoughts, practices and concepts to nurturing and sustaining all forms of life – and humans not least – as successfully as possible. That begs a thousand questions rather than trying to pick holes in one or two issues.If that looks as though I am dodging your questions then so be it – and in a way I am because they are not sensible out of the context of the much bigger picture and I hate the idea of point scoring on something as important as this.Having known you for nigh on 20 years – albeit with great gaps – I suspect that you are as temperamentally and intellectually suited to immersing yourself in organic, holistic agriculture as I am in particle physics. Your mind just doesnt work that way. That does not make you wrong or me right. Well,OK, I am just being polite but it doesn’t make you bad for being wrong…with very best wishesMonty

  15. mem_somerville permalink

    Homeopathy for farm animals–yeah, that makes me really question one’s grasp of food science and food safety for sure.But at least they aren’t speciesist. They offered a course in homeopathic first aid for humans earlier this year. I presume you could use your skills on your animals too. http://screencast.com/t/HG9HYG3V(Is there really anyone who didn’t see Mitchell & Webb’s Homeopathic A&E??)

  16. Swilson09 permalink

    In the US, surely the organic movement is lobbying for labelling of GMO foods not simply because of the health affects produced by consuming these foods, but also to give the consumer the right to choose to support/not support companies like Monsanto by purchasing/not purchasing GMO goods. There is currently a lawsuit against Monsanto by organic growers to prevent Monsanto pursuing them should their crops become contaminated by GMO products, despite all efforts by the organic farmers to prevent this. I would argue that labelling GMO produce has much to do with supporting the consumers right choose as much, if not more than, their right to "healthier" food. A search for podcasts produced by The Manic Gardener on iTunes may inform you about the debates surrounding issues beyond the health benefits of GMO.

  17. carolineholding permalink

    Sorry maybe i’ve missed something, but mem_somerville, I’m not really getting where the homeopathy for farm animals comes in?

  18. bbhflts permalink

    Great blog and interesting read. I think the real issue is that both sides tend to ignore the gaping flaws in their own argument and simply point the finger in the other direction. From what I understand to date:1.
    GM thus far has been proven safe for human consumption. The real issue is cross pollination and its impact on bio-diversity. If GM can address this, the anti-GM folks really have no argument.2.
    Practically it is impossible for non GM growers to prevent cross pollination and hence be in violation of the patents and licencing. The only solution is for GM companies sell sterile seed stock.3.
    Intensive farming techniques use of pesticides, fertilisers and chemicals have not conclusively been proven harmful to humans. What has been proven is that they have a detrimental effect on the ecosystems of the soil and waterways. Soil microbes and fungi have been proven beneficial to yields. Fish stock depletion and damage to waterway ecosystems have been proven to be linked to over zealous use of pesticides and fertilisers.4.
    Use of hormones in livestock have been proven to be detrimental to humans and irresponsible use of antibiotics also has been strongly linked to bacterial resistance to antibiotics and speeding up evolution and genetic mutation of bacteria.5.
    Unfortunately the organics movement refuse to engage with science and this sort of nullifies their position.I think instead of taking a religious stance and backing one movement or another, it would be great if we could look at addressing the real issues and coming up with an optimised solution. Blindly claiming one side is not the solution.

  19. eb526 permalink

    Responding to@sam morrison’s point about a middle way – low-input farming could be what you are looking for http://www.leafuk.org/leaf/home.eb. Look out for LEAF labelled products in your supermarket.

  20. Pippa Sandford permalink

    As a member of the SA – though probably not as committed to organic as many – I’m more concerned by your own comment "I only have a superficial understanding and knowledge of the subject", followed by two breathtaking assumptions based on your own opinions rather than fact. I say this as someone very interested in evidence-based medicine and scientific support assertions, and about to buy Trick or Treatment. I expected more of you in this debate.

  21. Lesley Jones permalink

    As with the others commenting this is a very sad reflection of the chasm needed to be bridged in order to get sustainable land management principles established in mainstream thinking in the UK. I also was very dismayed by the SA’s concentrating on homeopathy for pigs and other issues it has delved into whilst it plays about, all the while distancing itself, as many other UK and International NGOs have from the real science and the real progresses being made. Henry Doubleday would be confused to say the least if he were to witness such slackening of the scientific reins each and every time the SA PR team choose to find increasingly isolated ideas to follow rather than fronting a campaign for the UK to sign up to the ‘soils directive’ or much more vocal highlighting of the very real scientific research on the herbicides in groundwater and pesticide damage to wider environment as mentioned by Europeantrees.And most importantly leading the need for carbon storage in our bak garden as well as agricultural soils.I join the others here in saying the middle line is the one we must follow and we have to adopt site specifics and a bottom up approach in dealing with all aspects of the landscape. And what ius very intriguing to me is that this void has been picked up by the, now much less radical than their big NGO cousins, Grass Roots groups fighting for their location and using the European Landscape Convention as a soft power platform to do so.

  22. mem_somerville permalink

    @carolineholding: are you reading the same post I am? Because it’s the number 2 question in Simon’s post (which is the second number 1, actually): http://screencast.com/t/DIzfT55wuyC2 Let me highlight that for you.And it’s also an answer I’d like to have. It’s something I’ve found very disturbing for a long time. And in the US the organic regs are so bad that it’s cruel to animals: http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/6330/the_cruel_irony_of_organic_standards/ and that policy leads directly to ineffective treatments. You’ll note that issue also draws an anti-vaxxer–director of the US Organic Consumers Association. If these are the kinds of folks associated with food science claims and safety–no thanks. It calls to the credibility of their grasp of these issues.

  23. uqbal permalink

    Monty don wrote: "I suspect that you are as temperamentally and intellectually suited to immersing yourself in organic, holistic agriculture as I am in particle physics. Your mind just doesnt work that way."This is intellectually most dishonest. The all point about scientific knowledge (and we are not discussing religion) is that it can and must be shared by everyone.Someone might not have the basic knowledge to understand particle physics theories instantly, but it does not depend from the kind of mind they have been provided with.

  24. Skepteco permalink

    Dozens of actual scientific studies showing GE crops to be safe can be found here:http://gmopundit.blogspot.ie/Monty Don believes in Biodynamics:http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2002/jul/21/gardenswhich disqualifies him from any evidence-based discussion (as does any tolerance for homeopathy of course.) Unfortunately the organics movement is pretty much full of this kind of woo.

  25. Europeantrees permalink

    The principle problem with scientific study (including that which you have linked to Skepteco) with regards GE, as well as other ‘solutions’ such as biochar and many other ideas is that the science is very lacking indeed due to the complexity of factors which need to be addressed but rarely are – what happens to each species of soil organism? What happens in 5, 10, 15 years time? etc., etc., The result is that something is advocated, used and consequently turns out to be a problem for a factor never considered in the first place – and this is the greatest statistical fact with regards ALL agri and horti applications since WWII. It also drags HUGE resources away from actual real progression with completely fail safe methods – as well as uncontroversial science (such as agroforestry). This continual and frankly perverse obsession with sticking something in the ground which never existed there before is just plain wrong – be it ‘organic’ or ‘natural, ‘chemical’ or GE. There is only one landscape where we can experiment and must experiment with such alternatives and that is where there are technosols – the peri urban / urban zones, which have monumental potential but are rarely considered.

  26. DCKitching permalink

    Interesting FAO publication on sustainable food and biodiversity that’s of relevance here: http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/i3004e/i3004e.pdf

  27. StumpedMonkey permalink

    Monty Don said;"Surely the idea is to understand what is happening rather than prove things right or wrong? "Huh?And how, Monty, do you propose finding out what is happening without proving things right or wrong?It might be right or it may be wrong that organic farming is a less efficient use of resources than intensive agriculture. And it may be that there is room for opinion as to which priorities are more important. But to disallow any enquiry as to what facts are true is simply an abdication of responsibilityAs a vet, my bugbear with organic farmers is their use and advocacy of homeopathy in animals. Now this is very simple. Either homeopathy makes animals get better from illness or it does not. If it does not and if it is ever used instead of effective treatments then it is, in the words of the British Veterinary Association, "an offence to animal welfare".You have to keep separate two utterly different realms of thinking. You may not like, as a personal preference, the idea of introducing bacterial genes into crop plants. That would be your opinion. If you claim that organic farming uses less resources, measured as energy, measured as land then these are facts capable of measurement and capable of being proven right or wrong."Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." DP Moynihan.Do not confuse the two things.In 10 years of debating advocates of various "holistic" beliefs, the claim that we are not allowed to determine whether one side or the other is right is usually made to divert attention by the losing side.

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