Why are progressives so regressive when it comes to agriculture?

When I posted yesterday’s “dead bodies” post on my Facebook page, a friend weighed in with this response: “the progressive contrarian!! I hope this is as much bait as I take but…..it’s a nasty spiral, go ahead, take lots of antibiotics, eat animals that are fead antibiotics, wash everything with chlorine…..how’s that workin’? I ain’t doin’ that.”

His response made me think about the disconnect many progressives have when an issue like GMOs challenges their worldview. For the most part, these are intelligent people who experience severe cognitive dissonance around this issue. They refuse to believe the body of science of GMO is solid.  It doesn’t matter that all the major science NGOs have stated that GMOs are safe and there are over 400 peer-reviewed studies. Even the European Commission has come around.

The facts are only important when they fit their worldview I think it can be safely said that politically progressive types are going to be more prone to buy organic foods. And there is nothing wrong with that. They believe the food is healthier and growing it is better for the environment. It also has the allure of being anti-corporate which looms large in progressive culture. But I think the anti-corporate mindset is part and parcel of their rejection of GMOs. If corporations use it, it has to be bad.

While I am on the anti-corporate bandwagon, I think organic proponents have a delusion that organic is all mom and pop, small farms when in reality it isn’t the case. Organic farming is a worldwide $300 billion a year industry with industrial sized farms across the globe.

California leads the nation in the number of organic farms with 5,000. However, one-third of organic sales come from 19% of California farms.

Considering the size of the organic industry, could it be when they badmouth and denigrate conventional and GM farming that they too could have a vested interest as much as corporations? I think progressives fail to take that into the consideration.

They also tend to look to activist groups to bolster their beliefs rather than actual scientists.

Progressives believe that organic farming is environmentally friendly. But, it takes more acreage to get the same yield as conventional or GM. Plant pathologist Steve Savage analyzed USDA statistics taken from surveys of organic farmers and found:

“To have Organically produced the full output of 2008 US crops, it would have been necessary to harvest from an additional 121.7 million acres of cropland (based on 30 major crops and excluding crops for which Organic growers might be growing specialty types) That additional area would represent a 39% increase over current US cropland.

The theoretical, additional cropland needed (190,101 sq miles, 492,363 sq km) would be the equivalent of all the current cropland acres in Iowa, Illinois, North Dakota, Florida, Kansas, Minnesota combined.

On a land-area basis, this additional area would be 97% the physical size of Spain or 71% the size of Texas.”

Doesn’t sound too environmentally friendly, does it?

(A side note: It should be noted that Savage is not anti-organic. He himself said he spent some years working on pest control products that would fit into organic guidelines.)

Another progressive mainstay is the belief that organic foods are the safest foods. That isn’t necessarily true. Because they are constrained by their methods, organic food carries its own risks. While there are less pesticides on organic crops, they can be higher in, or more susceptible to natural toxins. There are risks in all methods of farming. The fact is, it was organic sprouts from Germany that sickened and killed all those people in 2011, not conventional nor GM.

In 2006, the Institute of Food Technologies release a report that concluded:

“While many studies demonstrate these qualitative differences between organic and conventional foods, it is premature to conclude that either food system is superior to the other with respect to safety or nutritional composition. Pesticide residues, naturally occurring toxins, nitrates, and polyphenolic compounds exert their health risks or benefits on a dose-related basis, and data do not yet exist to ascertain whether the differences in the levels of such chemicals between organic foods and conventional foods are of biological significance.”

My friend mentions antibiotics used on animals. There is indeed an overuse of antibiotics use on livestock. But antibiotics have their place. Under organic standards, no antibiotics can be used, which can lead to the uneccesary suffering and death of livestock.  In 2010, In These Times, a very progressive publication, published an article, The Cruel Irony of Organic Standards in which they state, “The triumph of purist ideology over compassion and science means suffering and death for organic farm animals across America.”  “The organic movement must incorporate compassion into organic standards and allow the rare, regulated use of antibiotics.”

So, my progressive friends, the purist ideology creates situations like this:

“A few weeks later, another calf started to fail. Too weak to suck, Jordan let milk from the bottle leak into my hand as I cupped her head. The farmer weighed his options, and muttering in frustration and anger, reached for the antibiotics and the phone. He injected the calf and called the organic standards regulator to report that Jordan was no longer organic. The next morning the calf was back on her feet, but ruined as an organic milker. With that one shot, an ethical farmer lost much of his investment in breeding and maintaining quality organic stock.”

It doesn’t have to be either/or. Our food supply, despite the abuses of factory farming is the safest it’s been in history due to technological advances. Insisting on outdated methods that eschew modern tools doesn’t seem to be so progressive, does it? What is so progressive about embracing an agricultural method that was used in the days when food borne illnesses were rampant; when crops routinely failed?

Why do progressives insist on this all or nothing idea? Why can’t we take the best practices of all farming methods and combine them to create a healthy sustainable food supply? Why can’t we utilize the best technology to increase yields, increase nutritional value and decrease the prospect of food borne illnesses?


2 thoughts on “Why are progressives so regressive when it comes to agriculture?

  1. Part of the issue I’m pro Prop 37 is Monsanto’s use of GMO and what it’s doing to our land. It’s obviously corrupt. I think you have it backwards. Forcing people to rely on Organics is a regressive solution due to the cost of Organics.

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