Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Is organic (or sustainable) food best?

Organic food won't save the world, or so says scientist Eoin Lettice:
"...I have no problem with buying organic as it has significant positive impacts on the agricultural environments; improving soil health and biodiversity, etc., one has to admit that it is a niche market which is a luxury of well-off, developed nations and does little to support those 925 million people on the UN list..." (more in the original, you should check it out)

It's a familiar topic for sustainability advocates. Is sustainable seafood to be a niche market for the affluent, or a real movement that transforms the way the world catches and farms seafood?

The answer lies in our standards. If we hold out for the highest possible standards, we condemn sustainability to be a niche movement instead of the mainstream of seafood. I prefer to use interest in sustainability to transform the entire seafood industry, specifically because I don't want it to be a niche market.

...and then there's GMO food...

Eoin also brings up GMO (Genetically modified organisms), as did Carl Safina recently. Safina correctly points out that we've been tinkering with animal genetics as long as there have been domesticated animals, and shuffling genes isn't really that new. Now we just do it in the lab instead of in the barn.

Take a look at teosinte compared to modern corn (right). Who would say that maize isn't a GMO? If you know anything about maize genetics, you will be smart enough to avoid saying "but wait, corn breeding doesn't involve moving genes around" because it does move genes around, and this process can also transfer genes between species.

Blogfish thinks the world has changed because of rising CO2, and while I used to think we couldn't afford the risks of GMO food, now I think we can't afford to just push GMO salmon off the table like a toddler saying "NO!"

If GMO salmon can really be grown in closed-containment tanks, with lower feed requirements and less time to market, then we need to think about the risks. Lower carbon footprint and seafood footprint for farming salmon, along with getting salmon farms out of the ocean is a very good package of benefits. A decision on what to do comes down to which risk seems worse. Frankenfish scares me less than rising CO2.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Using the elitist 'organic' recommendations of the Western World, we would be able to feed about 3 billion people. I guess that means the other 4 billion to our East are expendable huh?

To feed 7 billion plus, we will need to intensify food production and GMO has a place in this.

It's what Mr. and Mrs. Hemp and their 3 kids want to hear, but it's fact.