Monday, October 27, 2003

Science and Sociology: A good piece on the pseudoscience-buster site Butterflies and Wheels explores the economics and emotions of organic food and the opposition to genetically modified crops:
Much of the opposition to transgenic food crops is that they are allowing and will increasingly allow farmers to produce food crops with reduced pesticides or even no pesticides and use agronomic methods such as sustainable conservation tillage which prevent soil erosion, conserve water and preserve biodiversity in ways that "organic" agriculture cannot. When honestly and properly understood, pesticide-free transgenic food crops (crops using lower amounts of less environmentally toxic pesticides than the "all natural" pesticides of "organic" farmers) undercut the benefits of "organic" food consumption. This means that conventional farmers could mass-produce food that more than matches the alleged health and environmental benefits of "organic" food at a lower cost and price. Why then, would anyone buy "organic" food let alone pay a premium for it?
Further, the author examines the effect of scarcity and concludes that much of the popularity of organic food, the "snob-value," is not true to its espoused principles:
Globalization has been the mechanism by which the increasing global food production leads to greater diversity of available foodstuffs and therefore greater choice, but it also deprives the snobs of that sense of exclusivity in the items they consume. In a world of increasing free trade and technological advancement, the food snobs seek to pursue an anti-trade ("buy locally"), anti-technology agenda in order to preserve their status and self-esteem, even if it is at the expense of continuing the increase in food production to meet a growing world population and make the technologies of accessibility and abundance available to those who have not had the opportunity to benefit as fully as others from them.
If nothing else, the human misery in developing countries should factor into a clear-eyed analysis of the costs and benefits of genetically modified food. Worth a read. (Via A&LD.)

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