Seems like there is a crack of light opening up in the organic movement with regard to Genetic Engineering, judging by remarks made by Phil Bloomer, director of policy and campaigns at Oxfam, at the Soil Association’s annual conference in London on Friday (March 2):
“From the outside the organic movement seems insular, like it is the only one who has the answers.”
He pointed to the debate around genetically modified (GM) crops as one area where there could be a more open debate by the organic movement.
He added: “I understand the Soil Association’s concerns around GMOs. The fact is, however, there are a lot of GMOs which are necessary.
“Many small farmers do not have 15 years to wait in order to breed into their wheat the soil nutrition efficiency they need. GM can speed up that process.”
This of course is the line taken in the book Tomorrow’s Table by Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchuk- GE is a biological approach and so there is every reason for the organic movement should embrace it, since the whole point of the organics movement was as an alternative to synthetic chemicals in farming in the form of pesticides and fertilizers. The problem is, organic yields are lower than conventional- if yields could be increased through for example disease resistant varieties like the blight resistant spuds I blogged about last week, this could help to make organic crops more viable. GE spuds could dramatically reduce the use of fungicides.
To feed the world’s expanding population, farmers will need every tool available to them to increase yields without destroying soil-Genetic Engineering is one approach that cannot be ignored in its potential to help reduce the impacts of farming. More food from less land- a sort of “sustainable intensification” should be the goal- otherwise we will encroach ever more into wild lands to feed ourselves.
At the end of the day, the criteria for what constitutes “organic” is decided by whoever sits around a table and draws up the list. As technology improves, the organic movement should be willing to adapt its criteria – lest it otherwise sinks back into the Dark Ages and becomes irrelevant.