Alex Avery sees the issue of conventional versus organic crops as “a battle for the hearts and minds of consumers,” and in reality, he says, the organic foods movement is “a waste of money and resources.”
“But we can win this battle,” he told members of the Southern Crop Production Association at their annual meeting at Amelia Island, Fla. Rather than letting the “utopian myths” of the organic adherents go unanswered, “we need to be an industry on the attack, proud of what we're doing to feed the world and protect the environment.”
The director of research and education for the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues, Avery now has available a new book, “The Truth About Organic Foods.”
The organics sector, long at odds with Avery and his father, Dennis, who is director of the Hudson Institute, has labeled the book “more b-s- funded lavishly by right-wing foundations and agribiz giants.”
But Alex Avery contends the book is not anti-organic, rather “it does dispel many of the outlandish and irresponsible claims some of the organic promoters are making.”
Despite decades of trying, he says, and advocating such bizarre procedures as boiling asparagus in human urine, organic foods proponents “still are unable to demonstrate a single nutritional difference.”
As for their claims of greater food safety, Avery says “there is more likelihood of contamination by fungal toxins” with vegetables grown in a manure/organic operation.
“And even though they say they don't use pesticides, 25 percent of all organic fruits and vegetables have detectable levels of pesticides — in fact, 8 percent have higher levels than conventionally-grown foods.”
The copper-based fungicides used in organics production are “less effective, more expensive, applied more often, and persist in the environment for centuries,” Avery says. “Many of them are becoming a greater environmental problem than conventional pesticides.”
Governments, he says, are encouraging organics production “because they hope they will become so prevalent, and higher-priced, that they won't need farm supports any more. European Union countries have a goal of 10 percent to 20 percent organic farmland by 2010.”
While organic producers claim equal or better yields, Avery says, “data abound that this is clearly not true. Why in the world are they urging us to go to a 1955 DeSoto agricultural system that produces less for more inputs? It just doesn't make sense.”
To dismantle conventional agriculture in favor of organics, he says, “would require manure from an additional 6.8 billion cattle to replace nitrogen fertilizers … and where would we put all those cows? How much of what is now habitat are we going to plow up to accomplish this?”
Denmark considered eliminating all synthetic pesticides from crop production and going 100 percent organic, Avery says, “and they found food production would drop 47 percent.”
Despite gloom-and-doom forecasts about huge world population increases, Avery says rather than being a runaway freight train, population peaked in 1997 and will level out by 2050 at 9 billion to 10 billion people, of which three-fourths will be in Asian nations.
Growing influence, he says, will be a bigger challenge to the food system than the economics involved.
“In China, meat consumption has more than doubled over the past 12 years, with a lot of growth still.” Much growth potential also exists in India, Indonesia, Korea, and Japan, he says — not just for food, but for clothing, pet foods, and even beer.
“One extra beer per week for China's adult males would add 3.25 billion gallons to the country's beer consumption annually, or 1 million additional tons of grain. If pet ownership in China were equivalent to North America, China would have 500 million cats and dogs.”
About 37 percent of the world's total land area is now being farmed, Avery says. “Take out ice-covered land area, and agriculture takes one-half of the world's land, counting forest and pasture.”
To attain the same level of food production from organic cropping, he says, would require an additional 15 million to 20 million acres of cropland.
The U.S. is now eliminating erosion from croplands and conserving soil “at the highest level in history,” he says, “with a tremendous reduction in pesticide/fertilizer use.
“We have won the soil sustainability war, and we've done it in large part through farming with chemicals.
“This is a message we've got to bypass the national media and take directly to the people. We have to all become involved in the defense of our industry.”