Agriculture In-Fighting: Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Here’s what I’ve been stewing about for the past few weeks. Why is it that organic farmers or producer organizations (and random celebrities, but that’s another post) vilify conventional agriculture? Ever notice that conventional-management farmers don’t do the same? Case in point: I’m sure by now you’ve heard or read about the completely de-bunked GMO/lab rat study. This study is one speaker’s topic at an upcoming organic conference to be held in Saskatoon next month. According to the agenda, a researcher is going to stand up and point to a (hopelessly flawed) study and say that conventional producers are poisoning waterways and causing cancer.

That’s one very serious accusation. Does it matter that the study holds no scientific merit? Apparently not.

To turn it around, though, do conventional farmers host speakers attacking organic agriculture? And don’t tell me there aren’t practices in organic production that stray from “beneficial management practices” — tillage is just one topic, off the top of my head, that some would argue is less than ideal.

I recognize that conventional agriculture is the “norm” and organic production is the niche here, but why can’t farmers and farm groups respect that there are different ways to produce food? Why the need to attack conventional practices? Why is anything deemed “organic” insulated from criticism?

The sticking point for me is this: farmers, regardless of management system or geography, have far more in common than they have differences. What’s more, producing high quality, safe food in a profitable way is the goal of both conventional and organic agriculture. The very real threats of urbanization, trade barriers, high land prices and an aging peer group, to name just a few, are a large enough challenge, thank you very much, for the industry to tackle. Why add in-fighting and finger pointing to the mix?

I, for one, am supportive of a vibrant organic industry. I also think supporting local farmers is a great idea. Grass-fed beef is tasty and so is grain-fed beef. I buy my non-organic produce with no fear for my family’s health. I’m happy to have the choice between organic and not, local or imported, and I’m pleased that some farmers are making a good living serving niche markets or, for that matter, non-niche markets. Why is all of this so hard for some to accept?

Let’s stop trying to one-up and out-do each other and, instead, recognize there is more than one way to produce a crop or cow or egg or turkey. And then let’s all work together to share the story of where food comes from, no matter which path it took.

7 thoughts on “Agriculture In-Fighting: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

  1. In principal I like your blog topic, however I
    do question some of your points. If you have never heard a conventional farmer criticize,
    or attack an organic farmer, I think you’re living in the shadows. I hear it
    almost daily dealing with both organic and conventional farmers. Former colleagues
    of mine used to refer to all organic farmers as “profit whores”. They
    argue their insecticide bills are higher because the organic farmed doesn’t
    spray so they end up having to spray more. There is constant criticism from
    both sides and it is totally unfair to say otherwise. However, as you state the
    real issue isn’t who can top the other by why we aren’t working together
    instead of against each other. There is more than one way to do things, lets
    embrace it and support agriculture. More people need to embrace this.

  2. How does a farmer get along with some one that makes the claim your product is harmful because you use certain inputs in production. Inputs they assert cause consumers harm? In spite of the fact there is no proof these inputs cause harm, they just make that claim. They lie, as you point out. Vilifying conventional agriculture is their marketing plan. They create fear and worry and sell to it.

    So how do you propose the conventional farmers get along with that? Just turn the other cheek? Silence is widely recognized as an admission of guilt so these claims must be responded to. Conventional agriculture is not guilty of anything. All one can do is state the facts that your product is safe and healthy. Facts that are based in science; not bold assertions made to achieve an end.

  3. I read a blog one of the editor’s of Top Crop Manager recommended about the GMO debate. Quite a cute little view on the fact that farmers buy GMO corn knowingly, elevators buy GMO corn knowingly, consumers know that a high proportion of crop grown is GMO and that there is a lot of hidden corn in every day products. But they still buy them when logically they should know it contains GMO’s. Got a forwarded email from a friend advertising Walmart (cue evil music) and Monsanto were making a deal to purchase GMO corn that would kill us all with it’s Bt genetics. They were good at making it sound scary but since we’ve been eating Bt for 20 years or more I just laughed. Tried to send some education back up the chain, but got blasted on how I’m not a nutritionist. Some people have their minds made up. I like eating local because then, GMO or not I know what has gone into my food, give or take. It’s like when my corner store closed in my neighbourhood and everyone realized how handy it was. We have to pay more short term, but in the long haul supporting our local economy will pay us back 10-fold.

  4. Lyndsey, that is a great point you are making. Anyone with experience in sales knows it never works to sell by attacking your competition, that annoys buyers immediately. You must focus on your advantages, and prove them. By attacking the other side of the spectrum, fear and uncertainty and distrust is being created for all food, consumers get turned off on all food from farmers of all types.

    My West Coast relatives pay a fortune for their groceries, they believe that non-organic food is straight poison. And then they read that that organic labelled food coming mostly from China has even worse poisons than that. They read red meat is bad, so they go white meat, and then hear that fish have mercury, chickens have antibiotics and hormones, etc. They live in fear every time they need to get some calories.

    My proposal is that consumers need to get educated on food, the facts and science behind their choices. Rather than only one option to choose either “organic” or “pesticide and hormone laced” there needs to be more partitions and more transparency. For instance, maybe a label that is “fungicide free” but nitrogen is used. Maybe “hormone free” but fed with conventional barley. Maybe one loaf of bread has a sustainability index of “18” and the other is “23”. This type of labeling would force the consumers to educate themselves, and it would force the industry to become better marketers, and to constantly strive for incremental improvements and premium niches. Right now, it’s all or nothing.

  5. Thank you everyone for adding your comments. Great discussion!

    What do we do about it, Ward? That’s the billion dollar question. I agree that these claims and accusations can’t be ignored; they aren’t going away. And that’s part of my point — we’d be much further ahead if every farmer and person involved in agriculture focused their energy on opening up dialogue, challenging perceptions and sharing where food comes from rather than attacking one another.

  6. I think organic farmers can only get people to pay higher prices if they scare everyone into thinking that conventional agriculture is bad. As one of the other commentors mentioned, conventional agriculture needs to stand up and start refuting these myths and blatant lies. When there is fake study after study indicating that conventional farmers are poisoning people and destroying the Earth, we cannot just sit back and let it continue to happen. We can’t get alone when one industry has to vilify the other to survive. I did an entire series on my blog (http://www.thefarmersdaughterusa.com) which attempted to debunk some of the myths perpetrated by the organic industry. We need more people to start talking about it.

  7. Who can answer – why is there more cancer related health issues today than when I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s? Is it the increase use of pesticides?

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