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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Economist said: "neither organic nor locally grown food help the environment"

December 16, 2006
What’s Online
The Economist on ‘Fair Trade’
By DAN MITCHELL

BUY organic, destroy the rainforest,” The Economist said last week, eliciting howls of protest from food-activist bloggers (economist.com).

The magazine’s look at “ethical food” questioned whether “voting with your trolley” (Yanks call it a shopping cart) can help save the world by encouraging organic products, fair-trade-labeled goods and locally grown produce. The sweeping conclusion was that it cannot.

“Fair trade” is anything but, The Economist concluded. Fair trade products often carry a premium above market prices, part of which is returned to impoverished farmers. The problem here, the magazine said, is that artificially high prices work against the very problem such schemes are meant to solve: overproduction. Coffee prices have tanked in recent years because there’s too much of it being produced. Higher prices encourage more production.

The Economist seems to be on more slippery ground when it concludes that neither organic nor locally grown food helps the environment.

Organic farming uses “several times as much land as is currently cultivated,” which is a net loss for the environment, the article states. If the world’s farms all switched to organic production, there “wouldn’t be much room left for the rainforest.”

“Nonsense,” wrote Parke Wilde, a food economist at Tufts University who writes the blog U.S. Food Policy. Mr. Wilde was less than convinced by the scant evidence the magazine offered for its conclusion that organic farming destroys rain forests (usfoodpolicy.blogspot.com).

“This is a recycled version of the argument the agro-business-funded Hudson Institute has been making for years,” wrote Samuel Fromartz in the comments section of Gristmill, a blog about the environment (gristmill.grist.org).

Mr. Fromartz, author of “Organic Inc.,” wrote that more-reliable studies show that organic farming is not as land-intensive as critics suggest, and that the article did not address several of the problems with conventional farming that organics are meant to help solve, like soil depletion.

The Economist says it is up to politicians to solve the problems wrought by conventional farming — by removing trade barriers and enacting carbon taxes, for example. But it does applaud the ethical food movement because it “sends a signal” that “governments are not doing enough to preserve the environment, reform world trade or encourage development.”

posted by Alix @ 9:33 AM

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