Organics can feed the world: report

Canadian Cattlemen’s Association takes aim at Friends of the Earth for claims that cattle production wastes farmland

Supporters of organic agriculture say they would have no problem feeding the world.

Kendra Klein, staff scientist with Friends of the Earth, said the deeply entrenched narrative that organics is incapable of feeding a growing population is false.

It is also the conclusion of a new report released by the organization called Farming for the Future: Organic and Agroecological Solutions to Feed the World.

“We now know that organic farming can yield enough to feed the world,” she said during a conference call promoting the report.

Frances Moore Lappe, director of the Small Planet Institute, disputes the notion that industrial agriculture is the saviour of the planet and the only way to feed a growing population.

She said there would be an abundance of food if people ended their obsession with eating animals.

Three-quarters of the world’s agricultural land, including pastures, is devoted to producing animal protein, which only delivers 17 percent of global calories.

“Half of the world’s calories from crops don’t go to people directly,” said Lappe.

She said that out of every 100 calories cattle consume in feed, humans get three back from eating the beef.

“Cattle are the best calorie shrinkers,” said Lappe.

She said the problem isn’t food scarcity but rather a scarcity of democracy. Government policies favour meat production, which only the rich can afford.

Tom Lynch-Staunton, issues manager for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, disputes Lappe’s findings.

“Her argument that all this land can be used for human food as opposed to going to cattle is just not true,” he said.

In Canada, 80 percent of what a cow eats in its lifetime is forage grown on marginal land not suitable for annual crops, and less than 10 percent of cropland is used for feed crops. Almost all of the crops that are grown every year are grown for human consumption.

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“It’s when they don’t make the grade that they’re diverted into cattle feed,” he said.

Lynch-Staunton also pointed out that the conversion rate isn’t nearly as abysmal as Lappe suggests.

It takes six kilograms of feed in a feedlot to produce one kilogram of beef. And that beef is rich in protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B, so it’s more nutritious than an equivalent amount of crops.

Lauren Ponisio, a conservation biologist from the University of California, Berkeley, said a meta-analysis of 115 studies conducted over the last 35 years shows that conventional agriculture out-yields organic agriculture by an average of 19 percent.

However, the gap is reduced to six to nine percent when comparing the results of organic farms that practice diversification, such as growing a wide variety of crops in the same field and using rotations that include cover crops.

John Reganold, professor of soil science and agroecology at Washington State University, said there are considerations beyond yield when determining the value of organic agriculture.

He has reviewed 17 meta-analyses comparing the nutritional value of eating organic versus conventional food, 14 of which found some evidence that organic is more nutritious.

It contains little to no pesticide residue compared to conventional and is higher in vitamin C, antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids.

“If you look at the quality of food, organic is better,” he said.

Reganold said organic farming is also better for the soil, results in less contamination of ground and surface water and is more profitable, according to another meta-analysis of 44 studies.

The profitability analysis shows that organic farming delivers 22 to 35 percent more net returns to farmers than conventional agriculture because of price premiums that average 29 to 32 percent higher than conventional prices.

“Organic agriculture now occupies about one percent of the cropland worldwide. Why can’t that be 10 or 15 percent by 2050,” said Reganold.

Ted Menzies, president of CropLife Canada, is tired of all the finger pointing.

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“I don’t like trying to pit one method of agriculture against the other.”

Menzies said many of the attacks against conventional agriculture are unfounded, including the accusations that it is bad for the environment.

Biotechnology has paved the way for conservation tillage techniques that have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 29 million tonnes a year in Canada and reduced diesel fuel use by up to 194 million litres per year.

Canadian farmers would need to plant 35 million more acres per year to generate the same productivity as today if it weren’t for pesticides and genetically modified crops, said Menzies.

He said the record corn harvest in the United States is 532 bushels per acre.

“I don’t think that came from organic agriculture,” said Menzies.

He also said the organic community should be careful about claiming it has little to no pesticide residue.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program detected pesticide residues on 21 percent of the organic food samples it tested in 2014, albeit at levels where it was not a safety concern.

Forty of the 41 synthetic pesticides it detected were not approved for use on organic food.

“Our member companies make many, many pesticides for the organic industry, so to suggest there is no pesticides used in organic production is a complete fallacy,” said Menzies.

He also cast doubt on the assertion that organic farmers are making far more money than their conventional counterparts.

“That’s quite a claim. I’m not sure where they get their facts from.”

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  • Harold

    Feeding the future is a theory of absolute fiction. Cause of the future is not yet written.(no fact) Global warming, or climate change theory, is absolute fiction. Cause of the future is not yet written.(no fact) Coming of the last ice age, will another Ice age be averted by a signed affidavit of a scientist? To place a theory against another theory, creates more fiction. Fiction (no fact) x cattle (fact) x organic’s (fact) x gmo (fact) = fiction. in math as in English- 0 x 1 x 1 x 1= 0 Junk in-junk out. We could have no more predicted 2016, from 50 years ago, than we can predict 5 years from now. Now-time played back to those of 50 years ago, would seem to them as achieving the impossible and unimaginable. What peril could the Scientists of 1956, saved the people of 2016 from?
    Nonetheless, in real time- For the knowledge of solutions for all problems plaguing the world now time, and with all “experts” failed, what arrogance should view 2025 or 2050.

  • richard

    Menzies doesnt want to “pit one method of agriculture against another”……and then he proceeds to pit one method of agriculture against another??? Get a helmet Ted….. And please explain how ten passes per year with heavy equipment including three to six passes with agritoxins, reduces greenhouse gases and diesel fuel usage? Your fantasy of conservation tillage as dogma has turned into caricature of itself….with the high clearance sprayer and the high speed disc desperately trying to cover its tracks…..Talk about your karma running over your dogma….yikes……Organic agriculture succeeds, Ted, because it is self evident and consumer driven….. something that scares the hell out of the reactionaries…..And by the way. I wouldnt boast about the 532 bushel corn crop…..I know someone who weighs 532 pounds….. And he got there the same way the corn did…..oops.

  • Dayton

    “That’s quite a claim. I’m not sure where they get their facts from.” Fact is conventional farmers over produce then turn the excess into fuel and feed at a discount loss. Organics are in demand commanding a premium price. These are the Facts…..

    • Harold

      What happens to pricing when the competition is eliminated. I guess that answer is left unto who own the keys. God/nature or Monsanto.

  • Terry Beglinger

    I’m sure Mr Menzies gets paid a lot of money to take the position he has on “conventional” versus organic farming. Didn’t all farming used to be organic before the shift to “conventional”.
    Take a look at what has been accomplished in Cuba, where the end of the Cold War forced them to farm organically.
    Soil issues related to “conventional” farming are one major issue, but has Mr. Menzies researched the impact of the pesticides and genetically modified products his company produces on our health. I would suggest that he research the correlation between the huge rise in cancers over the past 20 plus years to the rise in use of the types of products his company produces.
    It would be great if Mr Menzies could produce his bio sciences, chemistry or medical research accreditations. Or, is he being spoon fed by other people in his organization who tell him what he needs to say.
    It is unfortunate that Mr Menzies is allowed to use his influence as a former federal government official to lobby the government for acceptance of his company’s products. Hopefully the new Liberal government won’t be so willing to listen.
    Mr Menzies left the people of High River and Southern Alberta without federal representation (resigning as a Member of Parliament), shortly after the largest natural disaster in Canadian history (2013 floods) to take a high paying job with CropLife Canada. And, after he had publicly stated he would see the post flood recovery through.
    I have lost confidence in Mr Menzies credibility and integrity as a result.
    I suspect that in time the true impact of pesticides on our soil and genetically modified products on our bodies, will become clear. There is mounting independent research which speakers to the damage it is causing. There was a time when smoking tobacco was considered safe, and in fact said to be good for you.

    • Stephen Daniels

      Cancer rates are decreasing when the longer life span is factored in.But don’t let facts get in your way.

  • Terry

    One more thing. It’s my understanding that CropLife Canada is owned by Bayer. So on the one hand they are trying to take control of the food supply, that is likely making us sick, and on then they provide pharmaceutical products to “manage” those illnesses. Interesting?? And by the way there isn’t as much money in curing illnesses as there is in “managing” them. Go Ted!

    • Stephen Daniels

      Yet human life span is longer than ever ,and healthier than ever Croplife is doing a terrible job of making us sick.Pass the tinfoil.

      • richard

        ……Or pass the auto immune dysfunction inherited from bad food and bad lifestyle….Yeah, heart disease, arthereosclerosis, liver failure, diabetes, arthritis, IBS, colitis, lupus, asthma, Crohns, dementia……and the western worlds most desired outcome…..morbid obesity…..Kool Aid anyone…?

        • Stephen Daniels

          And 200 years ago what was the average lifespan?You know back when everything was organic.

          • richard

            [Today], what we witness are agritoxins, bad food, gluttony, degenerative disease and institutionalized ignorance being normalized by a cult of complicity….. where seventy percent of the global output of pharma is consumed on one continent…. And we call this progress?…..More Kool Aid anyone?

          • Stephen Daniels

            Yes it’s the best time in history to be alive Richard we are very lucky.

          • Harold

            Now-time is the only time that you can be alive, and Lucky just means- present to the event.

          • Dayton

            I would suggest it’s more likely the advance in medical procedures and medicine than food. Or are you saying processed foods are a boost to overall health? Wasn’t there 200 years ago either.

          • Stephen Daniels

            Dam modern medicine uses poison and toxins ,big pharma is worse than conventional agriculture.Wrote your next rant for you Dayton ,no charge.

  • Welderone

    Yes, with 30% of the world’s food being wasted. Billions of people having too many calories. Organic food may indeed feed the entire world. But in any case many people still buy non organic food. The reason for the poor price for conventional wheat is the supply. Unlike organic wheat. Where a good demand returns a good profit to organic wheat growers.

    • Stephen Daniels

      The reason producers grow non organic is causer the profit is greater.Or do you claim producers can’t do simple math?

  • Autumn Love

    helps ranchers become more organic in two ways! 1) we kill the worm cycle of your livestock, no need to deworm and 2) we take care of the weeds Organicweedcontrol.ca #yycgoats

  • Dr

    Hahaha
    That’s quite a claim. I m not really sure where they get their facts from . Loaded statement when coming from conventional agriculture. We know where he gets his facts from, he buys them from scientists he employs.