Poverty, not GM focus of organic column

We ran an opinion piece from our regular organics columnist In the Dec. 11 edition of The Western Producer and on producer.com.

The column stirred the pot, especially online.

Readers occasionally take exception to our coverage of organic agriculture, especially when it discusses the value of genetic modification. Combine that with a controversial opinion by a columnist and things catch fire on our Open Forum pages and their online version, where readers speak to us and each other.

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Organic agriculture makes up about four percent of the Canadian farming industry. Its news coverage in The Western Producer is less than that.

However, it has represented 40 percent of the comments and letters on our website over the last week.

Despite the obvious health benefits of GM golden rice to deliver beta-carotene to millions of people and avoid blindness, death and poverty, columnist Brenda Frick said that the GM rice was supplying a cure for a disease that a modern rice monoculture had created.

Frick suggested that small, nearly subsistence farmers might be able to harvest more than just rice from the same fields and add those nutrient-rich products to their diets if they were financially able to grow rice crops without a monoculture approach.

It is her opinion that our agri-food economics system pushes small-holdings producers to grow crops with little diversity so that they can exchange that harvest for too little cash to buy more nutritious food.

As the editor who placed the column on the page, I can say there was one error in the version that made it to the presses, vitamin D was referenced once instead of A. We have fixed it online, and initially that might have contributed to the volume of reader discussion on producer.com. The remainder of the column is accurate or the opinion of the author.

Golden rice is a health solution, even for those farmers who do not use pesticides, and the column doesn’t dispute this.

Addressing the underlying issues surrounding poverty in agriculture was the focus of the column and one that all farmers should be discussing openly and often, including in the pages and website of this newspaper.

It seems right to me that we should especially do this at Christmas, while we give thanks for the industry that supports us all.

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