Paul Roberts has a very interesting and worthwhile discussion of sustainable farming over at Mother Jones. The key issue is:
- Organic farming uses a LOT more resources than normal farming;
- To call yourself organic and get that market recognition you need to be 100% organic;
- There is no market standard for recognising that a farmer is more sustainable or environmentally friendly than their rivals if they’re not organic.
I think that most consumers who buy organic are also the type of people who want to do the environmentally friendly thing. While organic farming may not be as polluting as farming with synthetic fertilizer it is much more resource intensive. So where’s the incentive for farmers to move towards less resource hungry AND more sustainable alternatives?
Becoming fully organic isn’t a long term solution because of the resource constraints we’d face. But becoming more environmentally friendly doesn’t appeal to consumers because there’s no certification or standard that allows retail shoppers to know who the ‘good guys’ are. Until there is some way for environmentally friendly farming practices to command a price premium in the supermarket it’s going to be hard to persuade farmers to change their ways.
ht: Matt Yglesias