In 2010, organic food sales surpassed $26.7 billion in the United States, $52 billion worldwide. That growth has occurred even as organic items continue to incur price premiums of 100% or more.
So what drives people to pay the price that organic demands? According to a newly published and thoroughly detailed article in Scientific American this week, it’s because they’re misinformed about the benefits organically grown foods provide.
And that’s coming from one Christie Wilcox, a science writer and University of Hawaii graduate student in cell and molecular biology who blogs at “Science Sushi”(Real science. Served raw).Far from being a hater, Wilcox admits that organic farming has its place and may even offer advantages over conventional food production.
“Organic farming does have many potential upsides and may indeed be the better way to go in the long run,”she wrote,“but it really depends on technology and what we discover and learn in the future.”
Wilcox further noted that “there are some definite upsides” from organic farming, including efforts to diversify away from monocultures with more aggressive crop rotations and on-farm production diversity and are much better for the soil and environment.
“My goal isn’t to bash organic farms, instead, it’s to bust the worst of the myths that surround them so that everyone can judge organic farming based on facts,” she wrote.
Her article was partly a response to a widely quoted yet scientifically controversial 2007 review, “Organic agriculture and the global food supply.” Conducted by a group of University of Michigan researchers who compared the yields of organic versus conventional or low-intensive food production, the study used a model by it was estimated that organic methods could produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current global population—and even“a potentially larger population”—without increasing the world’s agricultural land base.
The Michigan group’s has since been subjected to withering criticism for its alleged lack of rigor in the methodology and for exaggerating organic farming’s ability to feed theadditional three to four billion people expected to be alive on the planet in the next half century.
That is perhaps the single most damaging criticism leveled against the concept—and, it should be noted, the marketing strategy—of organic farming: For all its benefits, however exaggerated they might be, organic methods cannot feed a world where hundreds of millions of people already face daily food shortages and hunger and we’re already approaching the limits of such vital resources as land, water and energy.