Commentary: Is the old fashioned way best for food production?

The food industry has gone through many trends from the rise of ethnic foods to the increase in organics to the push for local and slow food. The recent trend of producing food the old fashioned way though is a bit puzzling. The idea that food production should take a step backward and abandon any progress the agriculture industry has made in the past 50 years seems counterintuitive.

Throughout most of the history of mankind, humans have spent an inordinate amount of their lives around finding, producing, storing, enhancing and cooking food. It's only been in the past 50 to 60 years that people living outside of developing countries can devote their lives to doing more than grow, harvest and prepare food. It's allowed the world to advance and for people to devote their time to other pursuits outside of producing for their own basic needs.

So, when the trend of turning away from traditional agriculture and moving toward growing organic, local food began gaining acceptance, it seemed just a fluke. But the movement has grown over the past decade. Many of those who support this movement toward organic, local food have become anti-science, anti-technology and anti-modern production.

The organic industry has grown immensely by offering consumers an ideal that feels warm, inviting and old fashioned in a comforting sort of way. It's been grown through the feeling of nostalgia. But what the organic industry does not share very convincingly is that just because something was grown organically does not mean it was grown without the use of pesticides.

In August, I was at an event that is attended by many who are pro-organic food. I spoke to a woman that had been on many medications and had multiple health issues. She told me she was trying to get off as many medications as possible and was eating organic food because it was grown with no chemicals. So, I asked her if she realized that organic farmers use pesticides? She stared at me in disbelief and I could tell she was shocked and felt betrayed. I explained that the pesticides they use are labeled for organic production but that organic farmers use some pesticides that are considered "natural.  It appeared that her belief in organics was fueled by the idea that organic production uses no chemical or biological form of weed or insect control.

It doesn't seem that the average soccer mom or grocery shopper has linked recent food recalls to organic products. Just this summer, Costco recalled certified organic frozen berry mix because it was contaminated with hepatitis. It seems consumers only wake up and begin questioning production practices after food scares and disease outbreaks.

Although organic production in and of itself is not bad, science still needs to be used to keep consumers safe whether consumers want to believe their food was produced the "old-fashioned way or not.

Food safety is not old fashioned. It's one of the technological advances the world has made to protect people and to prolong lives. It's not a step the agriculture industry should take backward or do in an old-fashioned way. Hopefully, the movement toward old-fashioned farming will recognize that some advances are worth keeping today.


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