Sunday, October 5, 2014

Luxury goods

I am opposed to organic agriculture as long as there are still hungry people. When all farming was organic, most everybody went hungry. It was the advent of chemical agriculture (and other modern practices like integrated pest management) that made it possible for whole nations to feed themselves and, in fortunate circumstances, other groups.

It was modern, chemical farming that made urbanization possible. Today 49 out of 50 Americans do not live on farms. Most of those 49 understand little about how food is made, a gap all too obvious when listening to the anti-GMO drumbeaters.

Harold Keyser, who before his retirement worked at NifTAL (Nitrogen Fixation in Tropical Agricultural Legumes, has a brief, line-by-line commentary on the GMO initiative. Note that Professor Keyser spent his research efforts on finding and breeding crops (in his case, mostly trees) that poor tropical peasants could use to increase their incomes without spending money on fertilizer (because legumes fix their own nitrogen).

In other words, Dr. Keyser contributed more to reduction of pesticide use than ALL the organic farmers in the history of Hawaii put together. Which is apparent, once you know the background, from this one comment in his review ("11." is part of the text of the initiative; Keyser's comment follows):

11.          Agriculture is a [sic] important component of Maui’s agricultural economy. Organic agriculture is a rapidly expanding sector of Maui’s agricultural economy.
Response:  Yes, according to USDA’s latest National Ag Statistics Service’s annual survey and their latest Certified Organic Production Survey (Oct 2012), the sales of organic farm products in Hawaii of $7.475 million accounts for 1.2% of all agricultural sales, produced on 2,701 organic certified acres (1,049 in pasture/range), or 0.24% of the state’s agricultural acreage. Data by county in Hawaii could not be found.
Organic food is a rare, costly luxury item in the diet of rich people who know nothing of farming and little to nothing about nutrition. We are able to tolerate this wasteful fad in America because our real farms are so productive that there is enough produced to meet (and exceed) all demand.  

Dr. Keyser and Dr. Sally Irwin, two of the most knowledgeable people on Maui about ag genetics, will be giving a talk on Oct. 14 at Maui College. I plan to be there, to listen. I hope the antis, of they come, will listen, too. They have a great deal to learn.

The lecture "History, Future and Science of Genetics in Agriculture" will be from 5 to 7 p.m. at Ike Lea Room 144 Lecture Hall.


  1. On the whole I don't think growing food on a small island more than 3000 miles away from any population in need of food is no more impractical than growing organic food.

    In fact Luxury food products are possibly the most logical use of excess production capacity in Hawaii (after everyone gets fed)

    In fact it appears that that has been the only successful agricultural model, sugar, pineapple, and macadamia nuts were profitable to export when they were Luxury goods.

    On the other hand counter arguments would be that Hawaii probably does not feed itself.

    Also of note is that if one were to assume that GMO was in some way a dangerous, then Hawaii at it's remote distance is probably the perfect place to test it out.

    So really economically Hawaii's field should be full of Organic and GMO crops.

  2. One more thought. While it's clear Organic food is in no way going to help feed the poor and hungry, one has to note that it is NOT the intent of GMO crops to feed the poor and hungry either.
    On the contrary the intent is to produce a product good enough to be able to charge a premium price for a seed protected by copyright.

    They may or may not help feed more people, but it's not the point.

  3. Total sales of organic food grown in Hawaii is only $7 million a year, practically nothing.

    The people who demand that we should 'grow our own food' and 'eat organic' are noisy but vanishingly small. Like vegans.

    The point of GMO is to develop new hybrids more quickly and cheaply, Iowa seed companies came to Hawaii before gene splicing in order to get in a second crop in one year, in order to multiply seeds and get them to Mainland farmers one year earlier.

    In poor countries where GMO seeds are available, production and income for farmers goes up.