Op-ed: Just how natural is organic farming?
Organic activists would like you to believe their brand pre-exists in nature the way fresh air and clean water do. It does not. It only exists because we have come up with a legal framework by which to define it; a mind-numbing legal framework — just ask any organic farmer who’s behind on his paperwork.
If we were to decide tomorrow that certain GMOs would be acceptable as organic, as former President Clinton and many leading academics suggest, we could simply rewrite the law. Or … we can leave things the way they are, embroiled in needless controversy. Humans define what “organic” means either way.
Then there’s the notion that GMOs “contaminate” organic crops, as if we’re talking about dumping effluents into a pristine stream of brook trout. We’re not. We’re talking about politics, plain and simple.
GMOs have never proven even remotely harmful. So, if enough politicians should ever decide they agree with the claims made by organic activists in the media that GMOs actually “contaminate” organic crops, it will be a political decision to devise a legal construct saying so, not a scientific decision.
Then why is the idea of GMO contamination embraced so fervently by organic activists, and parroted so often?
Simple. The activists aim to sideline agricultural genetic engineering, and prevent GMO farming from moving forward; a devious gambit that’s worked marvelously: GMO flax, wheat, Golden Rice, and innate potatoes are all on the sideline, some for more than a decade.
You see, the USDA National Organic Program only stipulates how and when substances like synthetic pesticides or fertilizers contaminate organic crops. Everyone knows these things can be harmful if misused. But there is nothing in America’s standards — repeat, nothing — that explains how or when GMOs “contaminate” an organic crop. Organic farmers are only prevented from planting GMO seed due to a radical-political aversion to this science that thrives in urban organic circles.
Unfortunately, the term “organic” was hijacked and politicized by those who propound an arcane system of growing crops based largely on superstition rather than science. And in the ’90s it became a government-sanctioned, honor-based, tax-subsidized marketing exercise that everyone is forced to pay for. And while the organic movement may have had merit back when it focused on reducing the impact of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, it lost all credibility when it turned to attacking GMOs.
In fact, organic farming turned 100 years old last year, based on a sound rejection of synthetic fertilizers, and a half-century later on the rejection of synthetic pesticides. But the rejection of GMOs is barely a decade-and-a-half old here in the land of the free, based solely on the personal choices of some.
Let’s be crystal clear. Not a single organic crop anywhere in America has ever lost organic certification as a result of pollen or plant-material drifting onto it from a GMO crop.
It turns out the term “organic,” as used by organic activists, does not even exist in nature. As a legal construct, devised by humans, to politically defend the personal choices of some, it is certainly every American farmer’s and consumer’s right to uphold it as gospel. They’re even entitled to believe they’re saving the planet, and brag about it, even when they’re not. But personal beliefs and choices can no longer be allowed to come at the expense of others by impeding innovation.
The time has come for organic activists to stop creating controversy where none exists, and for us all to look forward to the day when we might even see the world’s first certified-organic, genetically modified crop. After all, it’s a matter of choice.
— Popoff is a former USDA organic inspector and farmer, the author of “Is it Organic?”, and a policy adviser for The Heartland Institute. A more detailed version of this article ran in The Daily Caller in 2015.