Food TOO

They seemed to be going in opposite directions. The report I watched on “Globo Rural” talked about transgenetic crops. Much of the soy produced in Brazil (in the U.S. too, BTY) is genetically modified. The reasons are clear. It is easier to grow. One farmer in the State of Parana explained why he went completely over to genetically modified soy. He could use a lot less fertilizer, almost no herbicides or pesticides and he did not have to run his machines in his fields nearly as much.   

Transgenetic foods are labeled with a “T” in a triangle, so that consumers can recognize them. Evidently some people don’t like them as much and so are willing to pay more for non-T-modified products. Non-T foods are also sold to the EU. People there, no doubt egged on by strong domestic interest groups, want non-T products and are rich enough to pay the higher prices. I am not really sure about that term non-modified, since all the field crops we grow are significantly modified by plant breeding. I chose to use that instead of “natural” since they are also very far from whatever ancestor they had in nature. This leads me to the second article.

The second report on “Jornal Nacional” talked about organically grown food and labels proving that the food on the shelves is organic. 

To some people this means natural, but all that it really means is that the farmer did not use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.AND for the time being “organic” does not include foods genetically modified by specific biotechnological means. This distinction is also important, since almost all the foods we eat are genetically modified.All the apples you eat, for example are from clones.Apples do not breed predictably.The only way to guarantee a red delicious apple is to clone it.Every one of the red delicious apples (or other varieties as well) are the identical tree, genetically). But people who care about labels consider plant breeding a different category.

People favor organics for a variety of reason. Some people think the organic products are better for them.  Others say the organic products taste better. (This could be true, although probably more because organics often are grown by smaller, local operators who can cater to tastes.)  But a big part of the choice is that organics are perceived to be better for the environment. This last is not true. 

Organic farmers tend to be less productive (per unit of labor and land) than those who use a wider variety of techniques. I don’t want to make too big a distinction between organic and non-organic. Much of “non-organic” production, BTW, is very organic.  Dairy farmers, for example, produce and use tons of organic manure and most farmers follow rotations, planting nitrogen fixing legumes, for example, which add nutrients and organic materials to the soils. No farmer uses only synthetic methods. The difference is the organic farmer will not use any synthetic products in addition to organic ones. This makes them less productive, which is why organic products cost more.  But the environmental cost is harder to understand.  Less productivity means that more labor and land must be used to produce the same amounts of food, which means more land must be cultivated, leaving less land in a “wild” state. 

It seems to me that one of the best ways around this dilemma would be transgenetic crops.  As the farmer in Parana said, he chose to plant transgenetic soya because he could use less fertilizer, less herbicide, less pesticide and he needed to use his machines less in the field, i.e. burned less fossil fuel in the cultivation of his crops.   It seems like a win-win to me. 

Transgenetic crops can be very good for the environment since they require less of all the inputs that currently cause concern. Properly deployed, transgenetic crops could solve, or at least address the problem of lower yields for so-called organic crops. Something that produces more, on less land, with fewer inputs of fertilizer, herbicides & pesticides and lets farmers use less fossil fuel should be welcomed, don’t you think? Maybe we should come up with a new category that is environmentally friendly. It could include organic products and transgenetic ones that use fewer of those inputs above.

We can call it trans-genetically- organic. How about this? We call it a Transgenetic- Organic-Operation for food production. The label can be “Food TOO.”