A nice junk science comment...
I'm sure there will tons of replies to this opinion piece in the Globe...
Unfortunately, junk science is a widespread disease. Environmental activists are generally against so-called chemical fertilizers. But what makes manure and compost more virtuous than nitrogen and potassium fertilizers?
Let's start with nitrogen. The scientific fact is that the soil doesn't know the difference between nitrogen sources, as long as it gets enough. Potassium fertilizers are made from a naturally occurring mineral called potash and, here again, the soil doesn't care where it comes from. While organic products are generally very safe, there is no doubt that the raw animal waste sometimes used as fertilizer carries a higher consumer and groundwater pathogen risk. On the other hand, the composting often used in organic gardening has a positive impact on soil stability and water retention.
If soil science doesn't make organic food a superior choice, what about the claims of nutritional superiority? A recent large-scale U.S. study found no discernible difference. Organic foods cost more because they are more labour-intensive, and yields per arable hectare are lower than conventional farming.
The plain fact is that organic food consumption is a feel-good indulgence for those willing and able to pay a premium, but organic farming methods could never begin to feed every Canadian, let alone the world's population.
My global "junk science" award goes to the myriad environmental groups and associated acolytes united in opposition to genetically modified foods (GM foods), or as they have labelled them, "frankenfoods." Policy makers in Europe have reacted by banning domestic production or importation of GM foods. This despite the fact that there are no credible studies showing negative impacts from consuming GM foods, and there isn't even a plausible scientific theory as to why there would be.
Most of the grains, fruits and vegetables that make up modern diets are vastly different than their ancient ancestors. Humans have continuously cross-bred food plants in search of higher yields, improved taste, better nutrition and disease resistance. An important Canadian example is canola; traditional "genetic modification" methods transformed the bitter rapeseed into a healthy and tasty oilseed.
Astounding progress in identifying the genetic building blocks of organisms has accelerated the long and arduous genetic modification process, offering huge potential leaps forward in the increasingly urgent search for higher yielding and more nutritious crops to feed a hungry world. Erosion caused by denuding natural vegetation, groundwater depletion and biological runoff make agricultural production the most damaging human endeavour to our planet's soil, water and aquatic life. GM foods research shows promise of making a big difference.
Seed crops that lower fertilizer requirements and need less water are already a reality. Agra-giant Monsanto has developed an herbicide-resistant seed grain that eliminates the need for fallow tillage to control weeds, thereby reducing water needs, air emissions and soil erosion. This is only one of the GM foods advances made by this innovative and research-intensive company, yet the frankenfood crowd's propaganda has portrayed Monsanto as an environment-destroying corporate pariah.
And so we come full circle in the great farm and garden junk science game, from British Columbia's well-meaning but scientifically illiterate municipal councillors, to the Canadian Cancer Society's campaign against weed and bug killers, to the organic industry's self-serving claim of environmental and nutritional superiority, to the GM foods-opposing frankenfood crowd. It's hard to find evidence that supports any of these claims, but it isn't hard to see the harmful consequences these misguided policies can, and do, have.