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March 13, 2005

Taverne on Organic Farming.

I know that Dick Taverne will get a lot of flack for this statement:

DDT is another good example of a chemical that saved millions of lives by eliminating malarial mosquitoes yet was banned after environmentalists - including Rachel Carson, author of The Silent Spring - accused it of causing cancers. Yet not a single study shows that exposure to DDT damages the health of human beings. In Sri Lanka alone, the reported number of malaria cases rose from just 17 in 1963 to more than a million in 1968 after DDT was banned.

What he says there is true....but there are those who will point out that DDT’s effectiveness was declining anyway in widespread spraying as mosquitos were developing resistance. I’m still all in favour of the internal application, the yearly spraying of the interior of a house, but not of lavishing it all over the countryside. But putting that aside his comments on organic farming seem to me to be spot on:

Possibly the most telling indictment of organic farming is its inefficiency, its high cost and its wasteful use of land. The facts cannot be seriously disputed: yields of most crops from organic farms are about 20-50 per cent lower than from conventional farming. That is why organic food costs more.

Efficiency matters. It affects the health of low-income families. Even in a prosperous society like Britain we should not ignore the importance of cheaper ways of producing food, provided they are not based on intolerable breeding conditions for animals. Prosperous middle-class consumers may not care about price, but the poorer you are, the more the price of food matters. Pesticides keep down the cost of fruit and vegetables and if the organic lobby prevails they will become more expensive. People in the lower-income groups will buy less; this is all the more important since they are now exhorted to eat more of them to help control obesity. Moreover, the more pervasive the propaganda that more expensive organic food is "safer and healthier", the greater the pressures on poorer families to buy food they can ill afford. Their diet will suffer and they will lose the protection against cancer that a healthy diet provides. More will die younger.

A few years back there was a huge report (sorry, memory going a bit here. Either the American or Canadian Cancer societies or a sub set of WHO. Cannot remember) which looked at the avoidable causes of cancer. After air pollution (mixing together tobacco smoke (no, not passive smoking, active) and wood and dung smoke from TW cooking fires) the second ranking avoidable cause was inadequate consumption of fruits and vegetables. Organic farming makes those more expensive, thus leading to higher cancer rates. Not something you normally think about yet true....organic farming kills people.

Update. Do click through Tim Lambert’s link in the comments below. Very interesting about the above comments on banning and resistance of and to DDT in Sri Lanka. Don’t think it changes my thoughts on interior rather than widespread spraying much but it does address the Taverne use of numbers above.

March 13, 2005 in Food and Drink | Permalink


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DDT was not banned in Sri Lanka.

Posted by: Tim Lambert | Mar 13, 2005 2:34:12 PM