Define Organic And Sustainable To Me

Troy Marshall 2, BEEF Contributing Editor

May 13, 2011

3 Min Read
Define Organic And Sustainable To Me

This week there was a whole lot of media coverage about organic and sustainable agriculture. But they seem to be talking about something different than what I have in mind.

The coverage touts that widespread implementation of organic and sustainable ag would end subsidies and create prosperity for farmers and ranchers while lowering costs to consumers. It would end the world’s obesity and hunger problems and improve the environment. Plus, it would make us not only healthier but somehow better people.

My problem is I don’t understand how these magical words actually accomplish all this. Nor do I understand how modern conventional agriculture somehow became a problem, and somehow contrary to sustainability.

I know what we would do to those who would preach dumping computers for the good old days of punch cards. But just think of the millions of new jobs we would create by doing so; even small businesses would have to hire a couple of more people to handle the tasks modern technology does so cheaply and efficiently. Or, perhaps we could go back to the model T; then people wouldn’t drive as much and probably spend more time with their families and within their local communities.

What scares me is that if you hear this line of logic long enough, you begin to think that a simpler, less technological life would be better. Similarly, I can see where some might begin to think that perhaps modern agriculture is somehow wrong or unsustainable, or that organic is somehow better and healthier. After all, we’ve seen this propaganda ploy successfully played out by PETA and the Humane Society of the U.S.; many people now believe that we mistreat our animals on a consistent basis.

This isn’t really a serious debate; they create a straw man to attack and misrepresent modern agriculture, while posing a make-believe solution of “sustainable and organic” to cure all the announced ills, despite the science to the contrary.

Of course, everyone engaged in agriculture is for sustainable agriculture; everyone I know is part of a multi-generational operation or has plans to create one. What’s more, I support anyone who can market a product effectively, and organic obviously has a very viable and real niche. But, it’s become fashionable for San Francisco-style representatives, Hollywood celebrities and pseudo-intellectuals who’ve never spent a day raising food, to champion these causes because they think it somehow imparts to them a moral and ethical validity.

Perhaps someone ought to tell them the truth, which is that modern agriculture has made incredible strides in achieving the goals they actually espouse. Tell them also that the food system of 50 years ago, just like the productive capacity of nearly any other industry, is clearly inadequate to feed the world of today and tomorrow.

It seems this world has 10 charlatans like Prince Charles and Al Gore for every one Bill Gates and Norman Borlaug. That’s a ratio that certainly isn’t sustainable if we are to feed the world safely and efficiently.

About the Author(s)

Troy Marshall 2

BEEF Contributing Editor

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock and World Champion Horse Judging teams. Following college, he worked as a market analyst for Cattle-Fax covering different regions of the country. Troy also worked as director of commercial marketing for two breed associations; these positions were some of the first to provide direct links tying breed associations to the commercial cow-calf industry.

A visionary with a great grasp for all segments of the industry, Troy is a regular opinion contributor to BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly. His columns are widely reprinted and provide in-depth reporting and commentary from the perspective of a producer who truly understands the economics and challenges of the different industry segments. He is also a partner/owner in Allied Genetic Resources, a company created to change the definition of customer service provided by the seedstock industry. Troy and his wife Lorna have three children. 

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