The Organic-versus-Conventional Debate

Community gardening and organic practices can go hand-in-hand. In several of the garden spaces available in my city, restrictions have been placed on growing practices to avoid the use of pesticides, herbicides, and genetically-modified seeds. But how important is it that my community garden support organic gardening?

Being an organic gardener myself, I wanted to see what arguments have been made opposing organic growing. Interested in the angle of conventional and GM-supporting farmers, I looked to the corporation that epitomizes anti-organic: Monsanto.

The Miracle-Maker

In a short article on the Monsanto website titled, “Building a World Without Hunger,” the author, Monsanto Executive Communications Manager Rachel Thimangu, reports on a panel discussion during the Milken Institute Global Conference which considered the role of organic farming in the larger scheme of addressing world hunger. Thimangu quotes Dan Glickman, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, weighing in on the debate of organic versus conventional:

” ‘[You’ve] got to have technologies that allow additional production…That means you’ve got to not be afraid of technology.

‘We’re going to have community gardens. We’re going to have a lot of food grown locally. But, overwhelmingly, that’s not going to solve the problem of hunger in this world. We’ve got to produce more food.’ “

Thimangu’s article suggests we should consider the limitations of organic gardening because they cannot solve our issues of world hunger, and so we need to emphasize more biotechnology.

The more subtle message: Organic gardening is over-rated.

Well, wait a second now – let’s consider the way in which Thimangu presents the issue of organic versus conventional. Heiss argues in her article on an advertising campaign for high-fructose corn syrup that the corporation can use its communication and advertising strategies to allow only a small group of stakeholders to partake in the discussion about our food.

In this case, the stakeholders are the experts on global food security. All of us small-scale, organic community gardeners are out of the loop. What do we know about global hunger? Thimangu’s article promoting conventional growing insinuates the other issues we care about (like pesticide impact on ecosystems) are not anywhere near as important.

In my hometown, not all community gardens are strictly organic. Whether or not you agree with Monsanto’s angle that conventional growing can solve food security, perhaps we can all agree on this: The debate is incomplete when we avoid discussing the other environmental and health issues related to gardening methods.

WP 3/1

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2 comments on “The Organic-versus-Conventional Debate

  1. thebookmom says:

    Monsanto has a PR problem! On the one hand, they make these claims that they are helping to save the world from starvation, while their legions of lawyers actively pursue farmers, often leading them to financial ruin. I hope you will check this out http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/campaign/genetically-engineered-food/crops/other-resources/monsanto-vs-u-s-farmers-report/ Genetically Modified seed has not been proven safe and many of the “advancements” they have made certify that Monsanto products like Round Up are the only herbicide that can be used with the their seed. In other words, they are creating a MONster!

    • I agree that GM seeds and GM foods are a suspicious practice, and the stories I have read about Monsanto destroying and suing farms reveal a much nastier side to this corporation. Vermont is currently considering legislation which would require GM foods to be labeled, and many of my small-scale farming neighbors who abhor Monsanto are petitioning and pushing for this law. But I have to admit that Monsanto has a very clever rhetorical strategy here for addressing GM foods. It is not only that the company skirts the issues you bring up; it’s that they frame the issue of world hunger as if we – as lay people – are not even qualified to be a part of this hot debate!

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