Incorrect conclusions based on emotional perceptions dominated the four-part series on food production and food safety (“The Future of Food,” Dec. 17-20). Rather than presenting a balanced approach to the issue, the series focused entirely on the supposed advantages of the use of sustainable/organic farming practices for production of safe food. Science-based facts as we know them were largely ignored, while the emotional opinions of a selected few were taken as the truth.
However, one known fact stands out from all others. There is general agreement that within the next 20 years or so the world’s population will increase from the current 7.6 billion to 9 billion, leading to a staggering increase in the demand for food. In our view, responsibility for meeting this demand will fall on the backs of the American farmer, including those in Minnesota.
Substantial research has clearly demonstrated that crop yields are lower when “sustainable/organic” practices are used. There are various estimates that the use of fertilizer, modern crop varieties and agricultural chemicals is responsible for about one-third of current food production. Meanwhile, a 2013 report from the Pesticide Data Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture states that more than 99 percent of the food products tested had pesticide residues below the tolerances established by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Star Tribune’s articles emphasize the importance of the relationship between various crop management practices and environmental quality. Certainly, management practices such as cover crops and conservation tillage reduce the loss of our land resource and improve the quality of our environment, and they should be encouraged. The series, however, attempts to make a connection between the use of these practices and the safety of our food.
It is doubtful that conservation practices have a negative effect on food safety. Likewise, it is doubtful that these practices enhance the quality and safety of our food.
The last article in the series makes an unsuccessful attempt to associate GMO crops with negative effects on food safety. The opposite is true.
For example, if GMO corn is planted, there is no need to use chemicals for control of corn rootworm, corn borer and corn cutworm. Weed control is no longer a major problem if GMO traits are combined with soil health management, minimum soil disturbance and the use of cover crops.
In addition, the use of GMO traits in combination with other good management practices reduces the amount of money needed for pest control, thereby improving farm profitability. And chemicals once needed for pest control before GMO crops do not enter the environment.
In our view, the statement “Broadly, consumers want science out of their food,” attributed to Laurie Demeritt, head of a food research firm, is very difficult to justify.
If all decisions were based on emotion and perception, there would be very little progress in meeting the challenge of providing food for 9 billion people. Use of the principles of science to produce healthy food in an economical manner without environmental degradation is critical. We cannot afford to go backward.
George Rehm, of Cannon Falls, Minn., is an extension soil scientist (emeritus) of the University of Minnesota. Don Reicosky, of Morris, Minn., is a soil scientist (emeritus) with the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.