Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on
ag-biotech.


Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives

Subscribe

 


SEARCH:     

Date:

June 19, 2000

Subject:

second answer to Ryan

 

AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

dear All

you may recall that I sent a document advice to US scientists on
how to deal with greenpeace. this document did teh rounds of teh
anti Gm networks as well 9 presumably to show what nasty people
we were). This led eventually to a letter from lord melchett head of
greenpeace in the UK asking for an apology stating that I was lying
when I said that a substantial portion of Greenpeace thought
starvation and Aids a good way to reduce populations ( I had
mentioned this in a short newspaper letter published locally) where
was my evidence. So I sent him Patrick Moores statement,
comments by Haerlein and an advert for a greenpeace rep in teh
USA requesting candidates for a position to force solutions on us
all. Melchett replied stating that if I continued to say a substantial
portion of greenpeace....etc I would know I was lying. I have sent
back another letter pointing out much of what I say in the document
below. Absolute certainty is not compatible with democratic
principles and if greenpeace had any real sympathy with the poor in
this world they have the money and facilities to do something about
it. I also said in my letter that I had seen enough authoritarian
groups in my time ( I am now 61) and indeed was on teh receiving
end of one lot in the early 40's when I lived in SE London. I wanted
nothing more to do with any such groups that live with self deluding
lies and attempt to force solutions on us. I can see that Patrick
Moores document is sufficiently foggy to let Greenpeace off the
direct hook but the implication is still strongly written in the article.

Anyway those that like to spend their time reading the next might
find this interesting .


Dear Angela

When I released my document on Greenpeace to Prakash he asked me whether I wanted it widely
distributed knowing full well that anti-GM people read his network. I said 'yes', it did no harm for others to
realise that there were those that opposed the attitudes and behaviour of Greenpeace. I gave you the
document from Patrick Moore on Greenpeace because it reflects entirely my own view of the organisation.
Greenpeace is just negative, I have done it myself in the past (waving banners, shouting slogans) and it is
very easy to do, and if you are flamboyant about it you will attract in a lot of people that are attracted by
the flamboyance itself. I think Greenpeace is full of well-intentioned people but as Patrick Moore
documents it has been infiltrated by extremists of a variety of kinds.
There are some very pertinent questions.
1.Why doesn't Lord Melchett or equivalent stand for parliament to test his views with the electorate?
2. Why does Greenpeace have more money for campaigns than most UN organisations like UNESCO? Isn't
this upside down?
3. Why does Greenpeace not send its campaign teams to Africa, India and the Far East to help with farming
and education; i.e. to do some real good. Jumping on oil platforms is easy and gains nothing for the rest of
the world. Indeed I get the impression that Greenpeace think more of the environment than they do of
people.
4. Why does Greenpeace not use its campaign money to help stop wars if we agree that these are one major
cause of malnutrition.

When I ask myself these questions it is quite clear to me that NGO's deliberately ignore responsibility. It's
much easier to be negative; it takes absolutely nothing to go and wave banners, mouth empty slogans. I
see nothing of famine relief of harnessing the enthusiasm of young people towards concrete help where it
is needed elsewhere in the world. Greenpeace seems to think more of crop trampling (i.e. destructive
activity) and intimidation of farmers than any real concern for the problems of the present. As for
compromise, the way mankind comes to recognise a plurality of opinions, I have already said that is wishes
to force solutions on the planet. Basically Greenpeace has become a corporation for campaigns with
offices in every city and spectacular things to do are the only way it can keep its membership up and the
money rolling in to pay its burgeoning permanent staff. Too many at present, Patrick Moore tells us, are
assertive individuals who 'know' they are right. Well I don't know.

What is needed in the world are positive constructive views about how to deal with the future problems
that mankind faces now and will always face in the future. I see absolutely none of that from Greenpeace. I
find FOE different more outgoing and more reasonable although when I suggested to Robert Vint that he
should join the Labour party and work his way up to become Minister for the Environment he never replied.
Responsibility teaches a lot of things as it has done in my life. And in Germany as I understand where
Greens have had to take responsibility the organisation has all but disappeared because responsibility is a
hard task master requiring people to think very carefully and take account of all points of view not just their
own. Problems are not solved by slogans but only by investigating in enormous detail why poverty occurs
and how to deal with such complex systems for example. I used to lecture on poverty to the first years in
the university; poverty is one of those complex systems and flag waving about large corporations,
demonstrations against the WTO or world bank or GM technology or exploitation does absolutely nothing
for the problem. I am full of admiration for those that go out and work in these countries but realism would
suggest that their contribution is only small I am sorry to say. The world is not a just place nor is it fair,
most problems about poverty hinge around culture and the trap of low pay, low education, poor health,
large families etc. They are not easy problems to solve.

Patrick Moore made the important point that Greenpeace has done its bit towards making the environment
higher on people's minds and consciousness. Now is the time too create positive policies towards
achievement. Simply jumping on oil rigs claiming marine life is in danger may salve the desire of some to do
something but lacking in all this is any detailed consideration of the kind of planet the general mass of the
population want and that to be placed before the public in elections. My strong suspicion is that
Greenpeace will not offer itself forward because it fears its attitudes will be repulsed. So much for
democracy.

We are not here to conserve everything; that is neither practicable nor desirable. Who wants to conserve
black death, bilharzia, genetic disorders and so on. If we say the future is to be sustainable then we have to
decide on what is meant by sustainability in the first place. When I have told US scientists to pull out all
the stops against Greenpeace I have to recognise that scientists are not a political grouping, they have no
money and no organisation and indeed precious little support although most of them have humanitarian
goals. But it's also because I think Greenpeace is completely wrong about GM! The GM products on offer
in the UK are commercial; like all commercial endeavours they will live or die on the market place. Personally
I think farmers should have the choice. Farmers are quite aware of many of the problems with particular
corps.


That brings me to the second point here. I have rounded on Greenpeace because their campaign is to 'go
organic'. Was this thought through? No. This slogan was issued on the assumption that organic farming
is somehow more environmentally friendly; a supposition commonly made by those who prosecute their
belief in organic farming with zeal. Organic farming is a set of beliefs constructed in part from Rudolph
Steiner and re-enunciated later in this last century by Lady Balfour. Neither of these individuals was a
scientist and neither understood whether their beliefs in the regulations they constructed were for
environmental or any other benefit. Frankly they could not possibly know. Why some continue to believe
in something enunciated a long while back and fail to modify the belief with time as knowledge increases I
do not know.

However let's look more closely at this policy to go organic. Some important points about organic
agriculture.

Organicfarms are run to make a profit; not to satisfy ideologies, despite what organic believers think.
No form of agriculture is really environmentally friendly in the way that is ever implied. The function of
agriculture is to grow a crop and harvest it. Statements that organic agriculture is ecological
agriculture have no meaning. All forms of agriculture require disturbance and that places all forms of
agriculture as somewhere in the middle of forest succession particularly as most crops are derived from
weeds. Other statements that supposed greater diversity in species in organic agriculture provides
greater stability or sustainability was confounded by Robert May many years ago when he
demonstrated that the opposite was equally likely. I think the difference between conventional and
organic agriculture merely reflects management styles.
Of one thing I am sure. Any self respecting organic farmer will ensure that his/her farm is kept as
clean as a conventional farmer of insects, pests and disease because not to do so means loss of
money. Insects come in three forms for agriculture; those that eat your crop, those that eat your pest
and those that do neither. It is not clear to me that there is any great advantage just to have larger
numbers of any of them; they exist in abundance elsewhere than in agricultural fields. In fact they
often get badly out of synch on a crop and, particularly for aphids , substantial losses of legumes are
common unless treated. The House of Lords committee which reported on organic agriculture stated
that many conventional farm practices are environmentally friendly and equally duplicate the claims
made by the environmental claims made by the organic community for itself. It is a matter of record
that less intensive use of conventional procedures achieves the same environmental results.
Lapwings for example thrive on permanant pastures so increasing these by any technology increases
numbers; increasing pasture land by organic farming does not mean that organic farming per se is
responsible.

As populations increase efficient farming is the requirement; otherwise we plough more wilderness.
Organic regulations do not permit the use of nitrate. Organic farming is thus ultimately dependent on
nitrogen fixation and there is no relief from this constraint on yields. Nitrogen fixation averages at about 40
kgN/ha/year. Over clover it is 120kg/ha/yr. However a well-grown crop of potatoes takes out about
160kgN/ha and barley about 120. These figures ignore N requirements for vegetative growth. Other
minerals are needed as well P, K, Mg, S, Ca. Organic regulations allow limeing but limeing is not commonly
used now (because of alkalinisation) but was in the last century and slag for phosphate. Therefore much
organic farming is dependent on rain for its mineral supplies and estimates for mineral deposition in
rainwater are well known and low.

Organic regulations only permit fertilisation by manure. That is even if the cow is fed on a clover sward all
the manure has to be collected and of course there are losses through the cow and ammonia from the
manure. A lot of fixed nitrogen remains below ground and is unuseable for consumption. But it requires
separate pastureland to maintain the cows.

From these figures above it is not difficult to calculate that organic farming on the arable land world-wide
currently available (about 1.34 billion ha) could feed about three billion people at an average of about 1
ton/ha of wheat or rice. We could plough up another 0.75 billion ha of putative and rather marginal
farmland currently used for poor grazing; any further encroachment would involve drainage of wetlands or
felling forests. But why should we? The Haber process currently fixes as much nitrogen as the whole
planetary ecosystems and the Haber process can go on forever with the inexhaustible supply of nitrogen in
the atmosphere. The average yields world wide for conventional farming are about 3 tons/ha; records are
18-20 tons/ha.

There are substantive losses of N on organic farms. Unless manure is ploughed in immediately it is
produced, substantive losses of N occur through loss of ammonia (the stink of the manure). But then the
consequence of using non-composted manure is dangerous microbes (e.coli 0157H7) in the crop that is
harvested. Furthermore because manure slowly decays there is continual leaching of N into water and
rivers when crops are not growing and this has been measured and shown often to exceed recommended
levels. The crop needs N most when it is growing in springtime and release of N later in the season is
simply wasted and in the main lost. Canopy expansion early in the season requires N in high quantities
otherwise the final crop yield is diminished. Manure is a poor way to supply that because N is only slowly
released. The organic methods were constructed at a time when none of this was understood and they are
genuinely luddite philosophies inappropriate for our time. Mineral application in springtime in conventional
agriculture is the best use of mineral resources for crop growth with least waste.

I estimate that an organic farm really uses two parts of its land to provide fertiliser for the one remaining
area because it doesn't use mineral fertilisers. If the farmer does not have cows but uses green manure
only, then the yield and indeed efficiency of land use is even worse . Current organic produce only
survives because of a higher price. In the 60's there were great outcries against gas guzzlers, cars that used
huge amounts of petrol. Organic farming is a land guzzler and wastes resources instead of conserving
them. I find it astonishing that anyone can argue for waste instead of conservation.

Direct comparisons on the same farm are rare but CWS Farms group has directly compared organic farming
with integrated crop management (ICM is my own preference using crop rotation, manure for soil
conditioning not fertiliser and a form of IPM). CWS reported more weeds on the organic part but no greater
diversity in specie. Weeding requires more tractor use or hand use and reckoned it to be more disturbing
than zero tillage (which you get from herbicide resistant crops) on invertebrates and worms. As for
pesticide application I suspect that some conventional farmers over use them but either extremes of organic
or conventional farming requires little thought input; just adherence to a set of regulations. The answer
surely is to train farmers to use more thought about what comes into a farm and what goes out in terms of
cost and biology. However pesticide residues from conventional agriculture which so excite the more
zealous of the organic community and the public are difficult to find these days in current crops. But direct
observation has shown that even when the manufacturers regulations are followed the decline in insect
numbers after pesticide applications are temporary and comes back quickly. Organic farmers have a range
of products available for their use as insecticides. Pesticides are not sustainable in the long term.

We are currently six billion in number and going up to eight even ten billion (see later). Therefore 'going
organic' with its limit of three billion people capable of being fed (and if taken seriously) would involve
starvation of half the human race. And you ask why I dislike Greenpeace and why I have contempt for it. It
is clearly because future policies are not given a moments thought or consideration; instead the whole
policy is based on how can we be negative and raise anxiety. Basically I have heard that providing it
sounds about right Greenpeace don't bother with the consequences. In one of the articles I sent you I
discussed the dangers of higher prices for fruit and vegetables, reducing consumption and increasing
premature death and cancer rates, a consequence again from going organic. Again no thought given or
enquiry made by Greenpeace about the consequences; just total irresponsibility!

Anthony Trewavas FRS
Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology
Mayfield Road
University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh EH9 3JH
Scotland
Phone 44 (0)1316505328
Fax 44 (0)1316505392
email Trewavas@ed.ac.uk
web site http://www.ed.ac.uk/~gidi/main.html
To view the web site simply click on the address