Today I read an article called "The Omnivore's Delusion" in theamerican.com, by Missouri farmer, Blake Hurst. The title is a take-off on Michael Pollan's excellent book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma," a must-read book decrying the harsh environmental and health consequences of prevailing agricultral and eating practices. Hurst is a conventional "industrial farmer," very aware of the movement toward organics, and the strong outcries against GMOs. This article doesn't quell my struggle by any stretch of the imagination, but it does do a good job of explaining some of the things we may give up by going organic, and some of the actual physical, scientific - yes natural - challenges that have given rise to some of today's modern farming practices. For example, poultry is raised in sheds (instead of "free range") because otherwise they are felled by the weather instead of the butcher. Another example: naturally occurring fertilizer will, apparently, support crop production for about 4 billion people, whereas there are just under 7 billion of us occupying the planet now. Hurst (citing Pollan citing geographer Vaclav Smil) notes that "[forty] percent of the people alive today would not be alive without the ability to artificially synthesize nitrogen."
One of the things I've come to realize over the years, working from the inside on policy matters, is that ideology must sometimes give way to reality. In this situation, I am both deeply concerned about our capacity to farm adequately to provide food to the hungry masses around the world, and about the health and environmental implications of the science that allows us to, in fact, make sure less people go hungry.
What do you do with intractable, oppositional facts? One thing I don't do, and we as humanity must stop doing, is to take sides, dig our feet in, and become part of the screaming and shouting going on around us. That screaming and shouting makes it nearly impossible to hear ourselves think through these problems. Instead, it is critical that we begin to think outside the box, to look for workable "third solutions."
Additionally, here is a response to Hurst by Greg Plotkin, in a blog on the Change.org website: