The Observer Science Editor, Robert McKie wrote an article in this week’s edition entitled “It’s wrong to believe that nature is always best”. You can read it all at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/02/organics-food. The gist is that a recent report again tells us that there is little if any taste difference or nutritional benefit to be gained from eating organicly produced food. He goes on to say that we should use all the technology at our disposal to feed the growing human population.  Here is my answer:

Our landscape has changed with enormous speed over the past 100 years, the old woods have been removed and there is a sameness about agricultural land wherever you are: believe me, I’ve just walked its length. We read that the remaining woods are losing biodiversity and the length of the RSPB endangered list lengthens whilst agricultural run-off does odd things to our waterways. Buying organic food is not just about seeking better taste: retailers have learned that people do like their food to taste nice so the thrust of technology is focused more widely now than just looks and shelf-life.

It is about being concerned with looking after THE LAND (a term first used in this context by Aldo Leopold in 1949); that is, the landscape and biosphere which we love and upon which we depend. To take a purely utilitarian, scientific view of The Land is to ignore that dependence, which I believe we do at our peril: melting glaciers are not the only warning sign that we are placing too much load on our planet.

Mr McKie states that we need modern technological agriculture to feed a growing population, but I have two problems with this. Firstly, we waste a great proportion of what we are currently producing and could reduce the pressure on the land by using food more efficiently. Secondly, we should be taking steps to limit human population growth as we can’t have it all ways: we can feed some of 9 billion all the time (the rich), you can feed all of 9 billion people some of the time, but you can’t feed all 9 billion people all of the time. (With apologies to Lydgate). Technology offers a great deal, but we MUST also channel our ingenuity into ways of living more in harmony with the land through using less land, wasting less food and chemicals and controlling our population explosion. The last is, of course, the real biggy because the cure could be worse than the disease.