Organic and farm-to-table – 7 learnings about the food and agriculture industry

I have been increasingly interested in food and agriculture industry having worked with a large agribusiness client. After many debates and discussions, here is my current thesis on understanding the industry as it is today and it’s implications on our lives –

1. Crops produced in large tracts of land cannot be produced without pesticides. Thanks to the nature of infections and pests, it is impossible to crops in large tracts of land without chemicals. The only way this can be avoided is by producing crops in small greenhouses.

2. Organic crops also use chemicals – the only difference is they are more dangerous and toxic. A crop is certified as organic if it uses pesticides that are naturally available. This results in farmers buying large amounts of Copper Sulphate and Arsenic and this, in turn, results in organic crop land having large amounts of (toxic) copper and Arsenic.

3. Manure is no better than synthetic fertilizer. Is having Nitrogen Phosphate via manure better than injecting a Nitrogen Phosphate molecule? Absolutely not. A chemical is a chemical. In fact, the cost of producing manure (i.e. the cost of raising a cow) is much higher in terms of carbon footprint and environmental effects.

4. Chemicals and genetically modified (GM) food are the future. Most of the available Papayas in the world are already genetically modified. This is going to be an increasing trend. We need technological advances in seeds and food to ensure we’re able to feed 10 billion people on this planet.

5. Organic will (unfortunately) remain a premium/luxury product. Organic farming will unfortunately be a tax on limited land. However, it will remain a luxury product. One can only hope that farmers and the FDA will understand the problem of shoving large amounts of Copper Sulphate into the soil. Heroin is naturally available and that does not mean it is good.

6. Farm-to-table is the way to go. The trouble with mass produced crops is that these are often plucked/picked before they are ripe and are ripened en-route to their destination by artificial means. We are better off eating ripe food and, as a result, the farm-to-table movement is very positive. Farmers markets are going to be the key to healthy eating.

7. The rules are different when it comes to mass producing meat and poultry. My understanding of this side of the industry is limited. My understanding so far points to organic being the way to go here. This is because the industry increasingly uses heavy injection of antibiotics and hormones into cattle and poultry in their bid to maximize output. Organic and “free-range” meat and poultry seem to be the way to go.

The big learning? Treat “organic” with healthy suspicion. Understanding how the food you eat is produced. And, remember, things are increasingly not the way they seem.

That sounds tough and sobering.. it is intentionally so.