To the editor:

L. David Peters’ sadly misinformed op-ed, “Sustainable Farming Needs Bioengineering,” (10/27) reflects a gross misunderstanding of organic farming, while naively proposing that bioengineering will solve all agricultural problems.

To address his three points against organic: first, biotoxins in manure are not a major threat; composting manure at high heat with other matter (food scraps, woody material, etc.) kills germs. Second, the idea that “organic methods slowly deplete former fields” is flat out wrong. Organic farming, by definition, replenishes and maintains healthy, fertile topsoil by adding stuff like compost. Organic methods vastly improve soil fertility. It is widely recognized that the monocropping practices of conventional farming are what is responsible for topsoil depletion. Thirdly, Peters’ assertion that the crop yield from “organically farmed land is far lower than that of land farmed using modern methods” is also inaccurate. Actually, the opposite is true. Higher yields from organic operations do require more labor, but with chronic underemployment all over the world, worker wages is money well spent. Furthermore, land needs to be equitably distributed so that people work on land that feeds them — unlike the current situation of land conglomeration at the hands of big agribusiness.

Which brings me to point out that Peters’ argument that genetically engineered crops are the only solution to meeting the growth in demand for food ignores the fact that these miracle crops are developed and patented by a few large corporations, further concentrating power in the hands of a few wealthy. This gives these corporations power to create farmers’ perpetual debt and dependence upon their products (power they already wield in the pesticide and chemical fertilizer realm). World hunger is not a result of not enough food, as proponents of bioengineering assume. It is a result of poverty — the lack of purchasing power to buy food (or the land, seeds, or tools to grow it). And developing bioengineered crops with patents will not solve that problem; it will only exacerbate it.

Laura Hess ’06

Oct. 29, 2003