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Kimbrell Keynotes Organicology

On Our Organic Future


Introduction by Matt Dillon

I’m am amazed by how much Andrew Kimbrell has done on the issues of seed and genetic modification of crops and working to protect our food crops and seed crops from GMOs.

The Center for Food Safety is a small shop. They only have three lawyers and have been trying to protect our food systems, our farmers, the people we serve, and the communities we feed. They have litigated on genetically engineered wheat, bent grass, alfalfa, sugar beets, pharmaceutical crops, and have helped protect our food supply. I can’t speak highly enough of how this small group has done so much with so little. Andrew Kimbrell is the driving force behind the Center for Food Safety. He has been the executive and founding director since 1997. Utne Reader called him one of the top 100 visionaries of our times. The Guardian listed him as one of the 50 people to change the world. He has certainly changed a lot of lives, and has inspired the people he’s worked with to be at the forefront of policy work, and some of the hard grinding work that takes place outside of the field and in courtrooms.

Andrew Kimbrell speaks at Organicology:

For a very long time, particularly after World War II, progress in our field was viewed as ever-increasing economies of scale. Someday we would all be living in domes, out of the natural environment altogether, eating pills, drinking Tang, and being very happy.
That was the industrial dream for a very long time, and they [the chemical companies] were making a lot of money selling their pesticides, their fertilizers, and their seeds, selling their machines and preening their monocultures. The reason they could do a lot of this was because we were in an increasingly urbanized society, instead of having 80 percent of our people on the land, 80 percent of the people are in the urban areas at a great distance from where this was happening. 

What were we losing, during that period? We lost approximately 90 percent of our commercial seed diversity. About 80 percent of all the species on the endangered species list are there because of farming or ranching. We have lost about 85 percent of all of our farmers and decimated our farm communities. 

We inhumanely treat the 10 billion animals in the factory farms. But all this is happening at a great distance. And the industrial farming system figured this was going to be the future. 

But something happened on the way to their future. You happened.
In the late ‘60s, the organic movement began in Maine and California. That was brought on by some real heroic people, including Rachel Carson who wrote Silent Spring, in 1962 and created awareness in the American people for the first time of the danger of chemical pesticides. 

The pesticide lobby accused her of everything under the sun, but she prevailed.
Cesar Chavez said to the American people, “You cannot eat grapes, you cannot buy grapes in the supermarket unless you think of the people who are picking those grapes. You have to make the connections.” More and more people were saying, “We are not going to live in the cold, distant, evil system. We are going to make the connections. We are going to have a farming that is a relationship with the land rather than a manipulation of it. We are going to have a farming that is a relationship with farmers and farm communities.”

We are going to have a farming that is a relationship with the land rather than a manipulation of it. We are going to have a farming that is a relationship with farmers and farm communities.”

That developed over many years, and it is now the fastest growing sector in American agriculture. They didn’t see that coming. And now we not only have organic, and all of us who defend the standards, [but] we’re also evolving the ethic on local and appropriate scale, and social justice, and humane treatment, and biodiversity, and low carbon, nitrous oxide, and methane footprints. We’re all doing that. 

But the other side hasn’t given up. At this historical moment in the future of food for the 21st century, you can see these two crossing paths: On one side is the industrial agriculture paradigm; more and more manipulation, exploitation. On the other side is the organic and beyond movement, that is organic and local, organic and humane, organic and biodiverse. 

What makes this so dramatic a moment for all of us, is that the industrial model now isn’t simply about chemicals, isn’t simply about machines, or fertilizers, or inputs, or monocultures. This is actually changing the very biology, the very DNA of the crops that they’re dealing with. 

Eighty percent of the genetically engineered crops in this country and around the world are designed to be herbicide tolerant, to withstand massive amounts of herbicide. Now the people know the major biotechnology companies: Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dow, Dupont. What do they sell? They all sell chemicals. 

Are they feeding Africa? No. Are they increasing yield? No. A Union of Concerned of Scientists study called “Failure to Yield” [] came out last year. Indisputable proof that they are not increasing yield. Have they increased nutrition? Are the blind now seeing in Africa? No, but they’re selling a hell of a lot of chemicals. Herbicides. One hundred fifty three more million pounds last year to be exact.

What do you think is happening to the weeds? You don’t have to be a Darwin scholar to get this. The weeds are getting resistant to Round-Up. Round-Up is ubiquitous in the environment. We now have between 10 and 20 million acres that have super weeds that you cannot kill with Round-Up. You cannot even knock over; these are big weeds, giant ragweed, you can’t knock them over with a combine. Even me and my tractor can’t knock them over.

If we do not stop it together as a community, by 2017, we will double the amount of herbicide applications that we’re currently using on American farmland. We know what it will be. It will be 2-4D, primarily dicamba, that’s what we’ll be seeing, along with still some Round-Up. Now what will happen to the weeds eventually? Sooner or later the weeds are going to get resistant to 2-4D, sooner or later they’re going to get resistant to dicamba, and then what will these companies do? Leave. And we will pay the bill for getting rid of these super weeds. Monsanto owns 25 percent of the world’s commercial seeds. Together with Syngenta, Dow, and Bayer that’s about 49 percent of all the world’s commercial seeds. What seeds people use, what seeds they don’t, what will be genetically engineered, what will not be genetically engineered, will be under the control of about five corporations.

One of the things they say is, “You guys in the organic movement, you’re nice people, but you’re not scientific.” So let’s take this down to the family level. I have a wonderful daughter. You could say, “Andy, tell me about your daughter.” Well my daughter is five foot six, she weighs about 110 and she’s is about 60-90 percent water. Her body mass is made up mostly of nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, calcium and phosphorous. 

Is that really what you want to know about my daughter? Efficiency is fine for machines. But how do we treat living things that we care about? 

My friends in the biodynamic movement will tell me, and have told me many times, the amazing results they get. So science isn’t just about mathematics and quantity, it’s about the qualitative way that we observe and treat nature.

We need to balance efficiency with empathy, with love, with things we care about. Nature is not a machine. Animals are not machines. Seeds are not machines. We are not machines. Efficiency is a pathological, cold, evil principle when it is misapplied to living things rather than machines. And that misapplication is the basis of the way industrial agriculture treats the animals, treats their crops, and treats their land and treats their farmers and those farm communities.

The organic movement represents a whole new paradigm. When you think about it, it’s almost unique in this way. We have said no to the three great technological revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries. We have said no to chemicals, we have said no to radiation and nuclear technology, and we have said no to genetic engineering.

The real myth is that organic is very nice but it’s an alternative lifestyle. And it’s a fine, small part of the market choice that people have. [The myth is] organic can’t feed the world. Go to Washington, meet with senators, so many of you have, members of the House, they’ll say, “Eh, that’s nice. We need industrial agriculture to feed the world.” Not true. The World Bank and the United Nations have brought together over 400 researchers, the greatest agronomists, agriculture researchers around the world, and many of you, I hope you are aware of this report: It’s the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development report []. It came out a couple of years ago now, and it unequivocally says, “We now see a growing consensus among scientists and many governments, that the old paradigm of industrial energy and chemical intensive agriculture is an outdated concept.” It said small-scale and middle-scale organic farmers and agro-ecological methods provide the way forward. 

Don’t ever let them use the argument, “You can’t feed the world.” We are not an alternative lifestyle. We are the future.

The full audio of Andrew Kimbrell’s keynote, and other Organicology sessions can be ordered via Oregon Tilth, (503) 378-0690.

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