Organic Food Is Cheaper
Americans give subsidies galore to the fossil fuel companies. The top 10 percent of America’s farmers receive 61 percent of the farm subsidies. American agriculture uses energy in massive amounts: making the fertilizer, operating the equipment, drying the crops for storage and transporting the crops across the country and to other countries. In 1940, one calorie was needed to produce 2.3 calories in food energy. Now it takes ten calories in fossil fuel to produce one calorie in supermarket food.
The entire food structure is based on mega farms and massive energy inputs. This unsustainable system can only last as long as political support comes from the major agricultural companies and fossil fuel companies.
Organic food is actually cheaper. Bill McKibben in Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet estimates that 75% of supermarket prices cover advertising, packaging, long-distance transport and storage. At a farmers’ market, 95% goes to the farmer who actually grew the food.
We have all heard about Peak Oil. Under the current system, we have probably hit Peak Food Per Person. In 1961, grain production gave 285 kilograms (627 pounds) per person. In 1986, there was 376 (827 pounds) kilograms per person. Now the average is 350 kilograms (770 pounds) per year. In 1986, grain silos and warehouses stored 130 days supply. In 2008, the supply was 40 days.
Things will not get better. Oil is harder and more expensive to find. To maintain current production, the oil companies will have to find four new Saudi Arabias by 2030.
Climate change is negatively affecting crop yield. Warm air holds more water vapor than cold, evaporation is increasing and rainfall in North America is up 7% and accelerating. Bill McKibben quotes Newsweek environmental correspondent Sharon Begley that extreme weather events is the US increased 36 percent with the warmer climate. Rather than steady predictable rains in earlier years, rainfall comes in bursts – dry spells followed by gulley washers. This means wilting crops that get washed away in a downpour. Flood damages have been increasing by 5 percent.
The heavier rainfalls bring sewage overflows, contaminated drinking water and polluted beaches. Higher lake and ocean temperatures will allow bacteria, parasites and algae blooms flourish.
Bill Mckibben advocates many reforms currently blocked by major agricultural concerns and the fossil fuel industry. In a world without subsidizing the giants, small labor-intensive farms would flourish. This is not theoretical. During the Second World War, Great Britain increased agricultural production by 91% using small plots in the cities.
McKibben, Bill. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. New York: Times Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2010, 254 pages.