The rise of green conspiracy theories

Environmentalists’ opposition to modern farming techniques is based on junk science and madcap theories.

Bill Wirtz

‘Farming looks mighty easy when your plough is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the cornfield.’ Those were the prescient words of US president Dwight Eisenhower. Today, debate about farming has been colonised by environmental activists with little regard for the realities of farming.

In January, the 11th Oxford Real Farming Conference was held just a few days after the Oxford Farming Conference. Ironically, while the Oxford Farming Conference features actual professionals from the farming, biotech and retail sectors, the Real Farming Conference objects to this approach. The ‘Real’ conference was established to fight against ‘industrial’ agriculture. Instead of ‘big business’, it hosts farmers alongside eco-alarmists and the likes of Extinction Rebellion. Extinction Rebellion also protested outside the regular Oxford Farming Conference, dressed in bright red, accusing the attendees of killing the planet.

Many eco-warriors take issue with any farming that is non-organic and, in particular, with the use of pesticides and herbicides. Farmers are using herbicides not to upset activists but in an effort to increase crop yields. These products are necessary and safe. They have been approved by medical agencies, food-safety authorities and governments around the globe.

What’s more, the kind of organic farming favoured by environmentalists is actually bad for the environment. As Chris Bullivant explains on CapX, organic farming produces more greenhouse gases than conventional farming – up to 58 per cent more, in fact.

Nevertheless, the Real Farming Conference promoted an ‘organic transition’ away from the use of copper, plastics and ‘other contentious inputs’. Instead of industrial farming, the conference promotes ‘agroecology’ and ‘peasant farming’ – a back-to-basics approach without synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, GMOs and herbicides.

An agroecological approach would be a disaster for our food supply. Agroecology researchers themselves admit that this form of agriculture would decrease agricultural production by 35 per cent. But no matter. The activists’ goal is the complete annihilation of conventional intensive farming at any cost.

Modern intensive farming techniques have successfully rid most of our farmland of invasive species and other pests. In the face of this obvious success, the opponents of modern farming have had to stoop to questionable science.

At an agroecology conference in Kenya last June, one of the featured speakers was conspiracy theorist Tyrone Hayes. His research gave rise to the conspiracy-monger Alex Jones’s infamous claim that atrazine, a widely used herbicide, ‘turns frogs gay’.

Also promoted as a top-tier speaker was Gilles-Eric Séralini, a French biologist and science correspondent for Le Monde (though he was, in the end, a no-show). Séralini is one of the world’s best-known opponents of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A major anti-GMO study he authored in 2012 has since been retracted and debunked by four government-funded studies (three by the EU and one by France). The scandal became known as the ‘Seralini Affair’. The case against GMOs is based on pseudoscience, but this does not trouble the agroecology movement.

The unfortunate truth is that these agroecology activists are influential. For instance, the head of the UK Soil Association, Gareth Morgan, is regularly quoted in national newspapers. He is agitating for a ban on all pesticides and fertilisers and wants the government to endorse agroecology. Parliament already has an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology. In 2018, Michael Gove, when he was environment secretary, spoke at the Real Farming Conference.

Farming and our food supply are far too important to be sacrificed to the pet projects of conspiracy theorists and radical environmentalists.

Bill Wirtz is a policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center. Follow him on Twitter: @wirtzbill.

Picture by: Getty.

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K Tojo

9th March 2020 at 3:18 pm

Many women and those soppier types of men who see their natural habitat as the creative sector, instinctively cringe at the word “chemical”. They seem to think it refers to something industrial and toxic. Organic, on the other hand, is the new “natural”.

In the new age lexicon:
industrial = patriarchal, aggressive, violating, exploiting;
natural = feminine, pure, nurturing, life-giving;

Jerry Owen

9th March 2020 at 11:36 am

GM rice has a nutrient in it that is found in carrots, the nutrient ( I forget it’s name unfortunately ) is good for eyesight and would stop millions of African babies from going blind if they were fed GM rice, however the green blob has decided that GM rice cannot be exported to Africa out of nothing more than vanity.

K Tojo

9th March 2020 at 3:01 pm

Very interesting. As you have forgotten the name of the nutrient could you perhaps provide a reference for where you found this piece of info. I am interested in reading more on the subject.

Kenneth Gallaher

9th March 2020 at 6:21 pm

It’s Vitamin A – and that so called Yellow rice is a scam.
It is a Trojan Horse for other GMOs.
It does not provide a meaningful about of Vitamin A.
It degrades with contact to air and has ever less Vitamin A.
A Chinese study which claimed to prove effectiveness was found to be fraudulent and withdrawn.
Every rice eating culture has its favorite rice – yellow rice will not be accepted.
Further, yellowing rice is a sign of dangerous degradation and would be rejected out of hand.

Eric Bjerregaard

12th March 2020 at 12:46 am

Ken is making up nonsense again. The study was not retracted for fraud. Greenpeace complained about a technicality regarding notifications of some of the participants. G.R. does provide the needed Beta carotene. It is not a trojan horse. the nations for which it was developed already have GE crops. The IRRI did the development. And folks often deliberately use spices to make rice yellow. Ken;’s allegations of color bigotry are ridiculous. Let the fsrmers and consumers decide.

Ecgbert King

9th March 2020 at 10:39 am

How many more times does it need pointing out?

XR = Khmer Rouge.


9th March 2020 at 12:54 pm

The trouble for the rest of us is that neither the XR lot nor their parents either lived through a war , did National Service or suffered from rationing-those of the ‘top’ class who did had to learn about other people but now their descendents can unleash their full autocratic tendencies and think how to annihalate the rest of us by re-wilding , changing farming techniques, re-introducing lynx wolves etc as they seek to return Britain to what it was like in 1600 when we had a population of about 5 million.

Paul Duffin

9th March 2020 at 9:25 am

If agricultural output was reduced by 35% then we’d need to increase the land being farmed by just over 50% to keep up. That would increase the cost of food by at least 50% which would have a disproportionate impact on the poor who are already struggling to provide for their families.

Yet another example of pie in the sky well off people shafting the poor in the name of ‘The Greater Good. Ommm. The Greater Good.”

Warren Alexander

9th March 2020 at 9:11 am

I’ve just turned vegan so I sold my cow for a handful of magic beans.

Jim Lawrie

9th March 2020 at 11:48 am

Go the whole hog Warren and change your name to Jack.

Dominic Straiton

9th March 2020 at 8:32 am

Modern life is just not possible in the eco loon clown world. Without cheap and plentiful fossil fuels and modern intensive farming life would be cold and short. Its time normal people told these idiots where to get off.

Anjela Kewell

9th March 2020 at 7:23 am

I wonder why we have such loons in government and not those who have experience. Could these be our education system leans towards theory and book learning instead of apprenticeship and practice

Mike Oliver

9th March 2020 at 5:25 am

The irony is that capitalism and intensive farming have given these activists the wealth, free time and full stomachs to be able to campaign.
Before the industrial revolution their ancestors would have been illiterate, dirt poor and under nourished, working themselves to an early grave in the original organic farm era.

Paul Duffin

9th March 2020 at 9:21 am

I think they should all be forced to put their money where their mouth is and live off solely “ecologically” produced food to show us that it is possible.

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