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John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block,

John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.


Aug 18, 2008
I’ve come across a lot of whacko ideas over the years but here’s one that is outrageous and maybe even dangerous. The Wisconsin-based Leonardo Academy is promoting what they call a standard for “sustainable” agriculture. It will be a voluntary standard to help marketers and buyers identify “sustainable produced” products.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “sustainable” as being able to “keep in existence,” to “prolong.”  OK. That’s not so bad. Certainly we’re all in favor of “sustaining” mankind, of “prolonging” human life. But this is where their definition begins to stray. They intend for their standard to address environmental, social, as well as economic issues.

As a farmer/rancher/producer, you will qualify as sustainable if you use organic practices and pay workers a living wage. In addition, GMO crops are prohibited.

As if that isn’t enough silliness, in their definition, they intend to consider the farming operations carbon footprint and sequestration efforts relative to global warming.

Let’s go back to their definition. They want to “sustain” life. But their standard is a recipe for the demise of humankind.

If we want to “sustain” life, we need to produce enough food. That is scientifically and practically impossible if we don’t employ the best production technology. Genetic engineering increases production by 20, 30, maybe 50 percent. We can’t feed the people without it. We have no choice but to use commercial fertilizer. Norman Borlaug has it right. He said, “Improved seeds are the catalyst that ignited the green revolution and mineral fertilizer is the fuel that powers it.”

The standards advocated by the Leonardo Academy kill “sustainability.” They are talking about going back to subsistence farming. We’re not going there because we don’t want to starve half the world’s population. Only the rich would survive.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

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