The pesticide industry has had its day and companies like Monsanto are “in the wrong business” according to author and academic Raj Patel.
As fossil fuels and water become scarce, agro-ecological farming will come into its own, said Patel at a debate on sustainable agri-food models for the future.
The web debate was hosted by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, which claims that ten per cent of global farmland is cultivated using High External Input models, replacing human labour with machinery and chemical products, which are non-sustainable in the future.
Patel, a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, who sat on the webinar panel, was asked what he would say to the CEO of Monsanto, he replied: “I think you are in the wrong business”.
Patel said: “Really what we need is not science that develops proprietary seed and things new and exciting, and exotic chemicals to spray but much more sophisticated and holistic science that requires fewer and fewer chemicals but produces more.
“I’m not sure that the pesticides industry is an industry that has a useful function in a society when we’re actually spending more money investing in agro-ecological farming.”
Patel highlighted increasing data to suggest that agro-ecological farming methods - those that aren’t reliant on fossil fuel agriculture and abundant amounts of water, which are going to become scarce - can feed the world.
He added: “In fact as the price of these resources goes up in the future we will have to adopt these kinds of agriculture anyway.”
Monsanto states on its website that it is focused on sustainable agriculture. It also pledges to produce and conserve more by developing improved seeds with greater yield, using fewer resources.
In response to Patel’s comments, a Monsanto spokesman told FoodNavigator.com: “One of the best examples of how innovation based on science, in the form of agricultural biotechnology or GM, is helping both poor farmers and the environment is insect protected GM cotton.”
He added that the benefits of this Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton include less pesticide use and better yields. An independent scientific study also that found Bt cotton helped avoid several million cases of pesticide poisoning in India every year.
Food industry efforts
Farming utilizes 92 per cent of global water resources to produce food, one-third of which goes to waste, according to the BCFN.
FoodDrinkEurope said recently that industry continuously strives for sustainable water use throughout their supply chain.
It stated that food and drink production only accounts for about 1.8 per cent of European industry’s water use. However, through improved water efficiency, wastewater quality, better water re-use and water disclosure “industry is making a conscious effort” to save the resource.
Members are also developing a protocol on the assessment of the environmental impact (including water) of food and drink products.