High-yielding American agriculture is not only saving the world's rain forests, but on its shoulders rests the challenge of tripling today's output within the next half century to meet not only the world's growing population growth, but its increasing affluence.
So says Dennis Avery, director of global food issues for the Hudson Institute, Indianapolis, Ind. Avery is an unabashed cheerleader for agriculture who told the California Fertilizer Association it is high time agriculture starts telling the American public the true story of farming and ranching.
"When food was scarce, farming didn't need to defend itself," Avery told CFA at it 77th annual meeting in Santa Barbara, Calif. "But, it's been more than two generations since food was scarce in America. Now agriculture must justify itself to its consumers, just like every other U.S. industry."
He cites the $15 million per year American Plastics Council's television campaign; ADM's David Brinkley ads, and the "belated" Council for Biotechnology Information ads as examples of what agriculture must do.
"This is an unfortunate moment to tell an industry about a new cost," he admitted. "I am sure you do not want to hear that," but Avery said without a forceful message from agriculture, no one else will tell the true story.
He called it "an unfortunate moment" four years ago when a major biotech company disparaged the plastic council's campaign. "That was before the biotech companies lost perhaps $30 billion to negative consumer perceptions of both biotech crops and foods," he said.
Modern agriculture can survive only if it talks directly to the "mass of urban Americans who are ignorant of agriculture, but do want to move society forward responsibly and humanely.
"We probably cannot convince the scaremongers. We probably cannot rely on their willing accomplices, the journalists, who have thoroughly enjoyed the biggest, longest running scare story in their history," he said.
What story should agriculture tell?
That there are 800 million undernourished people in the world today. "Feeding the world's kids and pets without destroying the wildlands will require major assistance form America" where the largest chunk of prime farmland is located.
He said it is also time to "attack the organic myth" that is driving regulators today. There is no evidence organic is nutritionally better or safer than conventional farming. In fact, Avery, said there is mounting evidence of "higher bacterial danger lurking in too many organic foods.
"The organic movement is looking for wrong risks. We are still looking for the first victim of synthetic pesticide residue, but thousands of Americans die every year from food-borne bacteria," he said.
The public also should be told that organic farming yields half that of conventional farming and to force organic farming on the world through the banning of pesticides and conventional fertilizers would require six times the cropland now farmed in the world and "the world does not have it.
"There is no more dangerous myth (organic farming) in the whole panoply of junk science," he said.
Fertilizers is one of the most important factors that have permitted the world to triple it s farm output since 1960, largely to feed a starving world.
While there are still millions of under nourished, the agricultural challenge in the 21st century will not be population growth, but affluence. He predicted the world's population would peak at nine billion about 2035 and then slowly decline. This is because lower birth rates are forecast in Third World countries.
"Today, we're feeding high quality diets to only about one billion people. By 2040 or 2050, we will need to provide fruits, meat, milk and other resource-costly foods to at least seven billion," he said.
There will even be a pet challenge, said Avery. "America has 113 million dogs and cats. A rich, one-child China might have 500 million companion animals and "woe to any politician who stands between Fluffy and her favorite food."
Avery said the world must be prepared to triple today's farm output by 2050. If that does not happen, "we are likely to watch helplessly as poor people clear tropical forests and destroy millions of irreplaceable species to get more land for chicken feed."
American and world agriculture have made remarkable progress over the past three decades and it cannot stop if the world is to be fed, said Avery. He challenged CFA and all of agriculture to counter the anti-technology movement against agriculture with television and grocery store messages that read,
"This store proudly offers products of modern high-yield farming; They are unsurpassed in quality, safety and nutrition and they leave more room for wildlife on the planet."