Saturday, June 11, 2011

Should We Ban Organic Food?

It will be interesting to see if Germany does. After all, a nuclear accident 9,000 kilometres away in Japan (resulting - so far - in one death, that of an older worker at Fukushima from a heart attack) was sufficient for Germany to decide to shut down all its nuclear power stations by 2022. No Germans have died as a result of the disaster at Fukushima.

Today, we learn that bean sprouts grown on an organic farm near Hamburg have killed 30 Germans and hospitalised thousands more. Further fatalities are expected. I await Angela Merkel's response to this rather more serious threat.

But I'm not holding my breath. As Matt Ridley notes in a timely post on the Precautionary Principle too often European policies on risk ignore the dangers from not adopting new technologies. For example, food irradiation that kills precisely the type of e-coli responsible for the horrendous outbreak in Germany.

Sometimes the riskiest thing we can do is to stick with the solutions we know rather than try new solutions. Or with the solutions we imagine are safer but that ultimately cost more lives when they fail.  The sensible thing, of course, is not to have all our eggs in one basket - organic or otherwise. A diversity of agricultural practices - from organic to GMO-based - will ensure a better outcome for society and the economy as better ways of growing better food are identified and shared. The same goes for energy supply: putting all our eggs in the renewable basket is extremely unwise. As Germany is about to find out.

Time to throw precaution to the wind.

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