An organic agriculture leader is hoping diverse scientific perspectives will be part of more high-level USDA discussions about climate change and sustainability in the future.
Laura Batcha, executive director of the Organic Trade Association, served on the “Organic Outlook: Overview of Current Trends and Recent Developments” panel at the Ag Outlook Forum on Friday.
Moderator Mark Lipson of the Molino Creek Farming Collective opened the session’s Q+A by asking Batcha to comment on the emphasis on biotechnology in Thursday’s “Addressing Climate Change and Sustainability through Innovation” discussion, which he said became an “antiscience crusade” that lacked any representation from the organic sector.
“It was a choice to put a provocative pundit on a plenary session,” Batcha said, referring to Jon Entine of the Genetic Literacy Project. She said discussions as important and timely as climate change and sustainability, particularly in front of such a larger audience, need to consider a wide spectrum of scientific research.
“There’s a whole range of views in agriculture,” she told Agri-Pulse on Monday, including respected scientists publishing on organic practices. She felt the Thursday participants, who included Tim Bettington of Zoetis and moderator Alison Van Eenennaam, who runs the Animal Genomics and Biotechnology Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, represented a narrow slice of ag innovation.
One perspective should not determine “where science starts and stops,” Batcha said.
For his part on the program, Entine criticized those who try to demonize any one particular technology. “You can’t just say something’s in the sustainable category and something is not,” Entine said, calling the debate over sustainable agriculture “nuanced and complex.”
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"I think we've become very siloed, maybe reflecting the partisan sensibility which has infected a lot of our public discussions these days, and we are increasingly debating over means rather than end," Entine said. Different agricultural methodologies "almost have become ideologies," he said, pitting organic and agro-ecological methods against "conventional agriculture, aided by biotechnology."
Entine called that "a false paradigm," saying "we should focus more on the end" results. "Some things are better in the organic farming area and some things are better in the conventional," he said.
USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist, which hosts Ag Outlook, defended its selection of Jon Entine.
“We had him on a panel that included a highly respected scientist and an industry executive,” said Mark Jekanowski, Chairman of the World Agricultural Outlook Board in the OCE, in an email to Agri-Pulse. “I think that most people would agree that viewed as a whole, our program covered a wide range of views and was very balanced.”
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