The new Hudson Sustainability Report recently presented on sanet by Avery and
Avery, while reiterating most of the major reasons for increasing global food
production, is clearly biased, overly simplistic, and lacking in originality.
The main ideas of the paper varied very little from those of Loomis (1984,
Traditional Agriculture in America, Annual Rev. Ecol. Syst.) except perhaps in
the argumentative tone and the lack of citations used to justify the many facts
and figures put forth.
In my opinion, the report's problems stem largely fromt the rather narrow
definition of sustainability and the naive and ill-founded assumptions on which
many of the arguments are based. For example, the assumption that "adequate
rewards for farmers" will somehow magically appear as the "increasingly
affluent world [spends] what is required to acquire its food" is blatantly
First of all, the past and present situation in farming clearly demonstrates
that many farmers struggle to get even inadequate rewards. One of the most
important issues today in sustainable agriculture research is attempting to
understand why this is so. Furthermore, the view held in this paper that food
production depends only on societal affluence completely ignores the biological
basis and limits of agriculture. This is a particularly surprising point of
view considering a biologist coarthored the report.
Defending modern industrial farming is clearly the purpose of this paper. It
is an attempt to quell the critics who are apparently all left-wing extremists.
Although most of the arguments on reducing soil erosion, appropriately using
pesticides, conserving wildlife, etc. do have validity, they are not new and do
not warrant a new report such as this one. The authors' views are typical of
many office-inhabiting, growth-worshiping, free marketeers bent on economic
globalization. Essentially, there were few new ideas and no surprises.
I would bet that if Avery and Avery made their living from the land their
views would be somewhat different. However, their interests seem more to be in
researching and propagandizing - this is abundantly clear in their statement
that research is the "second biggest challenge" to agricultural sustainability.
Rather than using economic and human resources to create agriculture and food
systems which are economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially
just, in their view more money should be dumped into science and technology
development with the (flawed) assumption that these, when filtered through the
free market, will lead to sustainability. While science and technology do have
a role to play, they are clearly not the path to sustainability! I suggest
that Avery and Avery take a second look at agricultural sustainability and
remind them that food production is as much biological and human as it is
M. Sean Clark
East Lansing, MI