Should organics be allowed to use synthetics?

That is the question asked in a Washington Post article by Tamar Haspel.  The article discusses an important debate within the organic community about the role of technology and "naturalness".  

She hits on a big barrier that currently exists that hinders further adoption of organic practices by many farmers:

A couple of months back, I talked to one of those conventional growers, Richard Wilkins. He rotates his crops (corn, wheat, soy and vegetables), plants cover crops and pays a lot of attention to the health of his soil. When I asked him if he ever considered growing organically, he said, “I’m too much of a believer in the benefits of science and technology to go organic.”

She also points out the overly romanticized concept of "natural".

Amy Hepworth, an organic farmer in New York’s Hudson Valley, also believes in the importance of soil health and working with nature but says that science and technology, deployed judiciously, can help her with that, sometimes with fewer adverse effects than natural substances. “Natural doesn’t mean safe,” she says.


Every toxicologist or environmental scientist I’ve ever spoken with says that the idea that natural substances are inherently better for planet or people than synthetic ones is simply false.

Ultimately, Haspel suggests a "third way", which she acknowledged is already being followed by many "conventional" farmers

And then there are synthetics, the man-made substances used in conventional farming. “When you say pesticides and chemicals, we’re so indoctrinated that it feels like we’re saying the word poison,” says Hepworth, “but we need confidence in agriculture beyond organic. The most sustainable, responsible system is a hybrid system.” She’s working on crafting just such a system.

A hybrid system. A third way. A best-practices standard. Michael Rozyne, director of regional food distributor Red Tomato, calls it simply “something bigger.” He says that “lumping all non-organic growers into a single category, merely because they use synthetic pesticides, doesn’t do justice to the portion of those growers who are farming using many organic practices, high-level integrated pest management and all sorts of natural controls, who are paying attention to erosion, pollution, and farmworker safety.”


It would also help disassemble what Hepworth calls the “two-party system,” in which it’s all too easy to believe that organic is good and conventional is bad. That idea has contributed to the us-and-them mentality that seems to dominate discussions about our agricultural system. “There’s been a lot of judgment of conventional growers,” says Rozyne, “as if they all farmed the same way.”