Path Home Shows 2008 Show Archive February 2008 Show 0807 Interview with Dennis Avery - Pesticides and Politics

Interview with Dennis Avery - Pesticides and Politics

We visit with Dennis Avery about why he believes environmentalists are a threat to the survival of much of our world.
Interview with Dennis Avery - Pesticides and Politics

Dennis Avery

Show Dates

Show 0807: Interview with Dennis Avery - Pesticides and Politics

Air date: February 17, 2008



Rob:  How about a quick history lesson?  In 1789 lousy weather across Europe caused crops to fail and food prices to rise by close to 90 percent, bringing with it starvation and not too coincidentally the French Revolution.  After witnessing such, an English economist named Thomas Malthus came up with a key insight; that populations, when unchecked, increase at a geometrical ratio.  But food supplies increase in a linear ratio.  In other words, populations increase from one-to-two, then two-to-four, four-to-eight, then sixteen, thirty-two and so forth.  Whereas our food supply can only increase no faster than numerically, one... two... three... four... five... and so on... increasing just a single digit at a time.  Putting it quite simply, we are much better at reproducing, than feeding ourselves.  This theory went on to be known as the Malthusian Trap, that the lack of food keeps populations in check.  Now fast forward with me a few hundred years.  Since the time of Malthus, the world's population has increased by a factor of more than six.  Yet we have seen no worldwide famine.  In fact, so abundant is food here in the land of the free, one out of every five Americans is now considered obese.  And while hunger is still a problem, its cause is not the lack of food, but disparities in income that limit food availability to the poorest of the poor.  The conventional explanation for our escape from the Malthusian Trap is the success of global agriculture.  But the non-conventional explanation is none of this would have been possible if it weren't for what many demonize today, namely pesticides and biotechnology.  Earlier I sat down with Dennis Avery, the director of the Center for Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute, and the author of the controversial book, SAVING THE PLANET WITH PESTICIDES AND PLASTICS.  I asked him why he believes environmentalists are a threat to the survival of much of the world.

Dennis Avery:  We're farming a third of the earth's surface, right now.  If you eliminate the deserts and the glaciers, we're farming half the earth's surface right now.  And, we're going to have, not six billion, but eight billion people in 2050, that'll be the peak.  And instead of high quality diets for the people in New York City and Los Angeles, almost everybody in 2050 will be eating as well as we do today.  We're talking about a three-fold increase, in world farm output, and we need to do that with no more land taken from nature.  We've done it.  The green revolution that was pioneered here in Oklahoma and the U S, and then expanded in the 60s, extended to most of the world.  We tripled the yields on most of the world's crop land; seeds, integrated pest management, irrigation, conservation-tillage.  And now we need to do it all over again, so that we keep all of the wildlife habitat, all of the wildlife species that the world still has.  The only proven strategy for doing that is high-yield farming and forestry.

Rob:  Is that what you would call this next revolution, high-yield farming, or does it even have a name?

Avery:  I call it high-yield conservation.  It's higher-yield farming.  We've got high-yield farming now.  We need to triple it again.  That'll take new knowledge.  That'll take the kind of research facilities that Oklahoma has.  It'll take the kind of prime farmland that Oklahoma has.  It'll take liberalizing farm trade, as nobody's ever done.  I mean, we've been talking farm surpluses in this country all of my life.  We've never had a farm surplus.  We just had too many farm trade barriers to keep American farmers from exporting to people who don't yet eat well overseas.  And now, we've got three billion people living in densely populated Asian countries, with rising incomes, and a hunger for meat, milk, ice cream, fish.  We're only going to be able to supply that, and still keep wildlife, by Asia importing some of that high-quality diet.

Rob:  So, do you believe that an increased standard of living around the globe, will it increase Ag prices here at home?

Avery:  For 50 years, we've been liberalizing trade in non-farm products.  The average tariff on a manufactured product has dropped from 40 percent to 4 percent.  The average tariff on farm products is still above 60 percent, and yet the comparative advantages, in agriculture, are bigger and more permanent than in any other industry.  America has the biggest chunk of prime farmland anywhere in the world.  China's going to have 1.4 billion people.  India will have more than that.  They're already short of land and water.  They're already infringing on their wildlife and their unique wild species.  With free trade, the productive capability of the American farmer can be used constructively, not only to earn money for American farmers, in huge amounts; we're talking about doubling American farm export earnings in a decade, under free trade.  But we're also talking about making high quality diets available to Chinese kids and Indian kids.  I mean, the latest food fad in both New Delhi and Beijing is ice cream, and they're going to need the milk.  They don't have the feet.  Those are lousy places to raise cows;   Oklahoma's not.  Put them together and it works.

Rob:  Now I continue my conversation with Dennis Avery on our website.  Just head to and click on this week's value added.