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You’d think that as we reap the environmental, health and political consequences of industrial farming techniques that consume vast quantities of fossil fuels, degrade soils and leave us with poor diets, organic produce would become ever more popular.

But two recent New York Times stories reveal a counter-intuitive, but important, reality: that as the problems associated with industrial farming get worse, organic food can easily become an even harder sell than before.

We weren’t alone in surmising that a rise in the price of conventionally farmed foods (mostly caused by a rise in the price of oil and the ethanol boondoggle) might benefit organic farmers, since that price rise ought to make organics more competitive as an alternative.

But the price pressure on conventional foods has driven up the price of organics, too, the New York Times tells us.

Partly it’s a matter of supply out-running demand, in which case we might expect market forces to come into play and bring new organic suppliers into the market. That happened in the last decade, after all, with organic farming enjoying a worldwide boom while conventional farmers received rock-bottom prices for their crops.

But now that conventional crops are commanding record prices, farmers have lost a major incentive to go organic.

The impact on consumers is powerful, too. High prices for conventionally farmed foods may drive people to organics, but they might equally lower our collective resistance to genetically modified foods — foods that are almost always classed as non-organic — the Times reports today.

Pioneer organic consumers never bought organic because it was cheap. They saw themselves as foregoing their present financial comfort for the sake of our long term global benefit. Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll be needing to call on that altruism — and call on it from a great many more people — for a good while to come.

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