Posted December 9,
2004: What could be wrong with farming in concert
with nature—eliminating toxic agrichemicals and the
use of genetically engineered crops? Well, plenty if you are
a CEO at Monsanto, Dupont, or any number of other ‘life-sciences’
companies that have invested in an escalating smear campaign
aimed at discrediting organic farming. Promulgated by such
well-funded surrogates as the right-wing Hudson Institute,
Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the American Chemical
Society, these multinational corporations can’t stand
that consumers are voting with their pocketbooks because of
their discomfort with conventional farming practices and have
turned organic food marketing from a small, eclectic niche
into the fastest growing segment of the food industry, with
over $12 billion in sales this year.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, "First they ignore you. Then
they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win."
The agrichemical industry is definitely itching for a fight.
Spreading animal manure on farm fields to renew soil fertility
is one organic agricultural practice that’s under attack.
Never mind that over 90 percent of all manure is spread on
conventional farm fields or that organic farmers took the
lead in developing strict limitations governing the use of
The Hudson Institute charges that manure use increases the
incidence of food-borne diseases. Hudson’s claim completely
twists the results of a recent independent University of Minnesota
study that found no statistically different risk in the pathogenic
contamination of certified organic food verses its conventionally
produced counterparts, according to the study’s lead
author, Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, Ph.D.
In fact, according to Dr. Diez-Gonzalez, he had a very “heated
discussion” with a Hudson Institute representative who
was dissatisfied with the study’s findings and who told
the researcher, “You are wrong.”
One concept we might agree on is that more research is required
in order to measure chemical residues on all food products
and to determine the consequences of eating those contaminants.
However, in the midst of the attacks against the organic community,
aren’t organic proponents right to ask “Why it
is useful to demean those of us who do not use chemicals on
the food we eat or produce for others? Why are we the ones
who have got it wrong, when history overwhelmingly indicates
that we are prudent to be cautious?”
The chemicals used in conventional agriculture are considered
highly toxic by themselves and have been proven to be unhealthful,
even in minute doses or as residues, no matter whether one
is reviewing cancer studies, endocrine systems research or
environmental data. Pesticides and herbicides are designed
to kill things, and they sometimes kill things unintentionally.
Farmers (who have the highest occupational cancer rate in
the country) and farm workers continue to be at risk from
these chemicals, but there is little danger from the botanical
pesticides organic farmers infrequently utilize.
Millions of us are also concerned that synthetic agricultural
chemicals may be contributing to, or causing outright, a host
of life-shortening illnesses and conditions, so we have elected
to minimize exposure to such substances. It’s that simple.
This is why many of the synthetic substances used in the 1960s
and 1970s have been banned and why more are now listed for
prohibition. Continued prohibitions have been incentives for
many farming operations to adopt low-input and conservative
pest management strategies in order to learn to farm without
damaging health or the environment.
Large-scale conventional farms that have been experimenting
with organic management are now adopting some of these methods
on their conventional acreage because they are good agronomy,
not because cover cropping, leaving land fallow, crop-based
remediation, and beneficial insect habitats are trendy. Many
new-generation organic growers are attracted to non-chemical
farming because it promotes creativity and reestablishes agriculture
as an art, not merely a form of manufacturing—the fact
that organic farmers are fairly paid is just icing on the
Most farmers relish their relationship with nature, which
is one reason why they are farmers. Organic practices empower
that relationship and make the environment a safer one for
workers, neighbors, and consumers. We consumers pay into that
partnership every time we buy a product grown without toxic
chemicals. We buy organic foods not simply for their own sake,
but because of concerns outside our own personal circle.