You make some interesting points, and some I disagree with.
I agree that there are more and less competent farmers, both organic and
pesticide, and that competence has an impact on the resulting food.
But I still find that organic food from a competent organic farmer is much more
alive than from those who use pesticides.
Now one can put all sorts of variables into the equation - like, the range of
farmer skills; what area of the country one is in; and what if the farmer uses
pesticides in general (and so is not organic) but doesn't use it on this
particular crop - so there can be a range of results.
Nevertheless, my experience does lead me to conclude that if one charted some
curve of organic farmers and some curve of conventional ones, the best organic
ones would win, both in terms of taste and nutrient value. I believe this is not
only from the absence of pesticides but also from the attention given to
nurturing and strengthening the whole plants (not just giving them the NPK
pieces), and wanting to understand and nurture the health of the whole
And there is evidence to support this - such as published in the Journal of
Applied Nutrition (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1993) which found that (in the food they
studied, from the Chicago area), the organic food had much higher levels of a
wide range of nutrients (like Manganese 178% more, magnesium 138%, chromium 78%,
iron 59%, zinc 60%, etc.) and much lower levels of toxic elements like aluminum
(40% less), lead (29%) and mercury (25%). The report I saw mentioned that much
of our population is chronically low in certain vitamins, and it seems obvious
to me that these two facts are likely related and explain why we can't get all
the nutrients we need from our food. As you mention, it's been shown that
manure compost brings important nutrients into the plants.
Now, does that mean all pesticide ag is uniformly bad? I think there's a range.
At one end would be those who totally rely on pesticides, use them whether
there's a pest or not, don't consider the downsides to the health, environment,
or their own farming efforts, and don't pay attention to the real natural cycles
on their farm.
At the other end would be the farmer who uses the techniques and approaches
articulated, developed, and recovered by the organic farmers (for many are
indeed just what would be defined as competent farming from the pre-synthetic
pesticide days), uses these techniques in a committed fashion before even
considering a pesticide, understands the pros and cons of each pesticide before
they use it (going beyond the salesman and the label to understand the full
risks to health, environment, and his own efforts, ex. to pollinators and
beneficials), weighs this true impact before considering using a pesticide and
ensures there really is good cause before doing so, and if he does use a
pesticide, informs all neighbors, and uses the smallest amount in the smallest
area for the shortest duration and by the method least likely to drift. (For
instance, I don't see a good enough reason to justify the broadscale dispersal
that occurs with aircraft application.) To me, that's not only being
responsible about one's impact on others (for one's decision to use pesticide
impacts many more people than the farmer and many more places than their farm),
but also being committed to producing high quality food and being professional
and competent about what one does.
I've talked with farmers in my area who've made just such choices and found that
they not only needed a lot less pesticides, but certain problems disappeared
(like a farmer who stopped having problems with mites after he STOPPED using a
mitacide and focussed on strengthening his trees - because, he said, the
mitacide was killing both the good and bad mites). I think farmers get bad
information from chemical-ad dominated periodicals that don't mention the
nontoxic solutions/options or downsides to chemicals and thus perpetuate "tools"
that aren't even the best ones for the job! Many pesticides kill pollinators
and natural predators, making the farmer's job harder not easier. I saw a stat
once that something like 22 of the top 25 crop pests in the U.S. are secondary
or induced pests - in other words, they weren't at problem levels until
pesticides destroyed the natural balance that kept them in check. The 1980s
decimation of Indonesia's rice crop provides another example of the harm that
pesticides can do to farmers' efforts.
So from my point of view, the best organic farmers are pioneers in smart
professional competent farming, and use techniques and understandings that all
farmers can use and benefit from (up to a point - it's hard to nurture an
ecosystem when you're killing the beneficials). But understanding what good
organic farmers do may lead pesticide farmers to look past the salespersons rap
to really understand nature, how to work with it (not against it), and question
if the poisonous route is really the best way to go. i.e., I think a commitment
to true farming competence will lead one substantially away from pesticides.
So, is all organic food good? From one perspective it is - low harm to other
people and the environment. But, you ask, does it always taste better or have
better nutrients? No, not always - there are some farmers who don't use
pesticides but don't do much else to their crops either - don't nourish the
soil, don't use alternative methods for handling pests, etc. In my area, I find
the organic food from the health food store or the farmers market is better than
from the chain stores. (Quality might also be worsened by longer delays in
chains getting the food to the store, for the health food store tries to get
local food whenever they can.) So again, there's a range of quality in the
organic domain, and that might be impacting your experience of organic food's
Nevertheless, my experience is that organic food from a competent organic farmer
tends to be signficantly better in taste and nutrition than those who follow the
pesticide company's approach to farming and relationship to nature. I also
believe that much unncessary pesticide use is perpetuated by people convinced by
the pesticide salesperson or the chemical company dominated magazines and not
truly seeing the overall wisdom that organic farming brings - and that a
commitment to competence will very often lead to greatly reducing or eliminating
pesticide use on one's farm.
Anyway, those are my thoughts. Hope they're useful.
P.S. There's a cook's organization (maybe two) that is working on
organic/pesticide issues because they also find they prefer organic food's
taste. Other trained chefs I know report this same experience.
P.P.S. Farmers who want to get past the chemical company view on specific
chemicals, and truly understand their downsides and alternatives to them so they
can make an educated choices, might want to contact the organizations below for
more info. Note also that farmers and applicators have been shown in many
studies to have much higher rates of certain diseases known to be associated
with pesticides and other toxics (such as non-Hodgkins lymphoma) - an
additional reason to be sure pesticides are worth the risk before using them.
* NCAP (Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides), P.O.Box 1393,
Eugene OR 97440 (503) email@example.com. Excellent information resource
on a wide range of pesticide topics. Has periodical.
* NCAMP (National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides), 701 E St. SE
Suite 200, Washington DC 20003. (202) 543-5450. Has periodical, keeps research
files for people who call in.
* Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), 116 New Montgomery, #810, San
Francisco, CA 94105. (415) 541-9140. Fax:(415) 541-9253. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Web site: http://www.panna.org/panna/. Online mailing list. Lots of
* Pesticide Watch,116 New Montgomery #530, San Francisco, CA 94105. (415)
543-2627. email@example.com. Supports area citizen groups in taking
* NYCAP (New York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides), 353 Hamilton St.
Albany NY 12210-1709 (518) 426-8246, fax (518) 426-3052. Lots of local public
education activities. Quarterly news mag, newsprint.
Another option, but I don't know how pro-chemical they are:
* EPA Pesticide Hotline. (800) 858-7378. Extensive information on specific
pesticides - their toxicity, health effects, longevity, etc. No charge. Mon. -
Fri., 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. Central Time.