Last week the USDA acknowledged receiving over 200,000 comments on its
seriously flawed proposed rule for organic agriculture. Secretary Dan
Glickman said, "The bulk of the extraordinary number of comments opposed
including the products of biotechnology, the use of irradiation in food
processing, and the application of biosolids (municipal sludge) in organic
food production." Although Glickman continues to maintain that these three
controversial technologies are safe, he said that they would not be allowed
in organic production. He added that his department would take the nearly
quarter million comments into consideration when the USDA drafts a new
organic rule which will be released for public comment later this year.
Farmers, consumers, environmentalists, health groups, and people from all
walks of life achieved this result together. Congratulations! This is
democracy in action.
Several recent NPR stories about serious environmental issues confirmed the
value of organic principles. These stories demonstrate how reductionist
science, at the service of corporate profits creates problems. Because of
its consistent philosophy based on an understanding of, and respect for,
nature's ways, organic agriculture avoids these problems.
The first report was about the proliferation of toxic algae in US coastal
waters. These algae can be very hazardous to marine life and to humans.
Although reductionist science is slow to prove it, time and again the
finger of blame for these algae blooms points to excess nitrogen running
off into streams and rivers. Chemical fertilizers applied to farms, lawns,
athletic fields and golf courses, and human and animal wastes (especially
from the increasingly large confinement animal feeding operations) are the
source of this polluting nitrogen.
One of the guiding principles of organic agriculture is that chemical
fertilizers are not used because they are soluble and are easily washed
away. Organic growers use crop rotation, leguminous cover crops, composted
manures and the organisms in fertile soil to provide nitrogen which not
only doesn't run off into water, but also doesn't consume lots of fossil
fuel in its manufacture.
Dr. Abigail Maynard's research at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment
Station in New Haven over a 12-year period, proved that applying one inch
of leaf compost yearly is equivalent to spreading 10-10-10 chemical
fertilizer and limestone in terms of crop yields. The soil enriched with
compost, however, was in much better condition. It had greater
water-holding capacity, better tilth and was less acid. Unfortunately, the
Experiment Station still routinely suggests that growers and homeowners use
chemical fertilizers. There are clearly few (if any) good reasons to use
these fertilizers, and lots of good reasons for not using them.
The proliferation of antibiotic-resistant diseases is the other problem
which affirms organic beliefs. The widespread use of growth-enhancing,
sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics in large-scale animal factories is
connected to a growing number of human disease-causing organisms which are
resistant to many of our most powerful medicines. The massive, unnatural
confinement of animals practically mandates the use of drugs in an attempt
to maintain their health. Organic principles reject both large animal
factories and antibiotic use except to save an animal's life. They
encourage a more ecological balance between animals and the plants that
The theory of organic agriculture is that good plant and animal health is
achieved through a balance of organisms, and that any time we use poisons,
we select for resistant pests, kill beneficial organisms and create new
problems. Unfortunately, the large-scale, toxic pesticide experiment of
the last fifty years has shown this to be true.
Yet chemical fertilizers, routine antibiotic and pesticide use and large
animal feeding operations are all technologies the USDA claims are safe.
Some of these may (still) be allowed in the revised organic rule.
The fight for organic standards which protect the environment and respect
organic principles is not over yet. In the meantime, signs point to
organic agriculture as a way to avoid many large-scale environmental
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1998, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "The Politics of
Food" and "Living on the Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays
Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future
is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from
Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing
and those since November 1995 are available there.
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