> Shattering the organic myths
>from The Country Today, Eau Claire, WI June 24, 1998
>By John Block
>The U.S Department of Agriculture is working on new standards that would
>define "organic food." It seems that those two words mean a lot of different
>things to a lot of different people.
>Should food products of biotechnology in plant breeding be excluded? Will
>irradiation be rejected? Should the use of municipal sludge as fertilizer be
>If the frantic organic food zealots have their way, the answer to all of the
>above questions will be "yes." In May, USDA bowed to a protest from organic
>lovers and abandoned an earlier proposal that would have allowed
>irradiation, genetic engineering and the use of municipal sludge as
>USDA said it would start over again in drafting standards for organic foods
>following a storm of protest that included musician Willie Nelson, dozens of
>federal lawmakers, the entireVermont Legislature and a grass-roots write-in
>campaign by 200,000 organic farmers, consumers and environmentalists.
>Hey Willie, I love' your music, but you're all screwed up where organic
>foods are concerned!
>The controversy was so intense that Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman
>recently joked in a speech that he had picked up a protest form letter from
>a display at a local organic food store where he shops.
>The "big three" issues -municipal sludge, irradiation and bioengineered
>plants - are what
>caused the problem. According to Mr. Glickman, these practices are "safe
>and have important roles to play in agriculture, but they neither fit
>current organic practices nor meet consumer expectations about organics.
> Come on, Dan, don't knuckle under to these Organo Weenies.
> What's wrong with this picture? Genetically engineered crops are here.
>They are the future They resist insect attack. They make it possible to
>control weeds with a minimum application of crop herbicides. Unless the
>organic lovers are willing to raise their own soybeans, there won't be any
>soy products for them to eat. There won't be any corn to feed their chickens
>so they can lay organic eggs, because the corn will all be genetically
>engineered to resist the corn borer and other insects.
>Next, rejecting irradiation would, in fact, guarantee that organic foods
>will be less safe than foods that have been protected by irradiation. I
>wonder if the proponents of the "pure" organic definition would like to turn
>back the clock and reject pasteurization of milk. Or do they reluctantly
>acknowledge that lives have been saved because of this technology?
>The Webster Agriculture Letter, a trade publication for farmers, recently
>raised an interesting point about the controversy. Irradiation should be
>particularly attractive to consumers who prefer "free-range" chickens. Why?
>Because these birds are allowed to walk around the barnyard pecking their
>own droppings - greatly increasing the chances they will be contaminated
>For those organic strawberry growers using cow manure as fertilizer - a
>potential carrier of deadly E. coli, irradiation should look pretty good as
>Most organic food advocates also conveniently ignore the fact that we will
>be expected to triple food production in the next half century in order to
>keep up with world-wide demand. How are we going to do that? Are we going to
>chop down the rain forests or plow up the hills so that we have the
>additional land organic farming requires because of its much lower yields?
>In some ways, the debate over organic food standards is a tempest in a
>teapot - because organic farming produces only a fraction of our total food
>output in the United States.
>But on the other hand, the whole notion that "organic" farming produces
>better products is arrogant, elitist and destructive. Organic may sound
>healthier. But - sorry Willie - it really isn't.
>John R. Block is a former U.S. secretary of agriculture and now is president
>of Food Distributors International.
Food Distributors International Association -
The umbrella name for the National American Wholesale Grocer's Association --
and its foodservice partner, the International Foodservice Distributors
Association -- is an international trade association comprised of food
distribution companies which primarily supply and service independent grocers
and foodservice operation throughtout the United Sates, Canada and more than
20 other countries.
201 Park Washington Court
Falls Church, VA 22046
John is also a well known radio personality who in addition to local radio
shows and shows from his company FDIA is featured on the National Association
of Farm Broadcasters radio service.
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