Living on the Earth, February 25, 2000: Organic Threat? Hogwash!
Earlier this month, the 20/20 program on Disney's ABC-TV ran quite an
inflammatory segment on organic food. The show combined a focus by host
John Stossel on the higher cost of organic food and an attack by Dennis
Avery on the safety and productivity of organic agriculture.
Focusing on the higher purchase price of organic food ignores both the real
unpaid costs of conventional agriculture (such as poisoned farmworkers,
polluted water, eroded soil and devastated ecosystems) and the fact that
the farmer receives only five cents of each food dollar we spend. About
fifteen cents buys chemical, seed and machinery inputs. Nearly 80 cents
pays for distribution (that is, to get food from farms to stores and
Mr. Avery works at the Hudson Institute, a private organization funded by
the proponents and financial beneficiaries of the current industrial food
system. His bias, therefore, isn't surprising. Avery is inconsistent,
however, when he accuses mostly small-scale organic farmers of having a
vested interest in promoting their harvests, while he shamelessly praises
pesticides and plastic for his very influencial corporate funders. Over a
year ago, Marian Burros writing for <I>The New York Times </I>(February 17,
1999. "Eating Well; Anti-Organic and Flawed.") pointed out the serious
weaknesses in Avery's claims. (See also the Wallace Institute's web site,
20/20 reported finding bacteria on five percent of conventional and organic
leafy produce. If you put tender, fresh-cut lettuce or greens into a
plastic bag in California, it isn't so surprising that without chlorine or
some other strong treatment, those veggies will be covered with all kinds
of bacteria by the time they get to the east coast. Here is yet another
compelling reason to localize our food supply. The ever-growing distances
between growers and eaters can be as damaging as pesticides.
In response to concerns about contamination, organic certifying agencies
have lengthened the time required between manure applications and harvest.
In Connecticut, NOFA's Organic Standards require 75 days and strongly
recommend careful composting first. The dangerous <I>e.coli </I>can't live
for long in the presence of oxygen, in a good compost pile or in healthy
Contrary to Avery's position, the real threat to human, community and
planetary health comes from the current, highly-concentrated,
long-distance, industrial food system. Farmers now receive almost the
lowest prices ever for what they grow, while consumers spend willingly and
lavishly for specialty foods like fancy coffees. Meanwhile, rural
communities and local foodsheds are decimated worldwide as large-scale
monocultures and centralized distribution systems replace the productive
biodiversity of small farms and local foods. Mr. Avery ignores not only
the environmental damages of industrial farming, but also those from the
farm input and food distribution sectors, including toxic wastes,
profligate energy use and excessive packaging.
Organic farmers as well as home and community gardeners, avoid these
economic and environmental costs. Home gardens, community-supported
agriculture projects and local farms all reduce the damages caused by the
food distribution sector while they revive local communities.
For decades, we in the organic movement, have been creating an alternative
food system that respects human health, farmers, communities and
ecosystems. This 20/20 attack is a sign that we're making progress against
some very powerful opponents.
To learn more about "Organic Farming at Home and Abroad," join us one week
from tomorrow for the Connecticut NOFA End of Winter Conference for
gardeners, farmers and consumers. Call 203-484-2445 or go to
http://ct.nofa.org for more information.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)2000, 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 "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 $10 postpaid or from Amazon.com.
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