Hamstrung by Ideology

posted in: Commentary | 39

Last summer, I visited an organic farm in the area. The farmer showed me various parts of his operation, one of which was a field that he had planted to a species of perennial grass that produces an abundance of deep roots. We dug a hole and confirmed it; a dense fibrous root system had formed after two years of growth. The farmer’s goal in planting this grass was to build up the soil before vegetable production. When I talked to the farmer again this fall, he was trying to figure out how best to go from the grass to vegetables. There could be two options for doing this.

The first is to till the grass crop in order to kill it. This would most likely require disking the soil three times or plowing and then disking, to kill the grass and break up the sod that is turned up by the first tillage pass.

The other option would be to spray out the grass crop with an herbicide. One pass through the field and the grass would be killed completely if done right.

If the goal of growing the grass was to build up the soil, which is the best option? Tillage, we know from research, would break up the physical soil habitat built up over the two years, disturbing the microorganisms living there. It would also disturb or destroy larger soil fauna, such as earthworms. This physical destruction, combined with the flush of oxygen that comes with intensive tillage, would burn up much of the organic matter added by the grass. The tillage would also eliminate soil cover and leave the soil in a loose state that predisposes it to future compaction.

Spraying out the grass with an herbicide would leave the soil’s physical habitat intact. The root mass would be undisturbed and the surface would covered by the dead grass leaves, controlling wind erosion and reducing evaporation.

In terms of the goal of building soil, the second option is plainly better than the first. However, some may argue that herbicides are toxic, that they may be a detriment to soil organisms, or that they could pollute the environment. If we used the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) its toxicity is low compared to other herbicides (the EPA considers glyphosate to be non-carcinogenic and relatively low in toxicity). The toxicity concern is limited further because we are not spraying a crop that is going to be harvested and the chemical is not persistent in soils. Any detrimental effect to soil organisms would be minimal compared to the obvious effects of tillage. Glyphosate also has a small leaching potential. For building soil, the choice is clear; spray out the crop.

However, these tradeoffs between using tillage and an herbicide do not fit in the black and white ideology of the organic standard. Although the standards claim to make soil quality/health a priority, in this case the standard’s dogmatic ban on synthetic pesticides wins out. In the end, this organic farmer, who is trying to do a good thing in building his soil, is hamstrung by ideology. He will end up tilling the soil and losing much of what he was trying to accomplish. And there are wider implications.

To give the consumer a clear, black and white choice, organic marketing strategy offers a black and white world where all human-made pesticides and fertilizers, and all genetically modified crops are bad, regardless of their value to farmers or to sustainability. Even limited use is prohibited because it would blur the marketing lines. This fear-based marketing strategy requires these complete bans.

However, I believe that in a rational, science-based system, abuse or overuse of certain tools does not invalidate their use. Such a system would give priority to farmers’ efforts to better conserve and build soils over important, but lesser concerns. It would facilitate development of “near-organic” no-till systems in locations, like Western Washington, where the difficulty of killing cover crops under organic standards make this near-to-impossible to implement now. I think this would be a better way to steward our soils.

First posted Dec. 20, 2012, at Perspectives on Sustainability.

Follow Andrew McGuire:

Andrew McGuire is an Irrigated Cropping Systems Agronomist for Washington State University Extension. He works with farmers in the Columbia Basin of Central Washington in improving soils through cover crops and high residue farming systems.

  • You’ve built a lovely straw man, here, Andrew, but let me ask a few questions:
    1) How deep did the grass root mass penetrate the soil?
    2) How deep would the farmer need to till to kill the sod?
    3) How much organic matter and nutrients would be lost by allowing the sprayed grass to oxidize on the surface of the soil, compared to incorporating it into the soil for microbial digestion?
    4) Did you take soil tests before and after to determine the net change in soil organic matter over the course of the rotation?

    My guess is that the depth of tillage would (or at least should) be a fraction of the depth of the root mass. Therefore, even if the tillage destroyed “much” of the organic matter in the tillage zone (a debatable concept), the remaining root mass would remain undisturbed, as would the soil life community. Properly timed tillage would allow rapid re-colonization of the tillage zone from below, and would also permit the establishment of a short-term, easily-terminated cover crop to protect the soil between the grass and the vegetables. Establishing vegetables in sprayed-out sod would require tillage of some kind anyway, further weakening the basis for this comparison.

    You also fail to provide any data to support your claim that tillage alone would be more detrimental to soil life or building soil organic matter than a herbicide spray followed by tillage for vegetables. You call for a science-based system, yet fail to back your call with science. On my own farm, my soil tests demonstrate my ability to increase soil organic matter in an organic rotation just as you describe. It’s obviously anecdotal data, and it’s not based on comparisons with other systems, but it’s more than the speculation you’ve given us here.

    Yes, organic standards have to draw lines, just like any standard. But it’s not about “fear-marketing”, it’s about consistency, reliability, and assurance. Perhaps there is a degree of compromise compared to what may be the very, very best system for soil management, but no one is forcing you to make that compromise unless you choose to follow the organic standards and reap the rewards of that trade-off. And no one is stopping you from developing a standard and a market for “near-organic no-till” food (although I guarantee if you did, you’d end up making compromises in other areas).

    • MikeB

      But it’s not about “fear-marketing”

      Yes it is.

      Roundup is a powerful weed-killer, and is now sprayed so heavily on the nation’s 150 million acres of genetically engineered crops that it is poisoning our water supplies, killing the soil, and creating superweeds that can only be killed with super-toxic herbicides such as 2,4 D, arsenic and paraquat.

      Non-organic farmers and feedlot operators are literally poisoning us and our children.

      Source.

      Indeed, it is.

      Four frequently used pesticides have been associated with increased risk of cancer for exposed humans in epidemiological studies. 190 million pounds of these four pesticides are used annually in the U.S., including 120 million household applications every year. (atrazine, 2,4‑D, glyphosate, diazinon).

      Source.

      My favorite part of your response: “Andrew, you’re unscientific, and here’s an anecdote to prove it!”

      • Hi Mike, My favourite part of your response is when you take my words completely out of context in order to create a platform for your rant. Besides that, the fact that some activist organizations use fear-marketing is not proof that the organic standards are designed solely to market based on fear.
        My second favourite part of your response is when you fabricate a quote, attribute it to me, then use it to try to make me look stupid and yourself seem clever.
        My preference is to engage in informed, respectful discussions that can advance everyone’s understanding of a subject.

    • Keith Hayes

      I don’t see much of a strawman here. I think the main point is that organic agriculture limits itself by rejecting technologies that may do a better job in achieving what organic wants to achieve. In this case the example was converting a grass field into producing vegetables and refusing to accept the use of an effective and environmentally benign herbicide (glyphosate)to conserve the soil composition and structure that he spent years trying to build up.

      I even suspect that some organic farmers may use glyphosate as a spot treatment for weeds anyways. It breaks down in the environment so rapidly, who would ever discover an organic farmer that uses it?

      • Two questions:
        If glyphosate is so benign and breaks down so rapidly, why is it showing up in groundwater across the continental US?
        Do you appreciate people questioning the integrity of yourself and/or your professional colleagues?

        • Ewan R

          If glyphosate is so benign and breaks down so rapidly, why is it showing up in groundwater across the continental US?

          Whether it is benign or not has no bearing on whether or not it shows up in groundwater. So that’s a bit of a red herring statement (H2O is incredibly benign, but shows up in groundwater across the US, how can this be the case!!)

          Even given relatively rapid breakdown this doesn’t mean that trace quantities will not get about (with a half life of say, 30 days (which I believe is within the range one might expect for glyhposate in certain soils) 1kg –> 0.5 kg in 30 days, then in another 30 days you’re at 0.25kg, and another 30 days to 0.125kg etc etc – what matters is whether the quantities found in groundwater have any impact at all.

          http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1752-1688.2005.tb03738.x/abstract

          Suggests that while glyphosate is detected in runoff (>0.1ug/L in rather high percentage of cases) it is not detected at levels greater than the 700ug/L set by the EPA (a figure one assumes in probably an order of magnitude off from levels which would be detrimental to glyphosate sensitive organisms)

          http://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00216-011-5541-y#

          also looks at glyphosate in groundwater across multiple years, noteworthy again is that the Y Axis of the graph has units of ng/L (maxing around 800 at a glance, so just shy of a whole order of magnitude lower than the EPA values which are likely another order of magnitude away from being actually meaningful)

          Do you appreciate people questioning the integrity of yourself and/or your professional colleagues?
          ..

          Generally I do, it gives me the opportunity to shout at them, and I do enjoy a good shout. I’m not sure this is the case with everyone however, some people are so poorly equipped to deal with criticism that they’ll get terribly upset the minute anyone dares question their integrity, which strikes me as odd, I’m hardly likely to question my own integrity, so it’s generally a good thing when others do, gives an opportunity for self reflection which I’d generally otherwise lack.

          • Thanks, Ewan. Points taken. 🙂

          • Ewan R

            (I also rarely question my run on sentences, or my abuse of parentheses)

        • Keith Hayes

          <<>>

          At what concentration and is it doing any harm?

          <<>>

          Well, true or false: Is organic agri(culture) limiting itself by rejecting the use of certain technologies, which I think is the point of the article. How is this questioning integrity?

          If you’re refering to my suspicion that some organic farmers may be using gyphosate on the down-low, well, unfortunately some organic farmers have been caught at using unapproved methods and materials (knowingly and unknowingly), unfortunately, without a loss of their organic certification. Merchants at farmers markets (Organic 2.0) have been caught selling produce that they didn’t grow themselves. And what about the slick advertising about benefits to health and environment to convince consumers to pay the extra premiums for organic products (which are highly debateable, to put it kindly). So yes, some fraud has been committed. I work in the chemical industry where all sorts of people are “questioning my integrity” so I’m not about to cut the organics any slack.

          Having said that, I respect what organic agriculture is trying to do, but the question is “why limit yourself?”

          • Keith Hayes

            Looks like I haven’t figured out the tags properly.

            “If glyphosate is so benign and breaks down so rapidly, why is it showing up in groundwater across the continental US?”

            At what concentration and is it doing any harm?

            “Do you appreciate people questioning the integrity of yourself and/or your professional colleagues?

            Well, true or false: Is organic agri(culture) limiting itself by rejecting the use of certain technologies, which I think is the point of the article. How is this questioning integrity?

            If you’re refering to my suspicion that some organic farmers may be using gyphosate on the down-low, well, unfortunately some organic farmers have been caught at using unapproved methods and materials (knowingly and unknowingly), unfortunately, without a loss of their organic certification. Merchants at farmers markets (Organic 2.0) have been caught selling produce that they didn’t grow themselves. And what about the slick advertising about benefits to health and environment to convince consumers to pay the extra premiums for organic products (which are highly debateable, to put it kindly). So yes, some fraud has been committed. I work in the chemical industry where all sorts of people are “questioning my integrity” so I’m not about to cut the organics any slack.

            Having said that, I respect what organic agriculture is trying to do, but the question is “why limit yourself?”
            ..

    • As Keith put it, “…the main point is that organic agriculture limits itself by rejecting technologies that may do a better job in achieving what organic wants to achieve.”

      This was not a research project, but an observation of two tools, tillage and glyphosate, that could be used to kill the grass. Tillage would break up the soil structure and leave the surface bare, glyphosate would preserve the soil structure and keep the soil covered. The benefits of the latter condition over the former are evident and beyond argument while the risks of using the glyphosate in this specific case are not clear and are very open to argument.

      Strict adherence to the organic principles does not allow the farmer to weigh of the benefits of using the glyphosate with the risks in a rational, science-based manner.

      • All of you should re-read the last paragraph of my original comment, wherein I clearly discuss the nature of the compromises. And my primary purpose was to explain that the comparison was clearly not as black-and-white as it is painted in the post. That is all.

        • Rob, I agree there are tradeoffs with all production choices. However, if the goal here is to build the soil, killing the grass with an herbicide is clearly the best option. The problem is when the marketing arm of organic food (you may lean more to the production side of organic?), in an attempt to give consumers a clear black and white choice, labels all uses of prohibited products as poison which “kills the soil,” and “pollutes the environment.” What about the soil that could be eroded into waterways or the air if the soil is plowed and left bare? This is an effective marketing method, but this strict adherence to organic ideology is a barrier to moving towards greater sustainability.

          • Rita

            “However, if the goal here is to build the soil, killing the grass with an herbicide is clearly the best option.”

            Interesting discussion.I too am interested in Rob’s question as to if there have been studies comparing his method of shallow tillage vs. burning down with glyphosate – studies that actual examine which method best builds soil, enhances soil communities, etc…

            Does this data exist, or is it an area of study that is needed? It seems like Rob is admitting that his idea is a practice he uses, and evidence of benefit is at a single location, but Andrew appears to be talking theoretically. Does either side have adequate evidence to make claims?

            Seems like a great research project….if we ever get ag research funding approved by the real fear mongering folks – the politicians.

            • Rita, I think that I can safely say, without referencing specific research, that tilling the soil results in lower soil organic matter levels than not tilling, tilling disturbs soil life, breaks down aggregates, and often leaves the soil surface bare, subject to wind and water erosion and prone to crusting.

              The situation in question would require full width tillage to kill the grass (the full surface of the soil would be tilled). Limiting the depth of tillage is better than deep tillage, but since the majority of the organic matter and grass roots are near the surface, they are both affected by even shallow tillage. In addition, shallow tillage of an established stand of grass would turn up chunks of sod which would require even more tillage to smooth out.

              Some vegetables are being grown using no-till practices and others are under study. Strip-till vegetables seem to be a good compromise, with tillage taking place in the planted row but not between rows. Both no-till and strip-till are much more practical if herbicides are allowed.

          • Mlema

            I guess there’s a reason we have organic and not organic. I think it’s the best of both worlds. The surveys I’ve read on research into the nutrition and pesticides levels, show that organic food has less pesticide residue and higher nutritional level. For a growing percentage of our population, it’s important to limit pesticide exposure due to health issues. They can be fairly well assured that if they buy organic, they are less likely to ingest pesticides. (you can’t wash them all off) Meanwhile, if someone doesn’t really care and/or finds they don’t feel it’s an issue for them, they can partake of the non-organic.

            It is unfortunate that organic farming is more difficult and requires various trade-offs. But there are reasons, as I’ve noted, to try to find workable solutions. Also, i don’t see how you could spray a whole field, and have other farmers spraying whole fields (which is basically what is happening across the US continually) and not have it affect the frogs and other critters. One person might be a very conservative user, but that might still be too much for someone somewhere. And we’re spraying so many tons of it collectively, well, I’ve already said what I wanted to say 🙂

            • Keith Hayes

              The surveys I’ve read on research into the nutrition and pesticides levels, show that organic food has less pesticide residue and higher nutritional level.

              Well, Stanford conducted a meta study that concludes no nutritional differences between organic and conventional ag.

              In regards to pesticides and their environmental impact, it seems that the synthetic pesticides win out over organic.

              I think it’s the best of both worlds.

              There are no “both worlds”. There is a rapidly becoming obsolete model for agriculture due to it’s refusal to incorporate new technologies vs an agricultural model that can assimilate or adopt any behaviors that it wishes to achieve consistant performance with reduced environmental impact.

              I know some readers here envision the two systems walking hand in hand or that there might be a hybrid of the two systems in the future, but frankly I don’t see it.

              • Mlema

                The Stanford study was highly publicized as saying that organic is no healthier than conventional food. Some of the conclusions were presented in a way that was misleading without careful analysis.
                Here’s a technical review that points up some of the issues:
                http://www.tfrec.wsu.edu/pdfs/P2566.pdf

                Curiously, it was basically a re-evaluation of the research of an earlier meta-study, which drew some contrary conclusions.

                You’re right. There are no “both worlds”. But we disagree regarding what is an sort of agricultural model will be sustainable in the long-run.

                • Keith Hayes

                  I didn’t want to bombard the thread with links and the Stanford study was the first one I thought of that could provide an aggragate look. Of course, Benbrook does his own meta analysis and comes to a different conclusion.

                  To prove food to be more nutritious from one ag method to the next, one would need to take representative samples of the same breed or cultivar from the same geographic area and the same growing season since everybody knows that these factors could effect the nutritional content a great deal. And the differences in nutritional content have to be significantly more than what we see due to natural variation.

                  I can’t say I’ve read every single study comparing these two ag methods, but the ones I have don’t seem to report significant differences, or they report that Organic had higher amounts “a” but conventional had higher ammounts of “b”. In the grand scheme of things it’s a wash. So I think the Stanford analysis got it right (or at least the closest at being right)

                  Of course pesticide residues are more with conventional ag if you define pesticides as synthetic chemicals. But organic uses their own versions as well and I did post a link suggesting that some of them are worse than the sythetics.

                  • Mlema

                    I agree with you regarding how this kind of research should be done. The Benbrook piece was just a critique of the Stanford piece, not a meta-analysis.

                    The meta-analysis I was referring to came out of Newcastle University, UK. It’s titled:
                    Agroecosystem Management and Nutritional Quality of Plant Foods: The Case of Organic Fruits and Vegetables

                    there’s a link to it in this article:
                    “Parsing of Data Led to Mixed Messages on Organic Food’s Value”
                    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/16/science/stanford-organic-food-study-and-vagaries-of-meta-analyses.html?_r=0

                    I linked you to the article because, like you, it points out problems with these kinds of studies. And it was a way for me to put just one link in but still give you two things to read 🙂

                    Something I found amusing from the Newcastle study – they tried to calculate, based on the better nutrition of organic food: how much longer would a person live if they just switched to organic without increasing the amount they ate.

                    Their answer?
                    17 days for women and 25 days for men. 🙂

                    • Mlema

                      (whoop – de – doo, right?)

                    • Keith Hayes

                      Only 25 days? Did they calculate how much in organic premiums I would have to pay for 25 extra days on this Earth? (I haven’t read the Newcastle study yet; perhaps this weekend)

      • Rickinreallife

        I think what part of the issue here is that the article reads somewhat as a condemnation of the organic husbandry choice in this particular situation. To the farmer, the issue is not black and white as (as you point out below) the farmer recognizes there are tradeoffs. What is difficult is that at the organic label preserved by choosing one patch is interpreted as black and white by the consumer. The consumer correctly assumes that the farming was accomplished without the aid of synthetic herbicides. To the consumer, the only factor that is measured is whether herbicide was applied, and therefore no herbicide = white = good. Herbicide used = black = bad. The consumer doesn’t figure in the good or bad consequences for the soil that result from the husbandry choice made, in other words, the equation is no herbicide + tillage = some good, some bad, Herbicide – tillage = some good, some bad. I think the point is not that organic should be condemned for failure to convey full information about the tillage choices, but that conventional ag choice does not benefit from the socially desirable soil stewardship in the consumers mind. (As you Mr. Wallbridge points out, that is in part because there is currently no effort to cultivate a no no-till market distinction pursued by those who practice it)

        I have oversimplified and the choice described in the article is only one of hundreds of factors and choices that determine favorable stewardship that the consumer associates with the organic label or disassociates from non-organic. Mr. Wallbridge, I certainly enjoy your insights. I am not anti-organic although I don’t purposely shop organic. I actually welcome a growing organic presence and would even agree that in many end markets, organic may be both the preferred and economically optimal choice. However, agriculture serves many end users where conventional philosophies may be the optimal economically, and perhaps even environmentally. Even suggesting that, I do agree that conventional agriculture does need to evolve, not necessarily to abandon green revolution gains in productivity, but to include attention to restoring and building soil capacity as an element of sustained productivity. Some may say that is contradictory although I am more optimistic. I had an employer once who said judicial use of herbicides can be an aid to sound resource stewardship but should not be seen as a substitute for sound resource stewardship. I think Mr. McGuire has described a situation where the former might be true.

  • The exact same rigid silliness is part of the LEED rating system for “green” architecture.

    If you have an existing building that you’d like to refurbish, and wish to get a high LEED rating, you are not allowed to leave in any materials that are disallowed by LEED. So, let’s say there are walls with brick inside and out, and some “bad” insulation was blown in between them. The best thing for the environment would be to leave it there. But to get a LEED certification, you have to instead remove it and dispose of it, causing health issues during removal, and environmental issues in the disposal. The same with certain woods, such as walls made a hundred years ago with what are now endangered trees. Gotta rip those out or you don’t get a LEED rating. The black and white of “no negative materials” makes LEED ridiculous. Even the initial developers of LEED question it’s effectiveness. http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/as_good_and_important_as_it_is.html

    The problem is, humans don’t like complexity. They want “LEED or not” “healthy or not” “environmentally friendly or not” labels, and that isn’t how the world works.

    • Justin P

      I first found out about LEED certifications when I was doing indoor air testing. The indoor air requirements are a joke. All they care about is getting below a threashold value for all VOCs, it doesn’t matter which one. 300ppb of Benzene…no problem you get LEED certified, just don’t breath the air inside or you might want to open all the windows. (Which would pretty much negate any energy benefits.)

  • That struck me too in that recent story on antibiotics:
    A Battle Over Antibiotics In Organic Apple And Pear Farming.

    When the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s national organic labeling standards went into effect in 2002, the two antibiotics were listed as synthetic materials approved for use in organic apple and pear production.

    Why these manufactured compounds and not others? And now that there’s a move to end this, it’s hamstringing growers because there isn’t something “organic” ready to use.

    That said–antibiotics are organic, and have been seen in permafrost over 30,000 years old. But the arbitrary nature of what is/isn’t organic really is baffling.

    • First Officer

      I was in the supermarket today. Two, seemingly identical 5 lb bags of russet potatoes were in front of me. One organic, one not. Both were the store brand. The organic cost $5.99, the regular, $3.99. Now, i can easily afford either but there are many, mnay families that could not afford a 50% increase in their food prices. Yet, people, such as the Organic Consumers Association would have us all forced into Organic. Along with their articles against fluoridation and vaccines, sometimes i think their plan for overpopulation is starvation and disease.

      • MikeB

        “Yet, people, such as the Organic Consumers Association would have us all forced into Organic. Along with their articles against fluoridation and vaccines, sometimes i think their plan for overpopulation is starvation and disease.”

        FO, while the OCA is certainly a group of crazy ideologues, I wouldn’t go so far as to say they had a plan for overpopulation consisting of starvation and disease. They’re just deluded, not evil.

        As for those potato prices: I took a photograph in a local supermarket of apples (I’m a small apple grower). The bin on the left showed apples at .99 per pound. The bin on the right, flaunting its “organic” label, had apples for 2.99 per pound. That’s far more than your 50% increase for those potatoes.

        There is no way in hell “organic” apples are 300% better than just apples. In fact, they’re not better at all, they’re the same. I happen to know that apple farmers care for their crops, and their customers, as much as “organic” farmers do. But the fear-based ideology is now entrenched and is not going to go away.

        • Let’s consider a few facts:
          1) Consumer choice is a good thing. No one can “force” a farmer into growing according to certain methods and no one can force a consumer what to buy. That’s not going to change, no matter what anyone says.
          2) MikeB and I finally found something to agree on! The OCA is crazy, but not evil. Fear-mongering against the OCA is no different than fear-mongering against Monsanto (and I’ve seen statements about “starvation and disease” made in reference to GMOs, too!)
          3) Anyone with any experience in agriculture can tell you that the retail price of food and its cost of production are poorly correlated, and certainly not directly causative. It also has little to do with quality (pound for pound, chocolate bars are far more expensive than apples or potatoes!) Higher retail prices for organic food have a lot to do with economies of scale at all points in the chain, supply and demand, and the willingness of the consumer to pay.
          4) Consumers purchase organic food for a variety of reasons, just as there are a variety of farmers choose to grow it. There’s some good research in this area, if you care to look. Dismissing either of these choice as “fear-based” is inaccurate, insulting and disrespectful.

          • While I doubt the OCA is wanting starvation and disease, I can tell you I’ve had multiple conversations with anti-GMO folks who say starvation is a natural thing that should be allowed to happen. They’ve said that producing more food than is “normally grown” is a false way to push up the human population, and that it would be better to let people starve. They’ve said that continuing to feed the hungry leads to them breeding and there being even more hungry, so letting a generation or two starve would reduce the population and reduce the number of hungry.

            I’m not kidding.

            • First Officer

              It’s a point that Mark Lynas has made as well in his apology speech to GE research and development. Now, i too, don’t think that the lynch pin of whatever plans the OCA has is starvation and disease but, you can’t say they are ignorant of the consequences of adopting ways that’ll produce less food and advocating no fluoridation and no vaccines.

              It’s like willfully neglecting the maintenance of your car’s brakes and then running someone over because they failed. You certainly weren’t planning to run over anybody but you are culpable for for making it likely you would.

            • Justin P

              I don’t think the Anti-GMOs are all like that but there is a significant overlap between the Antis and the Neo-Malthusians, like Erhlich. I’d say most of the environmental movement are Neo-Malthusians as most of their “solutions” involve some sort of population control. I think organic consumers for the most part are not Neo-Malthusians but the organic activists are. How else can they sqaure the notion of lower Organic yeilds with their idiotic idealism that all food should be organic?

          • MikeB

            I considered myself an organic gardener for most of my adult life, was a member of our state organic organization for many years, worked at an organic farm for four years, and volunteered whole weekends at some friends’ produce booth at the state organic fair. I know exactly what the organic movement claims.

            I clung to those beliefs with the skin of my teeth until I finally had to recognize that these claims are unsupportable, bogus, and, yes, fear-based. I can thank skeptics sources such as the Skeptics Dictionary, Skeptoid, and Science-Based Medicine for helping to sway my point of view.

            It is the organic movement in our state that spear-headed an anti-GMO jihad and got a bill to label GMOs passed. Personally, I don’t care whether they’re labeled or not, but the whole anti-GMO furor is based on not just fear, but moral panic and terror. The organic belief system requires a Satan, and that Satan is Monsanto.

            Now, maybe YOU happen to be a reasonable person and don’t think that way, but you’re putting your head in the sand if you don’t see how this fear campaign has driven otherwise intelligent people to pay more for food that has no qualities that distinguish it from other foods–organic.

            Organic stores regularly tout “no GMO!” products. Farmers at markets sometimes put up signs at their stands that read, “DON’T PANIC! IT’S ORGANIC!” The top organic supplier in our state makes this pledge in their catalog:

            Agriculture and seeds provide the basis on which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political and cultural threats.

            Source.

            At our farm, we are doing all we can to avoid buying seeds from these people because of their fear-mongering, which is too bad because they are a local supplier.

            Pesticides hysteria, too, is driven by the organic movement and its associates, such as the Environmental Working Group. It is all based on the fear that produce is “contaminated” with “chemicals” that will allegedly cause everything from autism to cancer. Steve Savage has “savaged” the EWG for their unscientific reading of the government’s Pesticides Data Program, so I won’t belabor an argument that he has so eloquently made except to point out that pesticides hysteria is as strong as ever.

            As a small apple grower, I have grown to hate the EWG and their organic acolytes. I know how hard it is to grow apples in New England and I care very much about our product. I have my private pesticides applicator’s license and follow label directions. Yet I have had people come up to my stand at the market, point to the apples I’m selling, ask if they’re “sprayed,” and when I say “Yes,” they don’t ask more questions (“What do you spray? How often? Do you follow label directions?”), they just say, “I’m not feeding them to my children.” And YOU know very well what’s behind her fear: the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list. Talk about “disrespectful”!

            The organic movement claims that “conventional” farmers are ruining the planet. They toss around the buzzword “sustainable” to describe their own methods and try to demonize and marginalize these so-called conventional farmers. The state organic association published a screed admonishing organic farmers not to even associate with “conventional” farmers:

            People who eat five fruits and vegetables per day from the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list – conventional produce most contaminated with pesticides – consume an average of 10 pesticides per day.

            A study done by the University of Montreal found that above average concentrations of an organophosphate pesticide metabolite in urine roughly doubled the chance of children being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, while University of California research found more Pervasive Development Disorder in children whose mothers had more organophosphate metabolites in their urine.

            More and more evidence seems to be pointing to neonicotinoid insecticides, widely used in conventional agriculture but not in organic, as part of the explanation for Colony Collapse Disorder of bees.

            Why would organic growers and consumers want to converge with conventional agriculture, as the title of a Maine Agricultural Trades Show session, held in January, suggested? Craving the Organophosphate-Arsenic-Laced Special for dinner?

            I’ve realized there is no entity called “conventional farming.” There is only “organic” and everyone else. The term “conventional,” like the terms “gentile” or “heathen,” is pejorative, a way to distinguish between “us” and “them.” The irony is our small farm much more closely resembles the organic farm where I used to work rather than the larger “conventional” vegetable growers in our state, but still, because we are not “organic”–and never will be–we are considered “conventional,” which in truth means absolutely nothing.

            I now just call myself a farmer, no adjective required. I haven’t even changed my techniques much since ditching the organic thing and helping form a new farming partnership. The organic movement doesn’t own mulching, composting, cover-cropping, crop rotation, manuring, or mechanical means of pest control any more than the Catholic Church owns bread and wine.

            This has gone on long enough, but maybe one day I can tell you how our local organic organization, with its antipathy and fear towards “antibiotics,” touts homeopathy over “conventional veterinary practices” for treating farm animals!

            • MikeB

              Ugh. Most of my source links got dumped because I must have formatted them incorrectly. So sorry.

            • Tom

              “The organic movement doesn’t own mulching, composting, cover-cropping, crop rotation, manuring, or mechanical means of pest control any more than the Catholic Church owns bread and wine.” Might stick that on a t-shirt next time I go into Whole Foods. (Hah! Only kidding. I would never set my foot in that place.)

              • First Officer

                I go to Whole Foods. Lots of free samples !

      • Charles M. Rader

        This may be a bit off topic, but is the Organic Consumers Organization really an organization of consumers, or is it an organization of producers marketing to consumers?

        If the latter, can anyone sensibly trust an organization whose very name is meant to mislead us?

        • I’ve wondered that myself. They do have consumer supporters, but there do seem to be a lot of producer partners. OCA is helpful with marketing.

  • MikeB

    In case anyone was wondering why we growers of apples, potatoes, beef, strawberries, etc., loathe the dichotomization of farmers into “organic” and “conventional,” here’s a case in point: Everything about this article implies that “organic” is “right” and “conventional” is “wrong.”

    From the Huffington Dumpster.