Organic Debate

GREETINGS FELLOW GROWERS:

First, let me say that the growing process here at the Veggie Clinic continues to evolve and has been keeping me very occupied. The “mission” of the Veggie Clinic remains, as always, to provide you and your family with the highest quality, healthiest plants and food while maintaining the highest standards of stewardship for the planet and its complex systems.

While this commitment may seem very straightforward and “simple” on the surface, the more you become involved in the actual science of food production and “sustainability” the more convoluted and grey some of the avenues can become. About six months ago I told you that I was researching an article on the addition of bacterial/mycorrhyzal products to your garden soil or potting mixes with an eye to their efficacy and environmental impact. Well, that evolved into a six month research adventure into everything from garden soil structure and chemistry, nutrient delivery, plant biology, greenhouse planting mixes, the science of soil-less mixes versus compost based mixes, the pros and cons of various nutrient delivery systems, pest and pathogen control to the environmental impact of various growing systems, current research in the field of biohazards, and the medical/health impact of various growing systems. The more I researched the more I realized two things. First, the amount of research left to do to answer some very basic questions in the field of food production is even now, very large. Second, as with most things in life, there is very little straight forward black and white. Most areas are a shade of grey!

Most of you know that I am not one to blindly follow or accept dogma from any side. I try my best to make sure that any belief that I hold or express to others in a manner intended to “educate” be rooted in comprehensive research and sincere, intelligent introspection. If you have been reading this newsletter for any time you know how committed I am to growing the best/healthiest food possible while holding the “health” and well-being of our planet in near “sacred” regard. Because I am continually doing research in the areas of food production, earth science and the politics/economics of food distribution, I have been wanting to do an issue of the newsletter that, although some of you may find it a bit disturbing, is intended to be thought provoking. This is such a complex issue that I decided to dedicate the entire newsletter to it. I suggest that you set aside enough time to read the newsletter in full and follow some of the links I have included. If you have an interest in this subject, I think that you will find this newsletter a thought provoking launch pad for more independent research, at least I hope so.

I am in no way intending to damn, dismiss or trivialize either side in what follows. Rather, I am attempting to present to you – the consumer and independent grower – an idea of some of the extremely complex variables facing any grower who is part of the global quest to provide food for 7,000,000,000 people. Be they local, regional, national or international producers they/we all face these complex, controversial and, honestly sometime perplexing questions and choices. Every choice presented to us has to be weighed carefully considering such parameters as human health and safety issues, environmental impact, potential long range “unknowns”, and of course economic feasibility for our individual business models. All indications are that these questions, controversies and challenges will do nothing but increase as we face the realities of increased global population, developing water crises, climate change with subsequent changes in pest and disease pressures, competition for prime land usage (can you say North Dakota?), population shifts due to sea level rises and uncertainties in the global economic situation.

What assumptions do you make when you choose to purchase an “Organic” food product? Is it “pesticide free”? Is it a “healthier” choice for you and your family? Does it mean that product has had no negative environmental impact? Is it actually the best choice to make for your family and the planet?

In the past several years, there has been a growing level of, shall we say, controversy amongst the scientific world and the agricultural world over the word “Organic”. What exactly does it mean to the food that is produced, to your family’s health and to what degree does that definition impact (positively or negatively) the environment? Can “Organic” growing save the world or is it merely a low productivity system that is meant for backyards and small, specialty family farms? Although the word does imply to you and your family that a prescribed set of “procedures” has been followed during the production of the “Organic” food that you might buy, it does NOT guarantee that the food itself or the methods used to produce that food are necessarily the “purest” or most contaminant free or safest (from pathogens such as e coli H 0157:H7) or the most environmentally friendly.

For thousands of years, humans grew food using truly “organic” techniques. There really was NO other alternative. With the onset of the industrial revolution, large scale farming operations in the “country” to feed those in the cities, and the growth of the “chemical” industry – the game changed. Farming became big business and that meant big money. A new universe of farming techniques and a smorgasbord of chemicals touted to do nothing but increase yield and quality changed food production into big business. We are all familiar with many of the environmental and health consequences that resulted from the “wild west” mentality in this new industry. Beginning in the 1990s and running into the early 2000s, the National Organic Program was developed to establish (or should we say re-establish) some guidelines to enable consumers to be able to make choices between foods grown using the new “industrial” methods and foods using the “old school” natural methods. The official world of ORGANICS was born.

The trouble is that, just as in life, we cannot simply go back to our childhood! Individuals no longer produce all the food needed for themselves and their families. We all need to rely on others to produce at least some, if not all of our daily food. And there are now 7,000,000,000 of us who need food! In addition, just as there was development of new techniques and chemical formulations available to the “industrial” or “conventional” farm industry, new developments in the “Organic” or “natural” farming world have meant that Organic farmers were not actually reverting back to the pure and simple days of old. There are Organic pesticides, Organic fungicides, Organic herbicides, Organic bio-controls and Organic microbial agents that just weren’t part of grandfather’s arsenal. Nor was grandfather trying to grow food for or provide milk to thousands of end line consumers. Stealing a line from Dorothy: “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!”

If Organic is not really a return to the “good ole days” and Dorothy isn’t in Kansas anymore – where exactly is she?

First, many consumers make the blind faith false assumption that ORGANIC automatically means perfectly safe, pesticide free, environmentally friendly and “healthier”. Like most things in life – it ain’t necessarily so! The fact of the matter is that Organic production can be as polluting (and potentially more so) as “conventional” farming. Virtually ALL organic produce has measurable levels of pesticide. Sources of those pesticide residues may be from the application of “organic” pesticides (almost sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?). But “chemical” pesticide residues such as organochlorines (yes DDT and the like) from “drift” or resident long term soil contamination can be found on most organic produce. In fact, the National Organic Program standards actually allow these low but still present levels within certain limits – with the food product still being considered “Certified Organic”. Are the levels of these “chemical” pesticides dramatically lower on organic produce? Yes. However, they are there. Think the “organic” pesticides are totally safe and risk free? Do some research on Rotenone and sabidilla. Here’s an interesting link from NPR:
http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/06/18/137249264/organic-pesticides-not-an-oxymoron

While we are on the topic of pesticides, take the time to go to this blog site at SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. The article is by Christie Wilcox, a PhD student in cellular and molecular biology at the University of Hawaii. It might open your eyes a bit. It might shock you a bit. It might make you a bit mad. It might even piss you off a bit! My hope is that it will make you THINK a bit and do a bit more research! Make a cup of tea and leave yourself the time to follow some of the scientific reference links she includes.
http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/2012/09/24/pesticides-food-fears/

Many consumers are shocked when they learn that ANY pesticides are used in organic growing. They are used and a lot of them are used. Here is a link to some of the organic “standards” set for pesticide use:
http://tilth.org/files/r-e/nrcs-ot-cross-training-2009/general-information/can-i-use-this-pesticide/at_download/file

Simply because a pesticide is rated for Organic use does not mean that it is perfectly “safe” and does not carry definite environmental risks and downsides. Are they preferred over “synthetic” or “chemical” pesticides –most of the time, yes! But are they perfectly benign – absolutely not! When they are not used at the right time, in the right weather conditions and in strict accordance with manufacturer’s guidelines – they can kill bees and beneficial bugs, plants, soil dwelling organisms, get into waterways and kill aquatic life and make people sick. It seems clear that not enough research has been done to date on Organic pesticides to definitively answer questions about their short term or long term health/environmental risks. Remember insecticides/pesticides are meant to do one thing – kill things. Research has also classified close to one half of the “organic” pesticides in use as carcinogenic to some degree. Here are a couple of interesting links for you to look at. There are many more research links out there that will re-enforce what many people dismiss about “organic” methods.
http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~lhom/organictext.html
http://www.ncceh.ca/sites/default/files/Organic_Diet_May_2010.pdf

There is a consensus among scientists that there needs to be much more comprehensive research done to answer the basic questions of just how “safe” organic pesticides are and what their potential long term effects might be. Those questions are still not fully unanswered. For those of you who want to delve deeper into the science behind this debate about pesticides, I put forth the following link to an article by John Tierney, science editor for the New York Times. It describes some of the research done by two of the most noted and respected researchers in the field of biochemistry – specifically the field of toxicity and carcinogenicity – Dr. Bruce Ames and his colleague Lois Swirsky Gold. The two head up the Carcinogenic Potency Project at Berkeley. Their research suggests that the high level of public concern over the use of pesticides/fungicides – whether synthetic or “organic” – in general is probably unwarranted.
http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/06/06/synthetic-v-natural-pesticides/

Make yourself another cup of tea and follow the link to their research findings. This one is fascinating and forms the foundation to much of the scientific debate over pesticides and fungicides. Of course, you can also look up some of the work done by opponents to the findings of Dr. Ames and Dr. Gold such as an article published by Elihu Richter.

Many of you that read this newsletter are “organic” growers yourselves. I just ask you to think about this. There are a LOT of “Organic” pesticides and fungicides on the market now. Why do we all access them at different times during the summer growing season? Because you are watching your cucumbers succumb to an army of cucumber beetles, or you’re inundated by squash beetles. Tomato hornworms? Downy mildew? Early blight? How about watching your entire tomato crop dying from late blight? Rusts on your hollyhocks or beans? How about cabbage worms all over your broccoli and cauliflower? Well, you get the picture. You are a home grower and can survive the loss of your tomatoes or most of your cucumbers. But what if your family’s financial security depended on that crop? Ask some of New Hampshire’s berry growers about their level of concern over the potentially devastating invasion of the new fruit fly variety that has moved north as the average temperatures rise. Many of the “organic” berry growers are grappling with the choice – stop growing berries or resort to “non- organic” methods to save their crop and possibly their farms. Are you as a consumer willing to go without tomatoes or berries or pay dramatically higher prices as the supply and demand factor kicks in? Grandfather didn’t have a choice because he grew without even these new “Organic” pesticides and fungicides. So are YOU willing to go back to grandfather’s day and use PURE organic techniques?

What about safety from pathogens such as e-coli 0157:H7, listeria or salmonella? Organic produce must be free of that worry! Right? Wrong! Because organic procedures use animal manures as a primary source of nutrients, many researchers feel that the risks from pathogen contamination may be higher in organic foods as the market segment for organics increases. Research to date indicates that the risk from pathogen contamination is at least as high as the equivalent risk from the “conventional” food stream. Several recent e Coli outbreaks originated at “Organic” farming operations. ANY farming operation – organic or “conventional” – should be able to CLEARLY describe to you what the precise guidelines are for the safe handling and application of manure products. If you buy from a farm that uses manure (the primary nitrogen source in organic farming), for the sake of your family’s health, ask the farmer what their manure handling and application protocol is. If they are organic OR conventional and cannot answer to your complete satisfaction – find another farmer. E-coli 0157:H7 does kill people.

There are also dozens of individual “certifying” agencies around the country which could accept or reject the same farm due to different certifying guidelines. If one state certifies you, the others are bound to recognize that certification even though that farm may not meet their certifying requirements. There are administrative and registration fees placed on the farmers that pursue and gain certification. Just as in “conventional” farming operations, adherence to “prescribed” operational procedures can vary dramatically.

Now don’t get me wrong! Some of you may be sitting there wondering whether I’ve had a partial lobotomy since the last newsletter. Have no fear. The simple answer is NO. What I am saying is this: just as is the case with most everything out there in our complex world system, EVERY method of food production has its strong points AND weak points. Many of the methods and procedures used by the “conventional” farming industry caused and continue to cause great harm to the ecosystem and pose substantial risks to the health of farm workers and end line consumers. They need to be changed! On the other side of the coin, I do NOT just accept a term such as ORGANIC and blindly recognize it as the evolutionary endpoint in mankind’s agricultural destiny. My goal as a scientist and grower is to try to separate fact from fiction. At this point, my decisions as a grower focused on your family’s health and the health of the planet, I need to be guided by science – not by anecdotal information from either side of this discussion. It has been my experience that too many people in the “organic” or “foodie” sphere have taken it upon themselves to demonize ANY growing method OR GROWER that is not “certified Organic”. Usually, when I have confronted those making such dogmatic condemnation with my sincere desire to explore the underlying scientific basis for their views, either they are unable to express a scientific basis or to even find one. Remember, even Organic growing is a precise, complex, interdisciplinary science.

As a scientist, I am troubled by the pending worldwide water crisis that will make the current petroleum concerns seem petty. I look at nutrient delivery science and see that although organic nutrient delivery methods are on the whole undoubtedly the foundation for ecosystem integrity, organic fertilizer production and delivery techniques can inflict significant environmental damage. Even non-manure based organic fertilizer production can involve environmentally destructive practices such as open pit mining. Natural, mineral based fertilizers certified for Organic production can also contain disturbingly high levels of heavy metals such as lead, zinc, cadmium, mercury, arsenic and nickel. Levels can vary – just like in fertilizers NOT rated for Organic production – dramatically according to the place and method of mining/production. In addition, the heavy metals in the animal feed can be concentrated in the animal’s gut and delivered to the soil on which the manure is applied. Want an idea of how challenging this issue is? Check this website out:
http://www.horticulture.umn.edu/amarkhar/courses/Hort4072-2008/Heavy%20Metals%20and%20Fertilizers/OMRI%20Report%20Metals_in_Fertilizers-b6-2005-02-14.pdf
And here’s an interesting article from SLATE:
http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/green_room/2008/09/rusted_roots.html

As society increases its consumption of meat/dairy/poultry – whether organic or not – water demands skyrocket; methane (a far more potent and damaging greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) release into the atmosphere increases at a startling rate; and a (pardon the pun) crap load of manure is produced.
http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/the-great-organic-myths-why-organic-foods-are-an-indulgence-the-world-cant-afford-818585.html

But isn’t manure a good thing you ask? Well, as mentioned above, manure that is not handled and managed according to VERY strict best practice guidelines on the farm and off site becomes the leading cause of the EUTROFICATION of many of the nation’s waterways. You remember that term from a past newsletter; it means the enrichment of a water system with a nutrient(s) that cause algae to grow as if on steroids. That results in an oxygen usage so high that other higher forms of life such as fish, shellfish, etc. cannot survive. This is happening/has happened in the Chesapeake Bay largely due to the huge dairy industry on farms that watershed into the Bay. There are too many other examples around the country to get into here. Improperly managed manure can also be very detrimental to soil chemistry and pH levels. And, as alluded to above, the transfer of deadly pathogens to food crops is a very real and present danger. There are already far too many cases of death caused by food contamination; and manure is a principle player in that game. Remember how many times in past newsletters I have urged all of you to be extremely careful about using manure either in your gardens or compost piles.
http://escholarship.org/uc/item/0c6386bt#page-1
http://www.agriview.com/news/crop/microbial-food-safety-in-organic-foods-addressed/article_a705c2de-37c4-11e1-85d4-001871e3ce6c.html

Remember at the beginning of this article I told you that this past six months of research began with my desire to write a short article about the use of “beneficial “ bacteria and “beneficial” fungi in container soils and your garden soil? Well…… During those six months of research, this whole area of home and commercial growing also became very grey. You all know that currently, “beneficial” or “probiotic” products are all the rage. They are touted and endorsed by anyone who puts his or her name on a product containing these “magical” and “wonderful” amendments. However, there needs to be a LOT more research done on them. Not long ago, I was talking to a commercial, “certified organic” producer who was telling me that he, on the advice of many other certified growers, was about to add a “charge” of “beneficial” bacteria and fungi to his fields to increase feed production for his cattle.

I made him aware of several studies – including a greenhouse/field trial done at the University of Maine – looking at the efficacy of using “beneficials” and bio-controls to treat several potato diseases. The results showed that, although there were promising implications from their results, this is an extremely complex field that needs a lot more research to understand how added “foreign” microbes interact with the resident microbial population and indigenous plants. Disruption of soil’s natural chemical/biological/microbial profile can facilitate both positive and negative results when considering such variables as disease suppression, crop yield and subsurface biological dynamics. Just like baking a cake – if you add something to the recipe – the cake changes. Sometimes for the better but sometimes not.
http://jxb.oxfordjournals.org/content/56/417/1761.full

Want a little more to consider? Check out this research done showing the results of adding “beneficials” to soilless potting mixes – such as the containers on your deck. As with the Maine potato tests, in many instances the plants in the soilless mixes were MORE susceptible to disease after the addition of “beneficials”. The immunity factor seemed to be more determined by factors such as pore size than action of the “beneficial” additives.
http://www.gpnmag.com/sites/default/files/biologicalcontrol.pdf

I should also point out that many tests do, in fact, also show an INCREASE in certain productivity and quality factors. The problem is that research has not yet been able to pin down exactly what does and doesn’t work- when and why.

Bottom line? Well, in the soil OR in your containers, success depends on more than just the addition of the latest “miracle” product. Kick it up another notch? There is a LOT of new research going on centered around the use of fungi and bacteria as “beneficial” additives to the soil. Are fungi absolutely critical in the proper and productive functioning of the entire biosphere? Yes. NO QUESTION!!! Remember, I am a commercial mushroom grower. BUT, not all fungi are totally friendly!! We know this well from the deaths that happen every year when people go out into the woods and pick their own “natural and organic” supper. The current craze to incorporate “beneficial” fungi strains into every new growing soil mix is, in the opinion of a growing number of researchers, potentially playing with fire! It seems that now, every company is looking for that NEW and “magical” fungi (or bacteria) strain that they can tout as THE ONE that will make your plants jump out of the ground and protect them from every negative pathogen in the known universe. AND, the use of fungi strains in the production of “biologic” controls for plant diseases and pesticides is a RAPIDLY growing industry. You guessed it – there is a lot of money in it. The problem is, fungi are extraordinarily complex organisms – and we know VERY little about them. What new research is revealing should be of concern to us as we consider their widespread and aggressive use. It is well known that some strains of fungi and bacteria can infect (in a negative way) plants, animals AND humans in various ways. Some benign, some mildly detrimental, some severely so, and most unknown. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that some strains of fungi and bacteria currently used in the production of “bio controls” for disease prevention and pesticides can impact human health. Do a little research on the use of Burkholderia cepacia as a bio-agent in a commercial fungicide. Have a little extra time? Read a little of the report done by Anne Vidaver, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Nebraska entitled CROSS INFECTIVE MICROBES: FROM PLANTS TO HUMANS.
http://www.biotechawareness.com/index~option~com_content~view~article~id~181:annekvidaver~catid~36:scientific-documentation-on-bacteriamold~Itemid~11.php

As the recent Stanford University meta-analysis pointed out (in addition to several other research reports) there is no real documentable difference between the nutritional content of “organic” foods when compared to “conventional” foods. Organic proponents clearly pointed out that even if that is true, the real reason people choose organic is because of the pesticides. As we have explored already – this is a valid point. Although, as we have looked at it, this issue is also open for much more scientific debate. And here is something to consider. Many who decry “conventional” foods as little more than nutritionally empty shells coated in a cocktail of toxic chemicals point out that a great concern is that we do not know what damage these chemicals – either alone or in combination with other chemicals – will cause in the future. If we transfer exactly the same argument to the “organic” world, we see an immediate problem. In the world of “chemical” pesticides and fungicides, this “future concern” is very real and justified as has been demonstrated in the past. However, rapidly expanding research into this world of “bio-controls” is potentially as (and possibly more) concerning as those real dangers created by the chemical industry as the field of “chemical controls” rapidly developed in the 20th century. Early indications of transgenic exchanges, gene switching alterations as fungal and bacterial agents are “processed” and indications that some of the components of these biological agents may not be quite as benign as once thought should all cause the prudent person to step back for a moment. Remember, now we are talking LIVING organisms being changed, processed and introduced into the natural environment. And remember, many of these new “bio-control agents” may very well end up as agents able to be used in “Organic” farming. I wonder what grandfather would think. Witness the rapid proliferation of “bio-control” products already on the shelves and the increasing number of them in the research and production pipeline. Here is a list of some of the “bio-controls” already available.
http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/apsbcc/productlist2005USA.htm

If you spend much time in the lofty world of bio-engineering research publications, you will probably be amazed at all the “transgenic” research being done. If you harbor concerns about Genetically Modified Organisms as the term relates to plants/food, then I would suggest that you start exploring the approaching tidal wave of “transgenic” agents being researched for use in the agricultural world.

In the next newsletter I plan on doing an article on a little known but rapidly expanding field that is known as – are you ready for this – Synthetic Biology. Here is a 12 word definition from an article by Alexandra Witze that should make your brain twitch a little – “a field that seeks to build living things from the ground up”. Sound like a long way off? Wrong! There is already a growing facility right in Boston staffed by researchers from MIT and Harvard that is considered the “Silicon Valley” of synthetic biology. When you find out what has already been accomplished it will amaze and inspire you. And hopefully, it will make you a little uneasy! Yes, a lot of the projected applications are focused on agriculture.

Here is a good link to a huge meta-analysis study comparing conventional and organic foods. It will give you the data analysis on some of the most comprehensive studies to date – the very studies you may hear quoted by both side of this extraordinarily complex debate.
http://media.dssimon.com/taperequest/acp75_study.pdf

Much more research is needed.

So, where am I going with this? Well, as a scientist, a skeptic and a food/plant producer I ask you to keep your mind open, keep questioning propaganda from BOTH sides of this issue and use your common sense. As I have stated to you many times in the past – my mission is to grow the food and plants that – as a result of our ongoing scientific research and evaluation – are the “healthiest” for both your family AND the planet. NO system is perfect or without some risk/reward balance that has to be carefully and sincerely evaluated. There are too many people on the planet now to return to the days of each family /person producing their required food on their own farm or even in their own backyard. Do we need to help people take far more control over their food source by helping them understand that they CAN produce a lot if not most of their own food with VERY little space available to them? Absolutely! But we also need to use our scientific knowledge to maximize production AND assure stewardship of our all too fragile ecosystem that is teetering on the brink as we speak. Will chemistry used in agriculture disappear and farmers return to “organic” practices to produce the world’s food supply? No. Chemistry will probably play a greater part in food production as we move forward. Will genetic engineering disappear? Consensus is that genetic engineering will increase as will the “advances” that will come from Synthetic Biology.
http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2012/0425/Are-crop-yields-the-Achilles-heel-of-organic-farming
http://science.time.com/2012/04/26/whole-food-blues-why-organic-agriculture-may-not-be-so-sustainable/

We also need to re-evaluate our own personal consumption habits and expectations of what we think we SHOULD be able to eat. The food universe is much like the petroleum universe – the problem lies NOT so much in supply capability as it does in DEMAND pressure. Keep in mind little tidbits of information such as 30% plus of food in Europe (and the numbers are even higher here in the USA) is WASTED!! Let me say that again – SOMEWHERE AROUND 40% OF THE FOOD PRODUCED HERE IN THE USA IS WASTED!!! The waste starts occurring at the farm production end through the harvesting, through packaging, through transportation, through storage and finally at the consumer end. Believe it or not, much of the waste is because of COSMETIC issues – read “I won’t buy that perfectly wonderful apple because it has a minor visual blemish”. So it goes into the garbage and not towards feeding a hungry person. Research shows that even “greens” and “Foodies” will bypass perfectly good food because of a “cosmetic” blemish. Are we thinking – Let he who has no sin cast the first stone? We have ALL done this.
http://www.fao.org/docrep/014/mb060e/mb060e00.pdf

So, if you are concerned about the source and “health” of your food supply you can follow some very simple guidelines. First, understand that ALL forms of food production carry some baggage in terms of “purity” and environmental impact. Your goal is to get that baggage as LIGHT as possible. Keep informed about the issues facing the challenging task of producing food for 7,000,000,000 people that inhabit the world. Current organic production techniques will produce approximately 25% (varying according to crop specifics but this is a rule of thumb average for the staple crops looked at) less yield per acre than “conventional” growing techniques. Put on top of that the challenges of climate change, dwindling resources, increased pest and pathogen pressures, increased demand for the most polluting foods going – meat and dairy – and you will begin to see that the term COMPLEX doesn’t do the task justice! Know where your food comes from! Your best bet is STILL to buy locally from a grower (s) that you trust and respect. TALK TO YOUR GROWER!!!!! Do NOT feel embarrassed or out of place asking them about the procedures they use and WHY they use them. If they can’t (or won’t) explain to you why and how they use a certain fertilizer, pesticide or fungicide and what evaluation of its health and environmental risks they have done – consider talking to a new farmer! Remember, you are NOT going to reduce health and environmental risk to ZERO, but you can greatly reduce it for both your family and the planet.

Don’t dismiss science as unnecessary in the world of food production and distribution. Science has increased the quality, quantity and safety of the food chain. Best practice procedures alone both on the farm and off have saved thousands of lives. 3000 people a year still die from contaminated food issues. And that is just here in the US.

CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of food-borne diseases.

Human diseases and suffering have been reduced for millions of people through improved nutrition realized through research and hybridizing. Do politics and greed get in the way too often and hijack the good intent – yes! But making sure that ALL people on the face of the Earth someday have access to “safe”, nutritious, varied, secure, food for their families without sacrificing the world’s fragile ecosystems will require all the knowledge and commitment we can muster. How many people do you see WALKING to Farmers Markets? How do we calculate that pollution generating variable into the whole clean/pure/environmentally friendly food equation?

What path will the Veggie Clinic and Dr. Tomato follow as we move forward down this extraordinarily convoluted path? First, we will continue to use only methods and products that, after substantial research, we feel produce the healthiest, most chemical (organic or synthetic) free, environmentally sound plants and food products currently possible. Second, as always, I will gladly answer any questions you might have about our operational procedures, amendments and pest/disease control procedures. Third, I will continue to research this entire field and keep you and your family informed about new developments that might influence your personal decisions on this subject. Fourth, I will continue to work with suppliers such as Blue Seal Rochester and Blue Seal Bow and make my products and services available through their outlets. In this complex and often controversial environment, they have made substantial philosophical and financial commitments to provide a wide range of products including an increasingly comprehensive line of “organic”, more environmentally neutral products. They have also committed to greatly reducing their inventory of products that carry documentable higher environmental/human health risks. A laudable action and major step for a corporate player.

As a grower myself, I wholeheartedly praise ANY farmer who makes a commitment to grow food for you and your family. It is a physically demanding, 24/7, not very financially rewarding occupation. I just ask you to remember that there are a LOT of farmers/growers who have/are dedicating their lives to do one thing – grow what they think is the best, freshest, “healthiest” food possible for YOU and your family. Some of them have chosen the “Certified Organic” pathway to accomplish that job. They deserve a lot of praise for making that commitment. But I ask you to remember that there are a LOT of other farmers who have also chosen to do exactly that same thing without choosing to pursue the “Certified Organic” label (for a multitude of legitimate reasons). Their knowledge level, commitment level and dedication to the health of your family and the planet are just as high. To demonize or degrade them for not pursuing a far from “perfect” method of food production is unjust, unfounded and dogmatic. Oh yes – as a matter of full disclosure – I AM ONE OF THEM!

The current “Organic” system alone does not/cannot provide all the answers. Neither can the scientific community. What is needed is a collaboration of the two. The best of both these powerful and proven forces. Farmers need to collaborate and share knowledge, research, philosophies and techniques with the scientific community – and vice versa. Both the farm community AND the consumer community need to stop fragmenting into factions that quest to seize some “moral high ground”. The problem is extraordinarily complex and the clock is ticking. The problem, as we see all too often, will be to keep power, money, greed and dogma out of the formula. Well – at least we can hope, and do our best to bring a new agricultural reality to fruition!

TAKE CARE MY FRIENDS. I’LL TALK WITH YOU SOON.

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