"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Sunday, April 12, 2009

End The (Crop) Protection Racket


Food is sustenance. But food is also big business (and I mean very big business). At the end of World War II people were wondering what to do with a number of chemicals (particularly petro-chemicals) left over from the war effort. It didn't take long to find opportunities. Ammonia, used during the war to produce high explosives (ammonium nitrate), could once again be made into fertilizer. Thanks in part to the USDA's intensive promotion of industrial agricultural methods, the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides increased dramatically. The old ways of manure, cover crops and mixing crops fell by the wayside as U.S. farmers embraced the new ways.

Of course everything has a cost. And the costs of industrial agriculture include soil depletion, water pollution, depleted water tables, and human human exposure (of both workers and consumers) to a wide variety of chemicals (which have been demonstrated to have harmful effects on people depending on exposure). We tend to hear how the great strides in industrial agriculture have helped feed a growing nation (and world). What we generally do not hear is how so many farmers could not keep up as they kept trying to produce more, and in the process of farming more land, buying more (expensive) farm machinery, specialized seed, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, ultimately accumulated so much debt that they lost their farms.

As small farms folded, larger farms bought up their assets at fire sale prices. In time the total number of farms in the U.S. decreased dramatically as large (and primarily corporate) farms operations bought up smaller operations. As of 1997 (most recent figures I could find) two percent of U.S. farms accounted for half of the nation's agricultural product sales, a reflection of corporate consolidation in farming. You can bet these giant operations are NOT farming using the old ways.

We have a new First Family in The White House, and they are digging up some lawn and putting in a vegetable garden. And guess what? It's going to be an ORGANIC garden! And that has the chemical industry's hackles up. Why do I say chemical industry? An industry organization called Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) has sent the First Lady a letter asking her to consider using "crop protection products" (can you say CHEMICALS???) in her garden. Don't you just love the euphemisms these folks come up with?

MACA is a veritable who's who of the chemical industry; it's members include Bayer, Dow, DuPont, and Monsanto. Of course it is in these companies' (and therefore MACA's) best financial interests to ensure that their "crop protection products" are used on every possible acre of every possible crop (and not just in the United States). So you can imagine that they are just a little concerned that Michelle Obama might not use something on her garden.

One market research company forecasts the worldwide pesticide market to reach $75 billion by 2013. There's BIG money in them thar chemicals! And I can just imagine that the folks in the MACA boardroom totally freaked when they saw that the high profile White House veggie garden would go organic. Let's face it; to chemical people the word "organic" is enough to make them implode. Perish the thought that someone would actually use MANURE on a garden.

Industrial agriculture is not going away anytime soon. But we do need to re-evaluate our heavy reliance on such methods that have not only effects on the health of the environment and people, but also require large energy inputs to produce, transport and use (and many are produced from oil). Perhaps The White House engaging in organic gardening will help initiate a national dialogue on the future of agriculture, something on which we need to focus.Well, enough of my ramblings. CLICK HERE to read the letter from MACA to Michelle Obama. If you think that an organic garden at The White House is a good thing, then CLICK HERE to sign the petition (courtesy of CREDO Action) telling those pesky pesticide peddlers to back off. After all, as the petition states, "Michelle Obama has done America a great service by publicizing the importance of nutritious food for kids as well as locally grown produce as an important, environmentally sustainable food source."

Organic isn't THE solution to all our food problems, but it IS a major element. And it also an important contributor to sustainablity. Read Mother Jones food issue to read some interesting perspectives on the future of agriculture.



Note: Photo of The White House vegetable garden groundbreaking courtesy of The White House Blog.

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