Organic Food Is Grown With Synthetic Chemicals and Manure From Factory Farms

I’m revisiting this post from 2015 as a reminder that “organic” food is not what it’s cut out to be. Has “organic” food gotten any better since then? How could it, when water, even municipal tap water, has become more contaminated? Air has become more polluted? What we do to the environment, we do to ourselves.

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FarmersMarket2

Farmers’ Market

I’ve been curious about organic food for a while. To be honest, I don’t have great access to it. Where are all these farmers’ markets people keep talking about? Markets where you can buy fresh, organic, local produce? Truly. I don’t see them. I have a few natural food stores in my area but their lettuce, kale, and other greens are often wilted and brown around the edges. The price for those greens is double or triple what I’d pay for their conventional versions at a supermarket. One natural food store was selling a bag of organic apples for $14.99 and a bag of small oranges for $16.99. That’s a lot if you ask me. And those apples and oranges … and lemons and mangoes and grapes, etc., weren’t locally grown.

My grocery store sells what I’ll call “industrial organic,” foods grown in large, monocropped fields and shipped in from other states and even other countries. The price is always higher than conventional but a little better than my natural food store, probably because they can buy in bulk. They also have better turnover so it’s fresher.

The way organic food is marketed, I feel I should go out of my way to buy old, wilted kale and moldy sweet potatoes, albeit organic. It’s good for the environment and good for my health. Should I? Given the cost – the price plus the driving around – that decision often makes itself. What about industrial organic? Just how organic is it? And what, exactly, is meant by “organic”? That term didn’t even exist when I was growing up. Was food just naturally organic back then? So many questions…

Here’s a report from the USDA that had some answers:
USDA: Guide For Organic Producers (pdf), Pamela Coleman, November 2012

Coleman says that organic farming began across Europe in the 1920s-1950s in response to increasing use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It gained traction a few years later here in the US:

The 1960s and 1970s brought more visibility to organic farming in the United States, as public concern over pesticide use increased.

Organic farming, known as humus farming when it began, was about “feeding the soil”:

Humus farming was typified by mixed farms that included livestock, food crops, feed crops, and green manures. Humus farming made little or no use of soluble commercial fertilizers or pesticides, in part because the health of the soil rendered them unnecessary.

Organic farms grew in both size and number during the 1980s. But farming practices varied among farms. That gave rise to third-party certifiers. But since some certifiers didn’t accept the certification of other certifiers, Congress stepped in to create national standards with the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 1990. It wasn’t until 1995 that the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP)/National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) defined organic agriculture. I think this is the most recent definition:

In 2002, the NOP defined organic agriculture: “Organic production [is] a production system that…respond[s] to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biological diversity”

That definition only describes the mere 1-2% of crop production that’s organic.

CAFOManureIowa

Cattle yard in northern Iowa in winter. Manure from CAFOs may be used in organic farming. – Wikipedia

Anyway … Look at those verbs … foster, promote, conserve. There’s a lot of grey area there. What about specifics? Does the USDA allow synthetic pesticides in organic farming? (They say synthetic fertilizers are prohibited.) In fact, it does. And a whole lot more that I would never think would be used in organic farming, like…

Manures from conventional systems are allowed in organic production, including manure from livestock grown in confinement and from those that have been fed genetically engineered feeds. Manure sources containing excessive levels of pesticides, heavy metals, or other contaminants may be prohibited from use. Such contamination is likely present in manure obtained from industrial-scale feedlots and other confinement facilities.

Herbicide residues have been found in manures and manure-based composts.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is the most widely used herbicide in conventional farming. And there it is in manure used to grow organic produce.

Raw, uncomposted manure contains bacteria and other pathogens that are harmful to humans, other animals, and plants. This report says raw, uncomposted manure can be used if it is:

1. Incorporated into the soil a minimum of 120 days prior to harvest when the edible portion of the crop has soil contact; OR
2. Incorporated into the soil a minimum of 90 days prior to harvest of all other food crops.

But! You can do away with those 90- and 120-day restrictions by composting that manure, a process that requires the temperature be held at 131-170 °F for 3 days when a “static-aerated-pile system is used.” You can get it down to an hour by processing it:

To be considered processed, the manure must be heated to 150 °F for 1 hour and dried to 12 percent moisture or less.

Heating manure doesn’t do away with contaminants like lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, pesticides, herbicides (as we saw above), pharmaceutical drugs, and other environmental pollutants, many of which, like BPA and phthalates, act as endocrine disruptors. It might break them down, but the metabolites can be just as harmful. Heating just kills microorganisms.

So, maybe the soil isn’t what I imagined it to be. What about the seeds and other planting stock like roots and cuttings? Organic? Not necessarily:

When an equivalent organic variety is not commercially available, conventionally grown seed may be used.

That term “commercially available” gives organic farmers flexibility, but can be a loophole for unethical producers. If the farmer thinks that commercially available organic seed is substandard, say, has low germination rates, he can reject it for lower-cost, higher-yielding conventional seed. That conventional seed isn’t allowed to be of GMO stock. However, as more crops become GMO, there is a greater chance for contamination of non-GMO crops. And there is a lot more GMO out there:

GM crops that are now being planted or will soon be available include alfalfa, beets, corn, soybeans, papaya, plum, rapeseed, tobacco, potato, tomato, squash, cotton, and rice.

Pollen from GM crops has been contaminating organic crops with increasing frequency.

So, there is an added cost to the farmer to research the history of seed (or have someone do this) and document its non-GMO status. Some companies that provide organic seed have taken the Safe Seed Pledge, which says in part:

We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds.

I’m really surprised to see that in a USDA document!

Cover crop seeds should be organic too, but:

If a nearby neighbor grows conventional cover crop seeds and you wish to plant them because they are locally adapted, you may claim that organic seeds of that variety are not commercially available.

So you may lie?

Seedlings should be organic too, but:

A variance to use conventional seedlings to grow an organic crop may be granted only if the original transplants were destroyed through “…drought, wind, flood, excessive moisture, hail, tornado, earthquake, fire or other business interruption…”

Plantings (like garlic and potatoes) should be organic too, but:

At the time of this writing (November 2012), many plant varieties are not commercially available in sufficient quantity, which may require the use of nonorganic planting stock.

You aren’t allowed to treat your organic plants with “prohibited substances” but:

Treatment with prohibited substances is allowed when the application of those substances is a requirement of Federal or State phytosanitary regulations. For example, strawberry crowns may be required to be treated with fungicides prior to interstate shipments.

DroneSprayingCrops2

Drones spraying crops.

And there’s a whole lot of synthetic pesticides* and other substances that are allowed:

Synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production: … The list includes algaecides, disinfectants, sanitizers, irrigation system cleaners, herbicides, animal repellents, insecticides, miticides, pheromones, rodenticides, slug baits, plant disease controls, soil amendments, and plant growth regulators.

Compare that list to the description of the original organic or humus farm up top:

Humus farming made little or no use of soluble commercial fertilizers or pesticides.

Also:

The USDA organic regulations have very little to say about irrigation and irrigation water quality.

Water treatment plants have a hard enough time keeping cattle growth hormones and pharmaceutical drugs out of our drinking water. I imagine water used for irrigation is a step below tap water in priorities. Ultimately, it’s up to the farmer to care, to make sure water that quenches his crops is clean.

One last point. It says that farmers are exempt from these rules if they sell less than $5,000 of organic produce per year. So, a small local farmer might be selling organic produce that’s grown with more rigorous standards than USDA’s, or less rigorous. Farmers’ market produce could be even more laden with chemicals than conventional. You don’t really know.

Do you see whats going on here? I get the sense that industry had input in these regulations; there are so many loopholes, so many places where an unscrupulous grower could use lower-cost, less-than-organic methods, and still sell for a premium organic price.

Something else … If this is how we’re growing organic, how are we growing conventional? This report, and some other USDA websites said organic farmers should not use “sewage sludge.” As if? I mean, is that the convention?

What I learned from this is that food labeled “organic” is not chemical-free, not by a long shot. Perhaps this Is what should be expected as we scale up organic production, as we industrialize it.

* Organic pesticides also carry risk:
Organic Pesticides: Not An Oxymoron, NPR, June 2011
Are Lower Pesticide Residues A Good Reason To Buy Organic? Probably Not., Scientific American, September 2012

BPA Exposure Of The Placenta Could Affect Fetal Brain Development

BPA exposure of the placenta could affect fetal brain development, Science Daily, 12 January 2022

BPA is just 1 of the 350,000 synthetic chemicals floating around the planet. Only a tiny fraction of these have been assessed for safety.

The pace that societies are producing and releasing new chemicals into the environment is not consistent with staying within a safe operating space for humanity.
Study: Chemical Pollution Has Passed Safe Limit For Humanity

Body Burden: The Pollution In People

In 2001, journalist Bill Moyers had a sample of his blood and urine analyzed.

Even though Moyers has never worked in a chemical plant – or lived near one – he learned that his body contains a chemical soup of 84 industrial chemicals, including 31 different types of PCBs, 13 different dioxins, and pesticides such as DDT.

Moyers chronicled the story of how and why his body became riddled with toxic chemicals in the PBS program Trade Secrets, A Moyers Report.
Here’s the accompanying video: Moyers’ 2-hour Program: Trade Secrets.

Over the last five decades, more than 75,000 chemicals have been produced, turned into consumer products or released into the environment. … Only a fraction have gone through complete testing to find out whether they might cause problems for human health. Many that are produced in enormous quantities have never been tested at all.

Today, every man, woman and child has synthetic chemicals in their bodies. No child is born free of them.

That was 20 years ago. There are now 350,000 chemicals, 70,000 produced in just the last ten years.

In his 2012 New York Times’ article, Big Chem, Big Harm?, Nicholas Kristof concluded:

Like a lot of Americans, I used to be skeptical of risks from chemicals like endocrine disruptors that are all around us. What could be safer than canned food? I figured that opposition came from tree-hugging Luddites prone to conspiracy theories.

Yet, a few years ago, I began to read the peer-reviewed journal articles, and it became obvious that the opposition to endocrine disruptors is led by toxicologists, endocrinologists, urologists and pediatricians. These are serious scientists, yet they don’t often have the ear of politicians or journalists.

So, 11 years after Moyers’ exposé, the New York Times was still allowing one of its columnists to refer to people who cared about endocrine disruptors and carcinogens as “tree-hugging Luddites prone to conspiracy theories.” We’re now 20 years on and not much has changed. Why?

The Hut Of The Bowerbird

This 2013 photo by Lars Petersson shows the structure built by a Vogelkop bowerbird, a cone-shaped hut where decorations are collected and artistically arranged. In Papua, New Guinea, Indonesia. Source: eBird.org
@RainMaker1973

A Vogelkop Bowerbird:

Wikipedia:

The bower is a cone-shaped hut-like structure some 100 cm high and 160 cm in diameter, with an entrance usually propped up by two column-like sticks. A front “lawn” of some square meters area is cleaned of debris and laid out with moss. On this, and in the entrance of the bower, decorations such as colourful flowers or fruit, shining beetle elytra, dead leaves and other conspicuous objects are collected and artistically arranged.

Males go to great lengths to ensure that their displays are in prime condition, replacing old items as needed, as well as trying to outdo their neighbours by finding more spectacular decorations, and arranging them appropriately. As opposed to other species of bowerbirds, such as the satin bowerbird, there is no fixed preference for items of a certain colour, more important being the “novelty value” of the items instead, which can lead to fashion-like trends if males find rare or unusual items; such rare finds are prime targets for theft by neighboring males. Females visit bowers and, depending on whether they like the “treasure trove” on display, will mate with the attendant males. The bower, indeed the male, play no part in nesting and raising the young.

Kempner’s 1940’s Rice Diet: Improved Kidney Function, Weight Loss, Lowered Blood Pressure

What would happen if you fed people only white rice, fruit, juice, and sugar? At up to 2400 calories a day? Would they gain weight, lose weight, or stay the same?

This is what happened when, in the 1940’s, doctor Walter Kempner began feeding his patients a rice diet:

KempnerRiceDiet2

His initial intention was to feed patients who had advanced renal disease with a diet that would lessen the amount of filtering the kidneys had to do. The diet would reduce nitrogen (from dietary protein), sodium (from salt), etc. White rice fit the bill since it was low in protein and fat while providing all the essential amino acids, and it was widely available. The diet was a success.1

The refugee with the strong German accent explained his ideas about renal failure to his skeptical medical students. “The problem with renal failure is the resultant metabolic dysfunction. The kidneys excrete waste products, amino acids, keto-acid metabolites, hydrogen ions, the salt that is eaten, and all these things are the result of what the people are eating. Theoretically, we should be able to make them better by reducing the amount of work the kidneys have to do. Namely, we could radically alter the patients’ diets and thereby save lives.” The (Duke University) students challenged the Herr Professor. “Sounds cool but prove it!” And so he did. The ideas behind this gallant hypothesis were not that novel. Others had prescribed various similar ideas about reducing renal work by modifying the diet, particularly in terms of sodium content. However, they had not been that successful in sending the kidneys on vacation. Kempner introduced the first comprehensive (global) dietary program to treat chronic renal disease. By doing so, he revolutionized not only that disease but also the treatment of hypertension, obesity, and a host of other disorders.

It was by accident that he discovered the diet could do a lot more than treat kidney disease: 2

A major breakthrough occurred by accident in 1942 when one of Dr. Kempner’s patients, a 33-year-old North Carolina woman with chronic glomerulonephritis (kidney disease) and papilledema (eye disease) failed to follow his instructions. Because of Dr. Kempner’s heavy German accent she misunderstood his instructions to return in two weeks, and after two months, she finally returned, with no signs of deficiency, but rather with robust health. The woman had experienced a dramatic reduction of her blood pressure, from 190/120 to 124/84 mmHg, resolution of eye damage (retinal hemorrhages and papilledema), and a noticeable decrease in heart size.

Rice, fruit, and sugar really was all they were eating. This was not just a diet to which lots of rice was added. It was a diet very low in protein, fat, and sodium: 2

KempnerRiceDiet4

  • Dry rice of 250 to 350 grams daily forms the basis of the diet. Any kind of rice is used as long as it contains no milk or salt. The rice is boiled or steamed in plain water or fruit juice, without salt, milk or fat. (One cup of dry white rice weighs about 200 grams, and contains about 13 grams of protein, 150 grams of carbohydrate, 1 gram of fat, and 700 calories.)
  • Fruit and fruit juices are allowed.
  • Dried fruits can be used as long as nothing but sugar has been added.
  • White sugar may be used as desired (ad libitum); on average a patient takes in about 100 grams daily (400 calories) but, if necessary (to maintain body weight), as much as 500 grams (2000 calories) daily has been used.
  • The nutrient breakdown is about 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day (depending on the patient’s body weight): 95% carbohydrate, 4 to 5% protein (20 to 25 grams), 2 to 3% fat (rice is relatively high in the essential fat linoleic acid), 140 milligrams of calcium, and 150 milligrams of sodium daily.

These photos of a retina that show reversal of diabetic retinopathy (bleeding/hemorrhages and leaking/exudates from blood vessels) are nothing short of remarkable:3

KempnerRiceDiet3

And this: 2

His numbers also showed how a high-carbohydrate diet improved blood sugars and often cured type-2 diabetes.

A diet of essentially all refined carbohydrate – white rice and white sugar – often cured type 2 diabetes. Why is this knowledge being lost on us? How did it come to pass that high-fat, meat-based diets reign? Because there’s little money to be made in telling people to eat rice? 3

In the 1950s, diuretics were introduced for the management of high blood pressure. And still later the direct application of Kempner’s dietary regimen diminished as a large array of blood pressure medications — Beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin antagonists, and calcium channel blockers — became available for the management of hypertension. Kempner could take solace in knowing, nevertheless, that his regimen could provide comparable, if not better, results.

1 Who And What Drove Walter Kempner? The Rice Diet Revisited, Hypertension, October 2014
2 Walter Kempner, MD – Founder Of The Rice Diet, McDougall Newsletter, December 2013
3 Fifty-year Anniversary: Reversal of Diabetic Retinopathy With Rice Diet, Retinal Physician, 2008

Dietary Treatment Of Hypertension. Clinical And Metabolic Studies of Patients On The Rice-Fruit Diet, Journal of Clinical Investigation, September 1950
Treatment of Massive Obesity With Rice/Reduction Diet Program, An Analysis of 106 Patients With at Least a 45-kg Weight Loss, JAMA Internal Medicine, December 1975

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This was a revisit of my post in 2014.

Some people ate up to 2000 calories a day in pure white sugar. And they lost weight. Today we tax sugar because it’s thought to be an obesity-driver. It’s not. But that’s what happens when corporations influence our diets. If there are any foods we should be taxing (I do not believe in taxing food) it should be the foods Kempner’s patients ate before they started eating sugar.

What makes people gain weight? When they eat fat along with sugar. A doughnut is very different from a bowl of rice.

The Harmful Effects Of Chemicals Surpasses That Of Climate Change?

The diagram below depicts:

… nine planetary boundaries that have led to a stable Earth for the last 10,000 years. These include greenhouse gas emissions, the ozone layer, forests, freshwater and biodiversity.”

I am struck at the impact of “novel entities” which are “manufactured chemicals and plastics that do not appear naturally in large quantities and have the potential to disrupt Earth’s systems.” They outpace just about every other risk to the health of the planet, including climate change.

Here are a few more bits from that EcoWatch article:

  • There has been a 50-fold increase in the production of chemicals since 1950. This is projected to triple again by 2050.
  • The researchers concluded that the boundary had been breached because production and release of plastics and other chemicals now surpasses the ability of governments to assess and monitor these pollutants.
  • There are around 350,000 different types of manufactured chemicals on the global market, with almost 70,000 introduced in the last decade. Among them are plastics, pesticides, industrial chemicals and pharmaceutical products.
  • [Plastics] now weigh more than double the mass of living animals and around 80 percent of all the plastics ever produced persist in the environment.
  • Plastics are made up of more than 10,000 other chemicals that can enter the environment in new combinations when they degrade.

Imagine the chemicals children today will be exposed to … from conception. 70,000 new chemicals in just the last 10 years. The pace! So many that governments have now lost the ability to assess them. How did it get so bad?

Study: Chemical Pollution Has Passed Safe Limit For Humanity

We can eat as much kale as our palates can withstand but if it’s grown in chemicalized soil, doused with chemical rain and chemical irrigation, breathing chemical air as its tiny leaves unfurl, sprayed with chemicals, rinsed in chemical water, wrapped in plastics, exposed to car and truck exhaust on its way to a fume-laden loading dock, handled with plastic gloves, carried home in more plastic, and cooked in tainted water, well, how good is it for us?

There is no such thing as clean or pristine food. Organic food breathes the same air and drinks the same water as non-organic food. We have chemicalized the environment; our diets have been chemicalized.

Chemical Pollution Has Passed Safe Limit For Humanity, Say Scientists, The Guardian, 18 January 2022

The cocktail of chemical pollution that pervades the planet now threatens the stability of global ecosystems upon which humanity depends, scientists have said.

Plastics are of particularly high concern, they said, along with 350,000 synthetic chemicals including pesticides, industrial compounds and antibiotics. Plastic pollution is now found from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans, and some toxic chemicals, such as PCBs, are long-lasting and widespread.

Chemical pollution threatens Earth’s systems by damaging the biological and physical processes that underpin all life. For example, pesticides wipe out many non-target insects, which are fundamental to all ecosystems and, therefore, to the provision of clean air, water and food.

There has been a fiftyfold increase in the production of chemicals since 1950 and this is projected to triple again by 2050,” said Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez, a PhD candidate and research assistant at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) who was part of the study team. “The pace that societies are producing and releasing new chemicals into the environment is not consistent with staying within a safe operating space for humanity.”

Determining whether chemical pollution has crossed a planetary boundary is complex because there is no pre-human baseline, unlike with the climate crisis and the pre-industrial level of CO2 in the atmosphere. There are also a huge number of chemical compounds registered for use – about 350,000 – and only a tiny fraction of these have been assessed for safety.

“There’s evidence that things are pointing in the wrong direction every step of the way,” said Prof Bethanie Carney Almroth at the University of Gothenburg who was part of the team. “For example, the total mass of plastics now exceeds the total mass of all living mammals.”

The researchers said stronger regulation was needed and in the future a fixed cap on chemical production and release, in the same way carbon targets aim to end greenhouse gas emissions. Their study was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.*

Prof Sir Ian Boyd at the University of St Andrews, who was not part of the study, said: “The rise of the chemical burden in the environment is diffuse and insidious. Even if the toxic effects of individual chemicals can be hard to detect, this does not mean that the aggregate effect is likely to be insignificant.

The food we’re eating right now is going to be considered “clean” 50 years from now. Our descendants will long for the good ole days when people (us) enjoyed their chemicalized kale that was grown in SOIL.

* Outside the Safe Operating Space of the Planetary Boundary for Novel Entities, Environmental Science and Technology, 18 Janaury 2022