Thursday, April 27, 2017

Musings: Pushing Organics

It's troubling to see Kauai Dr. Lee Evslin use his column in the local newspaper to promote organic food as inherently more pure than its conventional counterpart, and some sort of silver bullet for attaining good health.

In this case, he's advancing the idea that various chemicals known as endocrine disrupters are responsible for everything from America's obesity epidemic and slow sperm to ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease in children. And, as he intones, “the same suspects are on the list: pesticides, flame-retardants, plasticizers and cosmetics.”

Though Evslin admits that he's talking about “a new scientific theory,” which means it's not yet proven, he has no problem offering a dangerously simplistic “bottom line” solution to what ails us: “Store your food in glass containers, stop buying water in plastic bottles and eat organic whenever possible.”

Evslin totally glosses over all the non-food sources of pesticides, including treatments for home and garden pests, pet flea and tick products and even water, which is treated with chlorine, a restricted use pesticide.

What's more, he fails to understand that organic food also is packaged in plastic, grown using pesticides and carries pesticide residues. But in any case, according to the US Department ofAgriculture, these residues are considered holistically and present no cause for concern:

The PDP data show, overall, that pesticide residues on foods tested are at levels below the tolerances established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and pose no safety concern.

EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] makes a safety evaluation for pesticides considering all possible routes of exposure through food, water, and home environments when setting the maximum residue (tolerance) level of pesticide that can remain in or on foods.

EPA is required to periodically re-evaluate pesticide registrations and tolerances to ensure that the scientific data remain up to date.

Evslin also seems to be unaware that pest-resistant GMO crops, which cannot be labeled organic under USDA standards, are actually working to minimize pesticide use. One compelling example is Bt eggplant, which has enabled farmers in Bangladesh to reduce their pesticide applications by 80 percent.

I want to believe that Evslin is well-intentioned. Sadly, he is not well-informed. Every time a well-fed, well-heeled Westerner starts beating the organic drum, he is helping to close the door to GM technology that is working to address environmental issues and help hungry people in developing nations to achieve food security. Though Evslin no doubt can afford the high price of organics, he seems to have forgotten that many of his own neighbors are struggling to feed their families. The last thing they need is some short-sighted doctor guilt tripping them for not buying organic.

Meanwhile, a number of organic certificates used on both domestic and imported products — primarily from China and Africa — are fraudulent, according to the USDA.

Evslin also likes to throw stuff out there without any citations, so the curious and/or critical are unable to check his apparently dubious sources. A case is point is his claim that “Glyphosate is patented as an antibiotic and as an herbicide and has been shown to affect our intestinal bacteria.”

GMO Answers has an interesting segment on why Monsanto pursued that patent, while noting “to date, nobody has demonstrated that glyphosate is an effective antimicrobial agent for treating human or animal infections.” It's really quite specious for Evslin to make that particular assertion.

If Evslin plans to keep inserting himself into the conversation about food and pesticides, he really needs to be more thorough in his research and careful with his facts. That is, if he wants to be taken seriously, which I'm sure he does.

On a related topic, I noticed anti-GMO acivist Jeri DiPietro, who presides over the group Hawaii SEED, advocating in a newspaper article for “the precautionary principle,” which The Garden Island defines as “an approach to risk management that requires proponents of an activity to prove its safety in the absence of a scientific consensus.”

Jeri's complete rejection of the scientific consensus in support of GMO food safety aside, there are several problems with the precautionary principle, as I learned with attending the American Academy for the Advancement of Science meeting earlier this year. As Gary Marchant, an Arizona State University professor and expert on the legal issues around genetic engineering, noted:

There has always been a degree of precaution in regulations. To make the precautionary principle the regulatory standard, it has to be quantified legally, which requires a very detailed definition. But it's never been properly defined and all efforts to do that have failed, even in Europe. So we have these very vague definitions of precaution being used in absurd and inconsistent ways.

Speaking of absurd, it's never been more cool to make like you're a farmer or blue collar worker — just wear the $425 jeans and forego the actual dirty work!
And finally, I'll leave you with this video montage showing some of the March for Science events around the world, starting with little Kauai. Gosh, who knew supporting science could be such fun?!


Anonymous said...

Did you get a chance to read this in today's Garden Island?

It was pretty interesting

Anonymous said...

Rat lungworm

The epidemiologist also suspects the popularity of eating organic.

“A lot of people are going for organic produce. And fruits and vegetables. I think the lack of pesticides on these crops are just an invitation for insects. Like… here’s lunch! When you buy these products, we have to be careful.”

Anonymous said...

Some people are so dumb they believe anything a doctor says.

Bill Wilder said...

These doctors are not some kind of God. This guy graduated so long ago from medical school that he must know that all pesticides they use on food are proven safe for human consumption. They won't feed you anything bad or cancer causing. You need to stay alive so you can buy stuff.

Anonymous said...

Guess that organic farming as defined by the USDA is not known by the general public. As defined, no synthetic fertilizers and pesticides may be used in production. However, the alleged "natural" products may be more harmful than that used in conventional farming.

Additionally, the antis have a problem with their "precautionary or zero tolerance" principle. If they truly believe, it would be manifested in their behavior - no driving, one could be killed or kill someone while polluting the environment. No chemical usage in daily life. Everything comes with a price. Balances are a part of life. The list is endless. Life is not always black or white - there is room for compromise.

Anonymous said...

4/27 @ 10:07 AM, very true, there have been many instances of doctors assuming their medical training and experience confers knowledge outside of their area of study. It's called arguing from authority; also look up Dunning-Kruger syndrome. I wouldn't go to someone with a Ph.D. in Plant Biology for medical treatment, so I don't think a medical doctor is necessarily knowledgeable about agricultural pest control.

But while you're at it, look up Dr. Steven Novella and read what he has to say about agricultural pesticides.

Anonymous said...

Pft, those muddy jeans are the wrong color...

Red dirt jeans might just == $$$

Anonymous said...

In a perfect world we wouldn't need pesticides, unfortunately, we're not quite there yet.

Anonymous said...

To 6:56 AM,

We're not quite there yet? I think we're forced to go in the opposite direction, especially if people continue to reject new technologies. I don't know about a perfect world but in a realistic world, we need tools like GMOs and pesticides, to help eliminate or at least control the many pest species, and the diseases they carry, that are making their way here from all over the world and threaten to destroy native habitat (including our watersheds), eliminate native species, make farming impossible, and greatly impact our health, economy, and way of life.

So many! Little Fire Ants, semi-slugs, snakes, miconia, coconut rhinoceros beetle, coffee berry borer....

Anonymous said...

@1:16 - More invasive species news! Curious to see if it is some uneducated natural beekeeper that is responsible for bringing American Foul Brood back into Beekeeping on Big Island, perhaps from contaminated equipment or illegal bee imports from the Mainland.

These vocal anti-everything supporters don't want to allow pesticides to manage pests, but won't adhere to biosecurity rules, thus bringing in more bad things out of wanton ignorance, because they think they know better.

Anonymous said...

State Epidemiologist Joe Elm has a job. That is to investigate and not speculate. Speculating that rat lung worm is "probably the result of an increase in consumption of organic produce" is irresponsible. There has been no trace back of these cases by the DOH to any source, except for the fools on the Big Island that drank last night's kava with slugs who crawled in over night. Yech!!

There is a very effective and relatively benign molluscicide that is approved for and used by organic farming. It is called Sluggo and it is a mineral, iron phosphate, that is target specific. Very effective. Very. There are, likewise, rodenticides that are toxic only to rodents...corn glute and Vitamin D3. Very effective. And allowed in Organic Production.

A previous segment of this blog pointed to use of rotenone by organic farmers. Rotenone has been prohibited in certified organic farming since NOP came into being in 2002.

Do organic farmers use pesticides? Oh, yes, they do. These pesticides are vetted by the same USDA, and then an additional layer of vetting by the NOSB. And another independent vetting by OMRI or Washington State University or by independent organic certifiers. Some of these OG pesticides are produced by the same manufacturers that produce RUP. Many conventional farmers choose these materials due to their low toxicity for handlers and the environment and for their efficacy.

Manuahi said...

Organic has never meant "safe". It only Sadly, so many people don't seem to get that. Good marketing pays off.

Anonymous said...

This is so frustratingly true.

Anonymous said...

Conventional has never meant "safe". It only means "not organic." Happily, there is a growing segment of society that does seem to get that.

Anonymous said...

April 29, 2017 at 2:44 PM said "Conventional has never meant "safe". It only means "not organic." Happily, there is a growing segment of society that does seem to get that."

Only a well fed product of a Western nation with advanced agricultural practices and distribution systems could be so casually dismissive of the many of the world's population whose meager diet is the result of "organic" agricultural practices and be happy about it. Your segment of "society" is small segment of mankind, Bozo.

Anonymous said...

Remember that organic is only 4% of the market share. If it maintains its current growth curve, it'll be 8% in another 20-30 years.

Anonymous said...

Thank you commenters 6:16 AM and 10:55 AM.

I wanted to comment on the remarks of 2:44 PM but was too disgusted by the cluelessness.
You replied perfectly.

Anonymous said...

It is all about distribution.
Most hunger in the world is caused by governments not allowing food to be transported, extortion fees for politicians and police etc.
Shucks. Even on Kauai there is a BS system on who can sell, where can sell. It is the governments that make it difficult. (Of course there is that weather, bugs, disease and labor thing too)

Kauai organic Ag is essentially subsidized. Expensive land being purchased for a million per homesite and then a few thousand dollahs of income for kale or goat cheese per year to be a feel like a farmer. Collective guilt and a return to Walden Pond and Peace March ethos of these 65 year olds that have retired here. Paradise Found.
Politics is changing and these new-agers will soon be able to elect any Fistee they want. No ties to the community or history.
Locals, need not apply.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I do not want to eat fruits or vegetables that have insecticide/herbicide residues.

What I am concerned with is the nutrient value of the soil.

Fruits and vege's devoid of nutrients is a major problem with so-called "conventional" farming practices.

Who do you assholes work for anyway?

Anonymous said...

There is no difference in the nutritional value of conventionally and organically raised produce.

Anonymous said...

At 10:43 AM,

I am not concerned with the nutrient value of the soil. I don't eat soil.

Please provide citations from credible sources for your claim that "fruits and vege's devoid of nutrients is a major problem with so-called "conventional" farming practices." I don't think any exist.

Please also take a science class. The dose makes the poison. Eating a negligible amount of pesticide residue, if any, is far safer and smarter than not controlling pests effectively. Witness the current situation with Rat lungworm disease.

Anonymous said...

wow, 11 cases of rat lungworm!!! that's not a situation @12:33

Anonymous said...

more people have gotten sick from eating tacos than rat lungworm,are tacos a situation?

Unknown said...

Ya, those organic burritos from chipotle made a bunch of people sick too. It also caused their sales to slide over 40%. As for the "citation" you're looking for, you can find a link to those "studies" on mom's across America's web-site. I did my best to peer review their mistakes; but, they have Anthony Samsel and didn't give two sheets.

For those not familiar with Agronomy, let me point out the first major flaw. They talk about how much higher the nutrient levels in organically raised corn. IN fact, they posted a spreadsheet with the lab results. Now, the interesting thing about those results are they contain CEC concentrations for elements like Ca. Also, they have ph and buffer ph listed. Now, when you do an NRI analysis for nutrient content, you get percentages, in addition to ppm. In addition, they claim that this conventional corn had a buffer ph of like 5.4 and a ph of 6.3. ????? What's a buffer ph in a corn crop? Is a crop with that low of ph toxic? CEC? PPM for all the elements are way too low? Base saturations? What the hell, this is a soil, test, not a plant nutrient test. They're not even smart enough to tell the difference between a soil test, and a NRI crop nutrient test; but, they're doing ROUNDUP and GMO "research". After pointing out this flaw, would they correct this error? Hell, no!! They have tiny H2 to sell... (You really need to see the BS research on their web-site to understand how ignorant Zen Honeycutt is and how misinformed her followers have become. Their "research" makeGilles-Eric Seralini look credible.)

For those individuals that are fluent in Agronomy, feel free to skip this paragraph. Let start with a little basic Agronomy 141. The subject matter is soluble vs insoluble nutrients in the soil solution. Microbes in the soil mineralize insoluble nutrients into soluble nutrients. I.E., they can dissolve in water so plant roots can absorb them into the vascular system.

Since organic crops yield 2-4 times less than conventionally raised crops, they are going to extract 2-4 times less nutrients from the soil. So, soil test for conventionally raised crops are going to have lower soluble nutrient levels in the soil test than some organically raised crops. There is a simple solution for this problem. Simply buy some fertilizer to supplement the difference.

Now, bragging about having higher soluble nutrient levels in organic soil prior to harvest is actually a BAD THING. Ideally, a farmer wants those levels drained down to zero because those nutrients are subject to leaching into the ground water, or washing away in a rain storm. That's one of the reasons why good organic farmers (and conventional farmers) plant conversation cover crops after harvest. Those plants take up soluble nutrients and store them in organic matter till the next growing season. I do such a great job of providing balanced plant nutrition to my cash crop that I need to buy additional fertilizer for the following cover crop.

Unknown said...

There are plenty of organic and conventional farms with soil in terrible shape. Much of that has to due with farming methods and crop rotations used. Therefore, the only real benefit of organic is people that buy organic feel their product is superior, and it's worth paying extra money for that product. If that makes you, and your family, sleep better at night, then more power to you. The other 96% are going to spend less on food and feed the rest of the starving world. That make me sleep better at night. (That, and a couple of free warm beers.) IF you don't believe me, go over to my twitter page. You'll see pictures of bare soil after earthworms ate 270 bushel corn residue in under 3 weeks. That doesn't happen with unhealthy soil. I can raise 89 bushel soybeans with no fertilizer. I can raise 99 bushel beans by adding 10 lbs of P, a little N, Hydra humic acid and some S. I can raise a bushel of corn with only .8 lb of N, .05 lb of P and .035 of applied S.... Trust me, that's kick a$$. Plus, no 40% slide in sales from people getting sick from my product.