Michael Pollan (The Way We Live Now, June 4) gets it right when he writes that organic agriculture's future production will be outsourced to countries where it is cheaper to grow crops without chemical inputs. The reason growing organic crops is cheaper in other countries is the availability of workers at cheap wages to pull weeds by hand out of crop fields. Pollan suggests that tens of thousands of organic corn acres would be required to meet the needs of a world thirsty for corn syrup. He's wrong there. Tens of millions of acres would be required. A vast expansion in organic acreage will sentence millions of low-paid workers around the world to a life of drudgery pulling weeds so that Americans can sip an organic drink. Seventy years ago, almost a quarter of the U.S. population lived on farms and millions of people hoed weeds all summer. Thanks to herbicides like atrazine, those days are long gone. In the U.S., chemical herbicides do the work of 30 million laborers. Without a vast infusion of migrant workers and a significant lowering of the wage rate, growing crops with organic methods has a very limited future in the U.S.Questions? How about the atrazine? Who's making it? And where does it go after it's sprayed on crops? Does anyone care about the workers who will also inevitably get sprayed? Also, read this excellent article in the Washington Post on how atrazine was causing (remember?) all those Frankenfrogs with the mixed-up gonads and how it's carcinogenic in rats and men who worked in the Atrazine factories had higher levels of prostate cancer than other men in the state (at least they weren't out in the clean dirt pulling weeds!), and, oh, it's been banned in Europe for all those reasons.
Director, Crop Protection
Another thing to keep in mind: more and more studies are showing that growing food without pesticides makes the plants healthier and therefore more nutritious, i.e., when they don't have to fight off pests, the plants get lazy and fat. Gerry Potter, a researcher at Leicester's De Montfort University, and his team are close to finding a treatment for cancer that works by using a compound to activate one of the body's OWN enzymes to eat up the tumor (see "Cancer Drug Raises Hope for Cure" on the BBC). What's interesting is that this compound naturally occurs in ripe ORGANIC fruits and vegetables, it's a phytoestrogen called a salvestrol. The plant, as ripening nears, produces salvestrols to protect itself from fungus, and if we eat these plants intact, they get to work on fungus-like diseases in our own bodies, including cancer cells. If the plants are artificially ripened, we don't get squat, just like you don't get omega-3s from farm-raised fish.
So...the irony is, we'll have to use these plant sterols that the pesticide wipes out in order to fight the cancer that the pesticides will eventually give us.
Today's NYTimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/18/magazine/18letters.html?_r=1&oref=slogin and as usual, feel free to use my account:
secret clue: soylent green