Yucky and risky! Foods fertilized by manure-spread
July 7, 2000
by Dennis T. Avery
Knight Ridder/Tribune July 2, 2000
CHURCHVILLE, Va. - The Department of Agriculture is about to offer an official government seal for organic foods. Here's my suggestion for the warning label:
"Even though you being asked to pay a far higher price for this organic food, it has absolutely no demonstrated nutritional advantages over mainstream foods.
"This organic food was probably fertilized with animal manure containing dangerous pathogens. Be especially worried about the virulent E. coli O157:H7, found mainly in cattle manure. The manure may have been composted, but the recommended interval between application and harvest is 38 months for sewage sludge and 60 days for 'animal sludge.'
"This organic food was grown with all-natural pesticides, such as copper sulfate _ broadly and persistently toxic to humans and animals - and sulfur - a persistent soil contaminant.
"The 'natural' pyrethrum insecticide required African women and children to hand-pick millions of toxic pyrethrum flowers to earn pitiful wages under the fierce African sun.
"The limited ability of organic farmers to protect their crops from fungi, rodent and insect damage means this organic food is more likely to be infested with dangerous natural toxins such as aflatoxin, ergot and fumonisin. Aflatoxin is one of the most violent cancer agents ever discovered. Ergot is hallucinogenic, and at high levels of exposure can cause internal gangrene.
"This organic food is a threat to the world's wildlife. It took nearly twice as much land to grow it as mainstream foods, mainly because organic farmers refuse to fertilizer their crops with nitrogen taken from the air - which is 78 percent nitrogen.
"In short, organic foods offer more danger for both your family and the environment. You should purchase mainstream foods instead, and achieve a higher level of self-worth by donating the difference to a good local charity - along with some of your time."
What are my sources for this surprising information? Kathy di Matteo, executive director of the U.S. Organic Trade Association was asked by John Stossel of ABC News on "20/20" this February, whether organic food was more nutritious. She answered, "Organic food is as nutritious as any other." (She said it twice.) She also said that food safety is "not what organic food standards are about."
Animal manure is a risk on food crops, even if it's composted, according to a letter from Dr. Robert Tauxe of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on June 4, 1997.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says America has about one-fourth of the organic nitrogen that would be needed to grow our current crop output organically. The rest of the world has an even greater shortage of organic nitrogen.
How would organic farmers replace 80 million tons of chemical nitrogen? By clearing millions of acres of forest to grow "green" manure crops _ or to pasture more cattle, so we could put more dangerous pathogens on our food crops.
If the whole world grows its food organically, my peer-reviewed estimates say we might need 36 million miles of cropland by 2050, instead of the 6 million square miles we currently use.
In that case, we would have no room on the planet for wildlife habitat. Even with biotech crops the 6 million square acres we now plant might still not be enough in 2050.
So for your own safety and the planet's as well, think before you eat!
Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.