[NAFEX] chemical vs organic

Mark Angermayer hangermayer at isp.com
Fri Jun 12 13:06:40 EDT 2009


I'm sure you'll draw some fire for this, but I guess, for my part, I'm not yet burned out on the topic, although like politics, I'm not foolish enough to think anyone's mind will be changed (expect perhaps those on the fence). I think your analysis is interesting.  After participating in multiple posts on this issue, and reading many more in the archives.  I've summarized the thinking of both sides below.  I tried to be fair, even though my own opinion is in support of modern chemistry.  I'm sorry, but I see nature (and the universe in general) as not nice, and generally works against one's goals of survival.  Here is how I see both sides:

Organic says,"How can petroleum sustain modern agriculture?"  Conventional says, "How can organic sustain a people?"

Conventional says,"Modern agriculture is more efficient."  Organic says, "Define efficient."

Organic says, "Agriculture is poisoning food, people and the environment."  Conventional says, "Technology is advancing.  Chemicals are becoming safer for people and the environment and targeted toward specific pests."  Organic replies, "We've heard that old saw before."

Conventional says, "Organic is more labor intensive and would therefore require a larger percentage of the population to farm."  Organic responds, "What's wrong with that."  Conventional replies, "More labor equals more costly food for everyone, including the poor."

Organic says, "Modern agriculture burns up a fixed amount of fossil fuels and contributes to greenhouse gases."  Conventional says, "Agriculture is unfairly scrutinized on this point.  Every modern industry is energy intensive.  Watch any show on how things are manufactured, on the Modern Marvels channel, and you will recognize everything is made trading energy for labor.  Everything from houses, down to shoelaces, down to he transportation to get the goods there."  Organic replies, "We do not necessarily approve of those practices either.  Additionally these are not black and white issues.  Compromises are a part of life.  There are shades of gray."

Conventional says,"Organically grown food simply can't be grown in many locations."  Organic says, "Some things can be grown organically in every location.  The problem is people want to grow things not suited to their location.  Additionally, organic technology is improving to make it easier in all locations."  Conventional responds, "Chemical technology will also continue to improve making chemicals safer, and more targeted to specific pests.  Dry locations are more suited to organics, but those locations generally must use supplemental water, which is expensive, and a valuable resource in those locations.  Stuff that can be grown organically in wetter climates (some minor fruits) doesn't taste that good to me.  Some organic folks will eat grass and like it.

Organic says, "Your standards for perfect fruit are too high.  A little cosmetic damage never hurt anyone.  Cut out the wormy half of the apple and eat the good."  Conventional says,  "It's more than just cosmetic here.  The fruit is unusable, it doesn't ripen properly with worm damage."  Organic replies, "Then grow things like persimmon and pawpaw.  At least you won't be eating dangerous chemicals."  Conventional responds, "Not all synthetic chemicals are equally dangerous.  There are shades of gray."

Organic says, "Because organically grown food uses natural fertilizer and has more soil microbes, it tastes better, and is more nutritious."  Conventional says, "It's not organic that makes it taste better, but that it's locally grown.  Local conventionally grown food tastes just as good, and perhaps better since there some varieties taste outstanding but can't be grown organically."

Organic says, "The problem with conventional is monoculture.  Plant a diversity and you won't have the pest pressure."  Conventional responds, "When everyone in town has a diversified garden, it  essentially becomes like a monoculture.  When there's a paw paw tree in every yard, the swallow tail butterfly larvae, or some new pest will eventually become a problem."

"And the band played on"
The Temptations - Ball of Confusion


  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Kieran &/or Donna 
  To: North American Fruit Explorers 
  Sent: Friday, June 12, 2009 11:13 AM
  Subject: Re: [NAFEX] chemical vs organic

  Someone, I think it was Fluffy or maybe Alan who said organic people are "unscientific".   That's not entirely true.  Most of us are simply naive idealists who really believe that God or Nature is benign and nice.  We have read that if we just improve our soil enough, that the bugs and disease will go away.  That generally seems to hold true for truck crops.  I haven't seen a bean beetle in years.  Fruit trees seem much harder to deal with.  The borer for every species thing doesn't help.  The curculio seem to have developed the perfect system, simply ruin all the fruit for any other creature but let a few fruits hang on long enough to make a few seeds for the trees to reproduce. Codling moths aren't nearly as efficient.  Someone asked me at work about what was eating the leaves on various species of veggies in her first ever garden.  Two of us were interrogating her, as she was obviously describing rabbit or deer damage.  the same bug does not attack all those species, and each one does it's own very specific thing.  The older men in the family had simply gone out and dusted Sevin to deal with all those other pests.  Here our worlds divide.  I adore bugs, except for the ones I hate with a passion.  I could never spray my garden with an insecticide, it would kill too many of my miniature wildlife.  ( I don't have to go on safari to Africa or even use binoculars to observe amazing creatures and great drama.  Try watching one of those special spider wasps in action.  You know, the blackish ones with the orange curly antennae.  Know what they use those antennae for?  They feel the spider very carefully with them to find the right spot to sting.  It's rather obscene to watch, esp as I am so fond of wolf spiders. )  I know a great deal about all kinds of bugs, including those that have no economic impact on me.  Tennessee oldtimers don't know these things, they kill everything with Sevin.  That is scientific?   I get a big kick out of explaining to oldtimers about why the blister beetles they hate so much are only a mixed curse, because their young feed on grasshopper eggs.  Once we got banties running loose eating grasshoppers, the blister beetles became rare.  
      Sevin is one of the 4 food groups in Tennessee.  Never mind that it is a neurotoxin that mammals can break down in their livers because they have an enzyme that insects don't have.  Never mind that this enzyme can be used up by repeated exposure or that certain medications can use it up.  Never mind the reports in Organic Gardening, that magazine for superstitious organic gardeners about how Sevin can last 40 days in the garden in certain conditions.  Never mind the final conclusion in the book A PLAGUE OF FROGS that it was the breakdown product of a pesticide that interfered with the thyroid function in the developing frogs and caused the limb deformities.  The researchers working with the pesticide itself did not get these results, giving the impression that it would not affect frogs.  Yes, there is also some kind of amphibian infection running around that can do this, but the Canadian researcher said flatly that in his years of sampling, that only farm ponds with lots of pesticides produced deformities.  Is it truly scientific to assume that chemicals don't break down into intermediate products out in Nature?  Some of us organic nuts are now bitter and twisted, having realised that the world consists mostly of creatures saying gimme.  We watch longingly the simple lives of chemical users, but are still only too aware that the miracle of modern chemistry is biting America's backside in the rates of cancer and other health problems.  
      This is not intended as an attack on anyone on this group, I am merely addressing the great divide in Nafex.  Never mind politics, we don't go to Nafex meetings and then immediately try to figure out whether we are talking to a Dem or Rep, we want to know if we are talking with someone who grows resistant stuff or who grows the best of everything and sprays.  Both groups start out naive, but one trusts the chemical companies and sprays, the other puts their faith in Nature and doesn't spray.  Both get rewards, but often the organic bunch have to do a whole lot more learning first.  Personally, I would love to see the concept of IPM agriculture blossom.  I would love to be able to buy IPM produce in my local grocery.  But somehow the concept has never gotten major attention among consumers and publications to consumers.  IPM is definitely the most scientific form of agriculture in my opinion.  It is based on the intersection of 3 realities, economic reality, and the knowlege of biology and chemistry.  
      I suppose this is the foundation for an article I have long wanted to write for Pomona but never could quite figure out how to approach.  The divide in Nafex between the organic and the chemical people is quite deep.  People have their minds as made up already as they did in the last election.  I soon discovered last year that I could only discuss politics with like minded people, that there were no discussions between sides, only arguments.  I think the divide is addressed by the Meyers-Briggs, Kiersey-Bates personality tests.  The division is between the 25% of the population who see the forest, and the 75% who see the trees.  Between the big picture and the details.  The big picture people think the detail people are idiots because they can't grasp the implications of what they do.  The detail people think the big picture people are idiots because they are vague.  For the extremes of either type, there is sudden glazing over of the eyes when forced to converse with someone of the other brain type.  I have watched it happen, I have experienced it myself.  My husband once endured an excruciating conversation between a brother and BIL of mine, 15 full minutes regarding a scratch on a car and what to do about it.  Our attitude is, the car is transportation, a scratch means nothing to that purpose.  To detail people, a scratch is a very real thing.  
       For the purposes of this discussion, ask yourself which type you are, and would you please report in which type you are and whether you think organic gardening is stupid  and chemicals are fine.  Remember there are people in the middle, more versatile people than the ones at the ends of the spectrum.  If you are in the middle, what is your opinion re chemicals, in 25 words or less?   Thank you.  Any input regarding an article for Pomona on this subject would be very much appreciated.  A group effort will produce a better balanced article.  Some details, some theory, something for everyone.    Donna 


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