[NAFEX] chemical vs organic

Road's End Farm organic87 at frontiernet.net
Tue Jun 16 10:40:34 EDT 2009

On Jun 16, 2009, at 10:15 AM, <dmnorton at royaloakfarmorchard.com> wrote:

> The question is not organic vs. chemical or chemical vs. organic 
> since organic growers do use chemicals such as Bt.  

Every substance is chemical, which is why most organic growers use 
"conventional farming" to mean methods not considered organic 
production. (As organic grows, we may eventually need to change that 
term also.)

> It is the toxin from the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis. In 
> 1997 Bt was the  most heavily used pesticide on organic farms.  

"Most heavily used" is misleading unless the actual use is known. "Most 
heavily" was still far less than the use of Bt currently by 
conventional growers using Bt-producing crops. Bt as used by organic 
growers was spot applied in a form that broke down quickly. Bt as 
currently used by conventional growers is present continuously, 
expressed in all cells of the plant, all season long, over far more 
acreage than organic growers ever used it on.

> The real question that is typically overlooked is, toxic vs. 
> non-toxic.  For example:
> Nicotine, one of the more toxic organic insecticides, has a rat LD50 
> (lethal dose in 50% of animals tested) of 55mg/kg. The synthetic 
> insecticide, imidacloprid, has a rat LD50 of 425mg/kg, making 
> imidacloprid nearly 10 times less toxic than nicotine. Yet nicotine is 
> "organic".   Rotenone has an LD50 of 60-1500 mg/kg and is more acutely 
> toxic than Malathion or Sevin. Cats are highly susceptible to 
> pyrethrum. But Rotenone is "organic".   

Rotenone has not been acceptable for use in organic production since 
the Federal standards went into effect, and was controversial within 
the organic community for some time before that. Nicotine has not been 
acceptable for use in organic production for much longer -- I have 
never seen a published organic standard that did not prohibit nicotine 
(and arsenic, before somebody brings that up) and I have been farming 
organically since the 1970's. Pyrethrum is a restricted material for 
organic production; among the things the certifier would be looking at 
in restricted material use is whether the specific use by that grower 
is likely to cause problems for non-target organisms. (Natural 
pyrethrum is commonly used in flea products meant for cats. Overdose 
can indeed cause problems; but what you're really supposed to avoid 
entirely for cats is synthetic permethrins, which are forbidden for 
organic production.)

I wish that people who are criticizing organic would read current 
standards first. It is no more reasonable to criticize organic 
production based on recommends from 1950's publications than it is to 
criticize conventional as if conventional growers had never figured out 
that crop rotation is a good idea after all.

Finger Lakes NY; zone 5 mostly
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