Tag Archives: organic


Fast Five Favorites: Food News and What It Means to Us

This week, Lindsay highlights five articles that found their way into her newsfeed. She and Andy join in a brief conversation about the articles.

What are your thoughts and questions? We’d love to hear them.




Q for Lindsay:  What does eating local mean to you?

Lindsay’s Response: “Local” is a term that has evolved over the last few years, and if consumers aren’t careful, they will be tricked into buying or eating something “local” that doesn’t at all abide by their perceptions. When I invest in a “local” product, I know where it was raised. I’ve seen the hens running across the yard, the cattle grazing in the field. These are animals that haven’t been raised behind stark metal barns with thousands and millions of other animals. While a farmer’s factory farm might be local to my neighborhood, it isn’t investing in a food ethos that aligns with my convictions, and labeling that type of product as “local” feels like a blatant betrayal of what the term “local” intends to convey.

Q for Andy: Why do you think the local food movement has become so huge throughout the last few years, and do you think that it’s deceiving for industrialized ag to market its product with that label?

Andy’s response: Buying food that is locally grown is awesome! In my opinion, the local food movement has become so large because people want to make a connection with how their food is grown and understand how their food makes it to the plate. Family farms, which make up the majority of farms and ranches, take pride in working locally. In addition to selling locally, there are many examples of farmers supporting local food banks with locally raised food.



Q for Lindsay:  What factors go into your decision about food choices? Is organic labeling part of your decision?

Lindsay’s Response: Organic labeling is so loosely regulated (as demonstrated in this article) that I don’t typically buy a product based on the “organic” label alone. In fact, all of my meat and egg purchases come from small, local grower within my own network. When organic products are available in my store (*note, Ohio isn’t listed as one of the best states to eat local; nor is Indiana, where I will be moving in a few short months), I buy discriminately because there are certain areas within the food pyramid where I’m still  not convinced that organic is better or safer than conventionally raised.


Q for Andy: Organic chickens are often raised in the same type of environment as non-organic, but the consumer imagines organic chickens on large open land and unrestricted daylight. Shouldn’t the agribusiness market be more forthcoming about this?

Andy’s response: An organic livestock farmer makes management decisions based on science and current regulations. Today’s organic livestock farmers raise animals that benefit from technology, advances in nutrition, and adequate room to grow. I think this article could be a jumping off point for more conversation about organic food production.




Q for Lindsay: Take a look at the post ‘Sometimes we are mean to our cows http://dairycarrie.com/2013/12/09/cowabuse/‘; how does Carrie’s post influence your opinion on filming?

Lindsay’s Response: I think comparing this post to some of the other information out there is really disingenuous on Carrie’s part. Does this influence my opinion on filming? Absolutely not. Through this very post, Carrie demonstrates what Ag’s response to filming ought to be: opening your doors and explaining how the food production process works—over and over and over again until any misconceptions are cleared up. When the response is to shutter the windows and doors and tell the consumer to blindly eat what is provided, the industry is painting themselves as dubious (no help from animal rights groups needed).

Q for Andy: Why should it be illegal to expose our food production methods?

Andy’s response: Undercover farm videos appear on occasion showing animal abuse from individuals. Anyone who abuses animals should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. There are some great initiatives, such as the See It? Stop It! effort to encourage farm workers to immediately report animal abuse. Transparency in agriculture and food production is important. People want to know more about how their food was grown and efforts such as Food Dialogues provides a starting point on transparency in food production.




Q for Lindsay: My reaction: I am in favor of embracing technology that improves food safety without exposing workers to injury. What is your reaction?

Lindsay’s Response: To be honest, when I read this article, my mind immediately went to Sinclair’s The Jungle or PBS’s documentary Rape in the Fields. There’s a long history between agriculture and worker exploitation, and accelerated line speeds seem to have more to do with profit efficiency rather than food safety.

Q for Andy: I have read that ½ of all crop farm workers are undocumented, earning nearly $6,000 less in wages than documented workers. Knowing this, how can we truly ensure worker safety when ½ of the crop farm workforce isn’t even accounted for?

Andy’s response: We need to make a better effort to understand farm workers in their full context. I recently read of an Extension effort to better the lives of migrant workers. I think efforts such as these should be held up and recognized for the important role they play in the agriculture community.



Q for Lindsay: Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus is a major concern and reinforces the need for biosecurity (such as monitoring visitors) on farms. Are there questions you have about biosecurity?

Lindsay’s Response: I agree that biosecurity is necessary when we’re packing thousands and millions of animals into barns. The issue with the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, however, seems to center around the feed additive, porcine plasma, and if our suspicions are confirmed, I’m not sure how biosecurity will eliminate this issue without increased cost to the producer.

Q for Andy: How will biosecurity eliminate the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus?

Andy’s response: Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that biosecurity will eliminate porcine epidemic diarrhea virus. It is possible to move the virus between farms on items that come in contact with manure and are not thoroughly disinfected between farms. The amount of exposure required to cause illness is low, which means that small amounts of residual manure pose biosecurity risks.  Biosecurity is a practice designed to prevent diseases from being introduced to a livestock farm by minimizing movement of biological organisms and their vectors onto premises. Here’s a real example of a biosecurity technique https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbUbXX9P7qs&feature=youtu.be


(Not) Another Pesticide Article

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘pesticide’? It is a word that is tossed around and usually in the direction of agriculture.  This week Lindsay and Andy focus their discussion on pesticides and share their view of pesticides and this polarizing topic. This isn’t just another pesticide article. This is a conversation.

Andy Kleinschmidt

The topic of pesticides has been written about here and here and here and here. Instead of writing another pesticide article, Lindsay and I had a conversation, some back-and-forth, and discussed our different viewpoints below.

Lindsay tells her story below about her dad making a living thanks to pesticides and I immediately think back to my agriculture beginnings working for a pesticide manufacturer. I too made a living because of pesticides — it’s where I started. As a 23 year-old kid fresh out of graduate school trying to sell Prowl/Pursuit (those were very popular herbicides for soybeans in the 1990’s) I thought I knew what a pesticide was… but I didn’t really know until much later.

A few years ago at a family gathering one of my family members made a comment about the food she had brought to the event.  I have forgotten the exact quote, but it was something along the lines of “the food I brought is all-natural with none of those toxic pesticides.”  I wasn’t really sure what she meant, since all-natural doesn’t necessarily mean pesticide-free.

In the years between my job selling Prowl/Pursuit and my family member making a comment about ‘toxic pesticides’ I had learned an important fact about pesticides… pesticides are a legal construct.  The EPA has a really good ELI5 (Explain Like I’m Five) explanation of pesticide which also helps explain what I mean when I say ‘legal construct’: “Pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended for: preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest” (source: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/about/index.htm#what_pesticide). The key word in the explanation isn’t substance or mixture; the key word is intended.  Pesticides are defined by intended use of the product. The determining factor in whether or not a product is a pesticide has nothing to do with the makeup of particular substances.

Here’s a real example. Several weed scientists a few years ago studied whether or not household vinegar can control weeds. Household vinegar, aka white vinegar, contains about 5% acetic acid.  Researchers had some success on small weeds and on certain types of weeds. But household vinegar manufacturers do not intend their product to be used as a pesticide. Therefore, household vinegar is not considered a pesticide even though it can kill certain weeds. (Source: http://www.wssajournals.org/doi/full/10.1614/WT-08-185.1)

I am very interested in having the conversation about pesticide use, understanding the concerns and reassuring Lindsay and others that food on your plate is not toxic.  Also, I want to have the conversation about organic food production and discuss that organic does not necessarily mean pesticide-free. Organic food production does allow for naturally-derived pesticides (current resources maintained here). As Lindsay and I chat about Bt,  I’ll discuss that Bt is naturally occurring soil bacterium and it could even be used in organic food production as a pesticide.

I get it that just because pesticides are a legal construct does not make the issue of pesticide use unimportant. And I am very sensitive to the fact there is great interest in understanding how food is grown and how it moves from the field to our plate. But if you take nothing else away from this discussion between Lindsay and I, please walk away with the knowledge that intent of a product –not a certain level of toxicity — determines whether or not a product is considered a pesticide.

I thank Lindsay for sharing her viewpoint and concerns. Let’s keep talking.

There are some great resources where you can read more and ask questions:

1. US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance:  http://www.fooddialogues.com/foodsource/usfras-view-on-pesticides-fertilizers-herbicides

2. eExtension  https://ask.extension.org/search/all?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=pesticides  ask a question here: https://ask.extension.org/ask

3. EPA http://pesticides.supportportal.com/ics/support/default.asp?deptID=23008&_referrer=http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/


Lindsay Hotmire

As a little girl growing up with a father who made his living thanks to pesticides, I can remember often being confronted with the accusation that although my father sought to earn a living in order to put bread and milk on our table, he was also responsible for killing birds en masse.

Being a child, this enraged me—mostly because I wasn’t equipped with the knowledge to defend myself against these authoritarian accusations. I never looked at pesticides as dangerous. I believed they had a noble purpose, defending against destructive pests and invasive species. Nature isn’t always true to Monet or Audobon or Adams. Sometimes fight and might are required against the forces of nature if we are going to survive.

And this is where the dichotomy enters.

While Andy tried to broaden the conversation on pesticides, I fear that he’s missing the central point of concern by those vociferous consumers who are in the same camp as his pesticide-free/natural loving family member. Case in point: While vinegar might technically be considered a herbicide due to its amazing ability to eradicate pesky weeds, its level of toxicity to the human body (when ingested) is not comparable to regularly used agricultural pesticides such as modified Bt toxins or nicotynils. In fact, vinegar is often used to cleanse a living body of toxins while modified Bt toxins and nicotynils are used to completely obliterate living bodies.

To me, that’s a huge difference.

In 2008, Dr. Charles Benbrook, Chief Scientist at The Organic Center in Oregon, argued that with proper prevention, the use of pesticides could be drastically lowered. In his article, Prevention, not Profit ,Should Drive Pest Management, Benbrook talks about the dangers of systemic pesticides—the types that cannot be washed away regardless of how hard consumers may try. This is because systemic pesticides have been designed to grow with the plant, so every bite becomes laced with trace amounts of pesticide residual. The agricultural community wants us to believe that those trace amounts are harmless, but as Benbrook has pointed out (along with many others), research just isn’t on the side of that claim.

When talking about genetically engineered Bt toxins, Benbrook says that

We are entering uncharted waters in the assessment of farm animal, human, and ecological impacts associated with the trend toward systemic solutions to corn insect management challenges. Millions of acres of corn silage are grown and harvested at a stage when there remain relatively high levels of Bt toxins, and perhaps even nicotinyls, through plant tissues. I know of no research exploring the impacts on animal health and reproduction of the toxin cocktail now in corn silage.”[i]

That word, “toxin cocktail” is the silver bullet when understanding the fears of the consumer. The educated consumer is savvy enough to understand that while one particular pesticide residue may not be toxic on its own accord, repeated and prolonged exposure to low-level pesticide cocktail residues and systemic pesticides can prove deadly. And when the consumer begins to understand that the EPA has never denied an application for a new pesticide or even revoked an old one in spite of evidence of harm to the non-human population ( except for chlorfenapyr on cotton)[ii], trust begins to wane. (For let us not forget that animal species began to show evidence of DDT’s harmful influence long before we understood its effect on the human population.)

What exactly is in the food we are eating?  

This is the question that the consumer is asking.  Is it possible that in the name of advancement, farmers are poisoning (albeit sometimes unwittingly) our food system, our eco-system, and our bodies? Is it possible that complicated catastrophes, such as Colony Collapse Disorder amongst our honey bees, are sending out a distress signal to mankind?

And most importantly, is it possible to raise food without the application of toxins?

The consumer is demanding that the answer is yes. Research is indicating that the answer is yes. But the scientist, the agricultural world? They don’t seem interested in even having the conversation, wanting instead to impress us with their figures of low toxicity, their estimates on just exactly how much chemical poison a toddler can consumer before experiencing neurological responses. It is a peculiar consideration—raising food without man made toxins, and as research continues to support the idea of organic farming, promoting fewer and fewer pesticides, I believe the farming community will be the catalyst for class warfare (as it has been many times throughout history), creating a system of the haves and have nots where those who can afford clean food will buy it, and those who cannot? Well, they’ll be left with a toxic plate.

[i] Benbrook, Charles. “Prevention, not Profit, Should Drive Pest Management.”  Pesticide News 82 (2008). 12-17.

[ii] Ibid.