Wednesday, May 08, 2002

Pesticides on Organic Produce?

A Consumers Union study published today in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants revealed that 23% of their samples of organic produce contained trace amounts of pesticides (while 75% of the sample of non-organic produce did). Read a little further and you'll find some interesting facts about this study. First, they used 26,571 samples of non-organic produce, and only 97 samples of organic produce. This is a very small number of organic samples. Second, at least some of the samples of organic produce were sweet bell peppers from Mexico, where pesticide contamination of the soil, water, and air drift, is much higher than in the US. Mexican environmental laws, especially pertaining to pesticides on food, are very lax compared to in the US.

On the first point, that the sample is too small to conclude that this percentage holds up for the entire organic food industry, take a look at the actual sample sizes:
The Agriculture Department data that were examined in the Consumers Union study showed residues on seven of 30 samples of organic fruit, and 22 of 97 samples of organic vegetables, or 23 percent of the total organic produce tested. Nine of 19 samples of organic spinach had pesticide traces, and four of 18 carrot samples. By comparison, pesticides were found on 73 percent of the 26,571 samples of conventional foods that were tested.
What this study suggests to me, besides the fact that most conventional food is covered in pesticides, is that chemical agriculture has so thoroughly contaminated the air, soil, and water that it is impossible to grow food without some trace amounts of harmful chemicals showing up. Not only is this sad and contemptable, but it is also criminal. I would urge organic food growers who find trace amounts of pesticides on their produce to sue the nearby chemical farms responsible for the drift, since the Bush administration will never do anything to hurt the big chemical corporations that financed his Junta.

The idea of suing over drift is not new. It is known as toxic tresspassing. In a related MSNBC story, Tresspassing Toxins, Francesca Lyman writes:
Do you have a right not to be sprayed, out of concern for your property or your health? The answer is yes, according to California tort lawyer Darren S. Enenstein. “You have an inherent right to be protected under the law,” he says, “but you may have to sue for toxic trespass to protect that right.”
The Bush EPA (an oxymoron?) dropped a proposed change that would have cracked down on drift, with better instructions and directions for applicators, after pesticide companies (Monsanto contributed $55,000 in 2000 and 2001 to the Repub National State Elections Committee and nothing to Democrats*) complained that the changes would be too expensive.

Lyman goes on to point out that under federal law, there is little anyone can do if the party spraying the pesticides is following the directions.
Nor do organic farmers marketing produce grown free of chemicals get any special protections. That has proven to be a problem for some farmers who have lost their organic certification. One baby food company was outraged to find its products had been contaminated through no fault of its own.
This is an outrage. If I was manufacturing pesticides and someone was spraying something nearby that made them safe and non-effective, you can bet that I'd have my corporate lawyers all over the party harming my product, not to mention lobbyists crawling around the capitol demanding legislation to make it a crime to mess with my product. But when large corporate farms contaminate the product of organic farmers, where is the justice? Where can organic farmers turn? To an agriculture department run by Monsanto corporate shill Ann Veneman? Maybe to John Ashcroft, who received $10,000 from Monsanto for his failed Senate reelection bid?

One last interesting thing about this study is the way the conglomerate owned news media handles it. On the Consumers Union web site, the headline is: Organic Foods Really DO Have Less Pesticides. At MSNBC (a combination of AP and staff reports) the headline reads: Pesticides found on organic produce. The New York Times did the best job of revealing the truth here, with this headline: Study Finds Far Less Pesticide Residue on Organic Produce. The New York Times also mentions that this study sheds further light on a February 2000 story by John Stossel, a correspondent on the ABC News program "20/20," who "reported that testing had proved that the levels of pesticide residues in conventional produce were similar to those in organic produce, making organic claims a fraud. Though Mr. Stossel retracted his statement — such testing had never been conducted — his report alarmed proponents of organic agriculture and those like Consumers Union who do not oppose the use of synthetic pesticides but want stricter standards." Bravo to the New York Times. The LA Times didn't even run the story.

* Donation information from

Sunday, May 05, 2002

Toxic Fertilizers!

Yep. The chemical fertilizers sold in bags at your basic home and garden stores are loaded with toxic waste! Unbelieveable! CALPIRG's Safe Fertilizers Campaign managed to get this story on page 24 below the fold, and then it just disappeared.
“When it goes into our silo, it's a hazardous waste. When it comes out of the silo, it's no longer regulated. The exact same material. Don't ask me why.” —Dick Camp, President, Bay Zinc Co. Fertilizer Manufacturer
I'll tell you why: money, power, and politics. The loopholes exist because someone can profit from them.

Here's a snip from CALPIRG's page:
Polluters are funneling toxic wastes to fertilizer manufacturers, and the manufacturers have been willing partners in using this waste. Some industries dispose of tons of toxic waste by giving it free to fertilizer manufacturers, or even paying them to take it. This cuts costs for treating, storing, or disposing of hazardous wastes.
* Across the country, 454 farms and fertilizer manufacturers received 271 million pounds of toxic waste from 1990 to 1995. California farms and fertilizer manufacturers received nearly 38 million pounds of that waste, the most of any state.
* A loophole in federal law allows steel mills to send toxic ash to zinc fertilizer manufacturers without testing it for its hazardous properties or tracking where it goes.
* In 1997, an investigative report by the Seattle Times described how a farmer in Washington lost entire crops by unknowingly using toxic waste-derived fertilizers that contained arsenic, beryllium, lead, titanium, chromium, copper and mercury.
California's Assembly AB1313, the Toxic Fertilizer Prevention Act, would protect our health and the environment, as opposed to recent proposed standards which would make it legal for fertilizers to contain unacceptably high and dangerous levels of toxic substances in fertilizer. AB 1313 was held up in committe and dead for the 2001 session. Seems our some of our legislators think it's fine to poison the soil, our food, and our children. The only way to avoid this problem is to go organic!