Here's an interesting twist in what appeared to be a piece of all-around good news: when officials at the Mid America Croplife Association discovered that the new White House kitchen garden was to be managed organically, they sent a letter to First Lady Michelle Obama asking her to consider managing the garden "conventionally." At first glance, the letter itself doesn't seem particularly insidious, just a call to appreciate the importance of American agriculture. But a more careful reading reveals the subtext: don't encourage Americans to grow their own food, because it's not practical, and don't encourage them to think that organic food is somehow superior to "conventional" agricultural products.
This passage, for example, seems to militate against the idea that individual families can realistically raise even a portion of their own food:
If Americans were still required to farm to support their family's basic food and fiber needs, would the U.S. have been leaders in the advancement of science, communication, education, medicine, transportation and the arts?
And this sentence shifts the blame for poor nutritional values and tainted food to the retailers and home cooks:
Much of the food considered not wholesome or tasty is the result of how it is stored or prepared rather than how it is grown.
There are legitimate arguments to be made in favor of some non-organic farming methods, especially programs based on IPM (Integrated Pest Management) and on advanced ecologically sound soil management practices. It's also true that you would be hard-pressed, from a purely nutritional standpoint, to assert the inherent superiority of organically-grown food. But the authors of this letter are not conscientious farmers facing the reality of uncertain weather, evolving pests, rampant disease, and fluctuating markets. The authors of this letter make and distribute agricultural chemicals (it's a requirement for MACA membership) and they include representatives from companies with names like Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, Syngenta, BASF Corporation, and Bayer CropScience, some of the giants of modern pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified crops.
The real smoking gun, however, is not to be found in the letter itself, but rather in an email sent round to MACA members. Someone passed this email, and the original letter, on to individuals who have embraced the cause of safe food and sustainable agriculture, and they published it. Here's the money quote:
Did you hear the news? The White House is planning to have an "organic" garden on the grounds to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for the Obama's [sic] and their guests. While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made Janet Braun, CropLife Ambassador Coordinator and I shudder.
Shudder? The idea that our First Lady is modeling independence and environmental responsibility makes these people shudder? I'm inclined to give large portions of the green industry a break ˆ it's a tough calling, no matter what side of it you're on, and we all depend on its products ˆ but the industry needs to get on board with the new realities of life on earth. Sustainability, responsibility, and well being for all: these are the ideals of the Obama administration, and I think they need to be the ideals of the green industry as well.
Just to add insult to injury, by the way, the original letter is addressed to "Mrs. Barack Obama." Forget about that strong, independent role as First Lady, Michelle. To a reactionary industry, your real role is defined by your relationship to your husband.
Agricultural Chemical Industry Shudders at Organic White House Garden
By Marc Montefusco
New York Gardening Examiner, March 29, 2009
Straight to the Source