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The Latest Stupid Fixes for Conventional Agriculture's Problems

Here are a couple of articles that I read today and can't help but compare and comment on:

Helping Crops Shed Pesticides
By Phil Berardelli
ScienceNOW Daily News
5 October 2009

Every year, 3 million tons of pesticides are sprayed on the world's food crops. The chemicals protect plants from voracious insects and pathogens, and they save billions of dollars in damages. Yet high doses of pesticides that accumulate in the body can cause cancer and other serious illnesses in humans--a problem that is widespread in the developing world and until now has remained largely unresolved. Now scientists may have found a way to help crops shed these toxicants long before they end up on dinner tables around the globe.

Let's see, the problem isn't that horrifyingly toxic chemicals are being sprayed on our food crops? No, according to this article, the problem is that those pesticide residues stay on and in the plants they are applied to for too long, long enough for humans to ingest them...So researchers have developed a hormone to help the plants get rid of the pesticides so that humans don't end up ingesting them.

I think there's something kind of big missing here. Like the fact that even if pesticides aren't in our food because our food has been hormonally enhanced to shed them, those pesticides still have to go somewhere. Like the soil. And its organisms. Which are eaten by other organisms, which are eaten by still other organisms. And so on. And toxics in the soil have a tendency to run off or erode with that soil, contaminating whole watersheds, like say, the Mississippi River, which then run into the ocean, creating things like the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone.

Which leads me to my next tidbit:

Gulf dead zone fix falls flat

By Erik Hoffner
Grist Magazine
6 October 2009

It's good to see a big Midwest "land grant" agricultural program that's concerned about the Gulf Dead Zone, and upper Midwest farms' large contribution to it. But this release about a study underway at Iowa State University aiming to reduce nitrogen entering the Mississippi River from farm fields falls flat when you realize it's just a technical fix for the status quo of over-fertilized conventional commodity crops. 

Apparently the study cited involved building very elaborate "bioreactors" which are trenches lined with drain tiles that essentially filter excess nitrogen fertilizer out of farm run off and keep it from entering the watershed and thus keep it from contributing to the Dead Zone. While it is certainly nice to know that it is possible to filter undesirable ingredients out of farm run off, it doesn't sound very practical on a large scale. It certainly isn't going to be cheap for any small family farmers to install such a bioreactor on all of their fields to filter their drainage water.

As Erik Hoffner suggests:

Organic methods of reducing such runoff would necessitate a whole different system that would by default radically limit nitrogen and pesticide pollution of the rivers, and would institute weed management techniques like crop rotation and cultivation that could be the region’s only defense against herbicide resistant GMO superweeds which are well established in the South and marching northwards.

So how about putting more funds, effort, and multi-year studies toward getting conventional farmers off of chemicals altogether, instead of building enough trenches to hide an army?

I have to agree. Both of the "techno-fixes" in these articles ignore the real problem here: Conventional agriculture is poisoning us. In multiple ways.

Let's wake up and smell the fact that there's a really easy solution to both of the problems mentioned in these articles: organic agricultural methods.