Organic Consumers Association

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Cook Organic not the Planet Campaign

Toxic Algae, Dead Dogs, and How We Grow Our Food

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page and our Factory Farming & Food Safety page.

You wouldn't think a game of fetch could be deadly. But last month an Indiana couple's dogs died after fetching balls in an algae-infested lake. There were no warnings posted, and only after the dogs got sick and died did their owners learn the lake was toxic.

Blue-green algae can be deadly for pets, and cause serious skin and respiratory problems in people. You've probably seen some of it this summer - it's found in lakes all across the Midwest.

The smelly green mats of algae that plague our lakes are directly linked to how we grow our food. Chemical fertilizer runoff from farmland and manure runoff from livestock operations contribute high levels of phosphorous to the water. This spurs the growth of blue-green algae (also known as cyanobacteria), especially in hot, dry weather.

Our nation's refusal to reward farmers for practices that protect water quality and penalize those who compromise it is unacceptable.

Farmers used to rotate crops, and plant cover crops to prevent erosion and keep nutrients on the farm, but practices have changed. Federal policies encourage and reward farmers for growing commodity crops like soybeans as well as corn for livestock feed and, increasingly, ethanol. Continuous production of corn and soybeans with no rotation to hay or pasture depletes the soil - so commodity crops require lots of fertilizer and pesticides.

Organic farmers rotate the kinds of crops we plant, reducing the chance of erosion. Pasture and hay are a vital part of the rotation, protecting the soil, while providing our cattle with the diet they are designed to eat.

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