When the war is over

Back in 2013 a study, led by RMIT’s Dr Liza Oates, found that levels of organophosphate pesticides in her trial subjects dropped by 89% after they switched to an organic diet for seven days.

This week a friend sent through an article where a similar US study on four families who ate organics for one week reduced the level of pesticides like Roundup in their bodies by up to 70%.

I read the article with a sense of “here we go again” and I can almost hear the chemical industry’s public relations machine churning out counter articles and studies telling me that the science isn’t settled and that the world will starve without their products.

This ongoing struggle always gets me thinking back – back 100 years when all farming was organic and industrial agriculture was just an emerging trend.

Tellingly, two of the cornerstones of the new industrial agriculture were originally developed as weapons of war.

First came nitrogen fertiliser or ammonium nitrate (the same chemical that wiped out downtown Beirut last week). Produced by burning huge quantities of natural gas, ammonium nitrate was developed as a key ingredient in high explosives.

The second, organophosphate pesticides, were initially developed as nerve agents for use in chemical warfare. These poisons were found to work equally as effectively on insects and weeds as they did on enemy soldiers.

The results were incredible; in combination with fossil fuel-powered tractors, nitrogen fertiliser and pesticides, we could clear and farm just about every bit of arable land on the planet – which we rapidly did.

Likewise our numbers exploded; it took 200,000 years for the human population to get to 2 billion, 100 years later we number almost 8 billion.

Of course the flip side of our industrial farming success was the decimation of our insects, our wild plants & animals, our water, our reefs, our forests and of course our atmosphere.

And here we are today rueful that we kind of declared war on our planet to feed ourselves but still unsure how we fix the mess.

For now the war is one of perception management; despite studies like the one my friend sends me fiduciary obligations demand that Bayer and Syngenta continue to convince us that black is white.

But in the end it all comes home; in the asthma in our kids, in the breast cancer and lymphoma in our farmers, in the deformed fish we can no longer eat and in the unpollinated fields and empty beehives.

And like all wars everyone loses this one until we choose ways to grow our food where everyone wins.

Have a safe week

Chris

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