Keynote Jay Feldman

Winter 2012-2013
Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides told Common Ground Fairgoers that organic is necessary to get off the pesticide treadmill. English photo.

By Jay Feldman, Executive Director, Beyond Pesticides

September 22, 2012

I am honored to be here and share this great occasion with you – in a state and with a people who have always strived to break new ground together, to lead on critical environmental issues, to harness a positive spirit for protecting health and the environment. I salute MOFGA and all those who have and are a part of this inspirational organization that has led the nation and the world on organic practices.

I would like to take a moment to recognize Russell for his tremendous leadership not only of MOFGA, but in his work to advance organic practices and policy across the country.

I want to talk with you about the regulation of pesticides and the countervailing organic solution to pollution – where we’ve been and where we need to go. And interspersed in the talk, I will share the insights, vision, guidance and truths that Rachel Carson speaks about in her own words from Silent Spring. I will try to do this in 30 minutes, leaving time for discussion and your thoughts on strategy.

With the theme of this fair, it makes sense that we honor Rachel Carson. As you know, her landmark book, Silent Spring, published in 1962 – 50 years ago – has provided us with guiding principles, an affirmation of core values, rooted in scientific understanding of biological systems that are central to the sustainability of our environment and our very existence. So let’s take this time together to celebrate and reaffirm the teachings and message of the book, assess where we have been since its publication, and, most importantly, plan a future course of action.

Let me start by saying that I’m glad that I’m not running for political office and do not have to try to explain away all the fundamental policy failures over my 35-year involvement in advancing the change that I’m going to share. Do we have successes? Yes. Do we have enough successes? No. Are we ensuring that everyone has access to clean air, water, land – to a safe food supply? Do we give ourselves – do I give myself – a passing grade? Like the President, who gave himself a grade of incomplete, I would say that we must give ourselves an incomplete – yes, we are on the right path, having created some foundational change, but we have a ways to go and there is a need to recognize the urgency and the very issues that Rachel Carson alerted us to.

Just this week we heard about inorganic arsenic in rice products, arsenic in apple and grape juice – a legacy chemical that we spread widely throughout the environment in agriculture, continue to use in cotton production and are still phasing it out as an herbicide. We’re learning now that we didn’t know what we should have before widespread use – chemicals can have generational effects. Why does this remain in use, filling utility poles that dot the countryside and line our streets?

This is what Rachel Carson told us 50 years ago:

“By their very nature, chemical controls are self-defeating, for they have been devised and applied without taking into account the complex biological systems against which they have been blindly hurled. The chemicals may have been pretested against a few individual species, but not against living communities. (p. 246)

“To assume that we must resign ourselves to turning our waterways into rivers of death is to follow the counsel of despair and defeatism. We must make wider use of alternative methods that are now known, and we must devote our ingenuity and resources to developing others.” (p.138)

– Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

In this year, I had the opportunity with the staff and board of Beyond Pesticides to visit Yale University’s Beinicke Rare Book and Manuscript Library to view Rachel Carson’s papers, which includes her letters, papers and scrapbook with articles about Silent Spring that she had clipped, and other documents of the time that related to the topic of pesticides. Her work and experience frames the work of a coalition of people and organizations that make up the organization I work for – Beyond Pesticides. When I joined with others to form Beyond Pesticides in 1981 – almost 20 years after the publication of Silent Spring, I had just spent about two years traveling the country and visiting with farmworkers in their homes in farm labor camps and in the fields. We heard the stories first hand of the chemical exposures, the sickness, the miscarriages, the human flaggers in the fields, the lack of sanitation facilities, the pesticide drift from field to field, the lack of protective equipment. At that time, there was less than one page in the code of federal regulations that addressed farmworker protection. It read, farmworkers should not reenter the fields until the dusts have settled and the sprays have dried. I learned firsthand that there was limited or no enforcement. I learned about dislodgeable residues and volatilization of the applied chemicals. So, I felt the emotion and the outrage that we as a nation cared little for the people who brought food to our dinner tables, the Harvest of Shame.

My deeper understanding and appreciation for Rachel Carson came after this. In the meantime, I joined with others to form an organization to fight for a human rights issue to protect ourselves from the involuntary exposure to toxic chemicals, to stop the exploitation of those who harvest our nation’s food, to control chemical companies that put profits before people, to hold elected officials and regulators accountable to basic standards of decency and protection of health and the environment, to yell and scream politely to anyone who would listen about the atrocities that were ongoing in the fields across the country.

And so, what better way to channel this outrage than through an advocacy organization that could bring together the best minds that we can gather to address the latest science, discuss policies that move our communities toward green and sustainable practices, to share practical information on how we effect the transformation of our approaches to land and building management that ensure the survivability of the planet. Yes, for a while, we believed that we needed to tinker with the standards of protection – improve the farmworker protection standard (we did), ban some highly toxic chemicals (we did), hold congressional hearing to elevate public awareness and institute some statutory reforms (we did), engage the regulatory process to mitigate risks associated with hazardous use patterns (we did). But these experiences to reform practices and laws taught me that what was really needed was to transform our approaches and systems.

We began to look toward the transformation of chemical-intensive agriculture and other land and building management practices.

If anyone begins to think that blanket pesticide spraying for food production or insect-borne diseases might at times be necessary and effective, Silent Spring reaffirms our understanding of the need to embrace thoughtful biology-based strategies that prevent and solve problems, rather than exacerbate them. Ms. Carson writes, “[T]he method of massive chemical control has had only limited success and also threatens to worsen the very conditions it is intended to curb.” In this regard, the book certainly has relevancy to today’s chemical assault in the wake of both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) and numerous communities’ response to managing the mosquito-borne West Nile virus.

Respecting Nature

Silent Spring is a clarion call for caution, written during the then emerging chemical age of the 1950s. Ms. Carson introduces the book with her science-based understanding that, “The most alarming of all man’s assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials.” The book catalogs the severe problems associated with our societal embrace of DDT (at that time) and other chlorinated hydrocarbons, organophosphates, carbamates and phenol as effective and protective tools in managing unwanted insects and vegetation in agriculture, gardens and homes.

Ms. Carson, a marine biologist, science writer, poet and author, warned us to respect nature, support it, harness the benefits it offers to us, and never think that we can overpower it. The real-world examples that she provides in Silent Spring are stunning, from impacts on salmon, aquatic organisms, birds, beneficial insects, to humans. She warns us about pesticide uses related to rangeland, utilities’ brush control, forestry, agriculture, private lawns, parks and golf courses.

However, our attempts at mitigating risks did not question during Rachel Carson’s time, and still do not question today, the premise that we can and should overpower nature with our chemical-intensive strategies.

Ms. Carson has given us a life-long guide to understanding the effects of chemical-intensive practices, the importance of our relationship to nature, understanding chemical effects at the cellular level and resulting cancer, neurotoxic, genetic and reproductive effects, and insect and weed resistance to chemical controls.

But, most important, she gives us a framework for moving us off the chemical treadmill of increasing chemical dependency.

In visiting Rachel Carson’s papers housed at Yale University (I urge you all to visit there), we came across papers that included the following criticism leading up to Silent Spring:

“A serious threat to the continued supply of wholesome, nutritious food, and its availability at present day low prices is manifested in the fear complex building up as a result of recent unfounded, sensational publicity with respect to agricultural chemicals. These chemicals are necessary for continued production of adequate food, feed and fiber crops.” L.S. Hitchner, executive secretary, NACA, May 1960, which became the American Crop Protection Assn., then CropLife.

Around the same time in a USDA publication: “What’s on the Label?”

It read, “When you buy one of the 35,000 pesticides now on the market and use it as instructed, there’s a good chance you’ll get the results claimed.”

Here are some results. Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide-induced Diseases Database includes nearly 400 entries of studies that link labeled uses of pesticides (as instructed) to public health diseases: cancer, reproductive problems, neurological and immune system damage, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, asthma and learning disabilities. So when Stanford University tells the world as it did last week, that the body burden that we now all carry of dozens of pesticides are not clinically linked to adverse effects, tell the researches that they ought to study the wealth of epidemiologic studies that link use to disease

We need to delve into the deficiencies in the way we regulate pesticides, how the methodology of risk assessment legitimizes unnecessary and harmful use of poisons. These calculations that are used are filled with missing information and uncertainties about the mixtures of exposure that we experience, the impact of previous exposures and resulting vulnerabilities, preexisting health conditions, synergistic effects between pesticides and between pesticides and pharmaceuticals, lack of attention to certain health endpoints (such as endocrine disruption) and regular noncompliance with product label directions. EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus in 1984 said, “We should remember that risk assessment data can be like the captured spy: If you torture it long enough, it will tell you anything you want to know.” These deficiencies contribute to its severe limitations in defining real world poisoning, as captured by epidemiologic studies.

So transformation seems to be the only appropriate and responsible path. Playing around with pesticide reduction in land or building systems that are inherently vulnerable to plant diseases or infestations may offer some temporary relief but is not sustainable. Mitigating risks does not eliminate the escalating insect, vegetation and rodent resistance to chemicals and the increasing reliance on more and new chemicals on the resulting pesticide treadmill.

And so, the paradigm shift. MOFGA, certainly, has helped to lead in this shift.

Soil and Organic Practices

Our individual and collective commitment to growing the organic sector embraces the understandings and framework laid out in Silent Spring. The Organic Foods Production Act, like Silent Spring, zeros in on the importance of protecting and nurturing the soil.

Noting that, “[T]he most essential organisms in soil are the smallest – the invisible hosts of bacteria and of threadlike fungi,” Ms. Carson writes. “[I]f our agriculture-based life depends on the soil, it is equally true that soil depends on life, its very origins and the maintenance of its true nature being intimately related to living plants and animals.”

She continues, “What happens to these incredibly numerous and vitally necessary inhabitants of the soil when poisonous chemicals are carried down into their world, either introduced directly as soil ‘sterilants’ or borne on the rain that has picked up a lethal contamination as it filters through the leaf canopy forest and orchard and cropland? Is it reasonable to suppose that we can apply a broad-spectrum insecticide to kill the burrowing larval stages of a crop-destroying insect, for example, without also killing the “good” insects whose function may be the essential one of breaking down organic matter? Or can we use a nonspecific fungicide without also killing the fungi that inhabit the roots of many trees in a beneficial association that aids the tree in extracting nutrients from the soil? (p. 56)

And so, Rachel Carson asks us to think more holistically.

This subject, of course, does not pass without attention to the value of earthworms and bees and other pollinators. Ms. Carson criticizes the lack of attention to protecting vegetative growth, along roadsides and fields, and fears the lack of importance given to the 65 species, in her time, of shrubs and vines in the Eastern states that are an important source of food for wildlife.

She raises concerns about the senseless destruction of habitat. She explains her concern as follows: “Honeybees and wild bees depend heavily on such ‘weeds’ as goldenrod, mustard and dandelions for pollen that serves as the food of their young. Vetch furnishes essential spring forage for bees before the alfalfa is in bloom, tiding them over this early season so that they are ready to pollinate the alfalfa. In the fall they depend on goldenrod at a season when no other food is available, to stock up for the winter.

“Such plants are ‘weeds’ only to those who make a business of selling and applying chemicals,” Ms. Carson says. And yet, she continues, “The ‘agricultural engineers’ speak blithely of ‘chemical plowing’ in a world that is urged to beat its plowshares into spray guns.”

The Real Cost of Toxic Chemicals

While toxic chemicals for land management are sold to the public and land managers as more cost-effective, Ms. Carson wrote, “[W]ere the true costs entered, the costs not only in dollars but in the many equally valid debits … the wholesale broadcasting of chemicals would be seen to be more costly in dollars as well as infinitely damaging to the long-range health of the landscape and to all the varied interests that depend on it.”

Ms. Carson implores us to consider in questions of agriculture and landscape management the interconnectedness of nature. Silent Spring provides example after example of the horrific death and destruction caused by pesticides that disturb the relationships between predators and prey and escape from natural controls and rise to pest status. In another context, she describes it as, “It was the house that Jack built sequence, in which the large carnivores had eaten the smaller carnivores, that had eaten the herbivores, that had eaten the plankton, that had absorbed the poison from the water.”

Fifty years after the publication of the book, these costs are still not calculated by regulators who espouse the “benefits” of the chemicals they register as presenting “reasonable” risks. We are still not asking these questions when EPA, advancing chemical-intensive practices, registers pesticides that are marketed with synthetic fertilizers that create the cycle of dependency on deadly chemicals, which continuously threaten the natural balance.

In our current campaign to protect pollinators, we focus on neonicotinoid insecticides (clothianindin/thiamethoxan) – systemic pesticides that are taken up by the plants’ vascular system and expressed in pollen and guttation, the release of waste water from the plant – and the failure to address the complexities that contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

It should be noted, in the spirit of Rachel Carson, that we are instructed by the federal organic law to ask these questions in regulating certified organic systems and materials.

Low Level Exposure at the Cellular Level

Ms. Carson writes about the impacts that pesticides have at the cellular level, turning our attention to the “functioning of the individual cell in producing the energy that is the indispensable quality of life.” She writes, “The extraordinary energy producing mechanism of the body is basic not only to health but to life …Yet the nature of many of the chemicals used against insects, rodents, and weeds is such that they may strike directly at the system, disrupting its beautifully functioning mechanism.” Of course, she relates the science of exposure to nerve damage, enzyme imbalance, liver damage, genetic damage, reproductive problems, cancer (for which she explains that there is no safe level) and psychological effects.

On exposure, Ms. Carson writes, “The contamination of our world is not alone a matter of mass spraying. Indeed, for most of us this is of less importance than the innumerable small scale exposures to which we are subjected day by day, year by year, like the constant dripping of water that in time wears away the hardest stone, this birth to death contact with the dangerous chemicals may in the end prove disastrous.”

Change Is Possible

The author is certainly cognizant of the impact she is having on her readers, especially when she approaches the subject of cancer. “Isn’t it impossible even to attempt to eliminate these cancer-producing agents from our world? Wouldn’t it be better not to waste time trying, but instead to put all our efforts into research to find a cure for cancer?” she writes.

She continues,

“When this question is put to Dr. Hueper (National Cancer Institute), whose years of distinguished work in cancer make his opinion one to respect, his reply is given with the thoughtfulness of one who has pondered it long, and has a lifetime of research and experience behind his judgment. Dr. Hueper believes that our situation with regard to cancer today is very similar to that which faced mankind with regard to infectious diseases in the closing years of the 19th century. The causative relation between pathogenic organisms and many diseases had been established through the brilliant work of Pasteur and Koch. Medical men and even the general public were becoming aware that the human environment was causing disease, just as today carcinogens pervade our surroundings. Most infectious diseases have now been brought under a reasonable degree of control and some have been practically eliminated. This brilliant medical achievement came about by an attack that was twofold – that stressed prevention as well as cure. Despite the prominence that ‘magic bullet’ and ‘wonder drugs’ hold in the layman’s minds, most of the really decisive battle in the war against infectious disease consisted of measures to eliminate disease organisms from the environment.”

Through public health practices, she explains that the successful strategy resulted from practices that prevented the transmission of the problem by cleaning up our water supply. The cancer cure was elusive in 1962 as it is today, so the prevention strategies take on even more urgency.

Rachel Carson quotes author F. H. Jacob in England as saying,

“The activities of many so-called economic entomologists would make it appear that they operate in the belief that salvation lies at the end of a spray nozzle … that when they have created problems of resurgence or resistance or mammalian toxicity, the chemist will be ready with another pill. That view is not held here … Ultimately only the biologist will provide the answers to the basic problems of pest control.”

There is no better case for organic than Silent Spring.

And with the growth of a nearly $30 billion dollar organic industry, we can safely say that the essentiality (or necessity) of pesticides position that pro-pesticide advocates advance, is not supportable. Even studies in developing countries find that organic practices, with attention to practices that protect the ecosystem and tap the power of nature, offer the best strategy for feeding the world.

Organic systems do offer us a solution – an opportunity to support systems that integrate concerns for health, biodiversity, reduced energy dependency and long-term sustainability. And these systems can save us billions in taxpayer dollars (some estimate as high as nearly $17 billion) to address health impacts, pollution cleanup, water treatment and more – costs not paid at the grocery checkout when purchasing chemical-intensive food, but costs nevertheless.

And this is cross cutting. Take for example energy use.

A Tropicana sustainability study a couple of years ago found that the biggest contribution to Tropicana’s carbon footprint is not transporting its juice to stores or its farm operations. It is the synthetic fertilizers which account for 35 percent of its energy use. And, of course, the fertilizers are produced with nitrogen and a lot of natural gas, and all the associated environmental hazards.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report “Energy Use in Organic Food Systems” found that between 30 and 50 percent less energy is used in organic agriculture when compared to chemical-intensive farming.

We demand and OFPA requires a cradle to grave, or life cycle, analysis of inputs in organic systems. This reflects a concern that is broader than what’s on our food or dietary exposures. We care about the impact of management practices on the communities where the food is grown, on the workers, water quality, and global pesticide drift. An organic approach concerns itself with the survival of the planet. Are we concerned about sustainability and ensuring a livable world for the next generation? With this approach, our concerns broaden to heal the planet with systems that increase carbon sequestration and are significantly less reliant on fossil fuels.

So, we have come a long way and MOFGA and organic farmers and consumers across the country have led the way. It happened through grassroots action, with people dismissing government proclamations of safety and acceptable risk, and public understanding that the chemicals were not, and are not, wanted and are not needed. As a result, we have a framework in place – we have cropping systems and land management systems that work without toxic pesticide reliance. Our challenge now is to grow this approach into the mainstream to become the predominant methods of land management – a precautionary approach.

Yes, but why aren’t we further along since Silent Spring?

While the U.S. ranks third in the total acreage of land in organic production, as a percentage of cropland, our actual numbers pale in comparison to other countries. Based on the most recent data from USDA (2008), certified organic cropland and pasture accounted for about 0.6 percent of total U.S. farmland. Regionally, the greatest share of organic agricultural land was in Oceania (33 percent), followed by Europe (25 percent) and Latin America (23 percent). Australia is at 42 percent!

The disappearance of the bees alerts us to a fundamental and systemic flaw in our approach to the use of toxic chemicals – and highlights this question as to whether our risk assessment approach to regulation will slowly but surely cause our demise without a meaningful change of course. Of course, we can point to the chemical industry as Rachel Carson did – the chemicalization of agriculture. And that power expresses itself through the institutionalization of risk assessment since Rachel Carson. While admittedly uncertain and filled with deficiencies, risk assessments establish unsupported thresholds of acceptable chemical contamination of the ecosystem, despite the availability of non-toxic alternative practices and products. The industry has referred to the toxic load on the environment and the toxic body burden as a “so what level.” Why do we allow chemical-intensive practices in agriculture when organic practices that eliminate the vast majority of hazardous substances are commercially viable? Risk assessments, supported by environmental and public health statutes, in effect prop up unnecessary poisoning.

As our dependency on pesticides fails us because of our disregard for beneficial biological systems, the vested interests have successfully used the risk assessment process to move society to the next best solution – or so-called solution. And we see this historically by tracing our reliance on the various chemical families in the decades since Silent Spring was written.

Rachel Carson alerted us to this, but in her day, of course, we had become dependent on the chlorinated hydrocarbons or organochlorines. We learned, as she taught us, that they are cancer causing, bioaccumulative and destructive of wildlife, inducing reproductive failure. So we moved to organophosphates, understood to be shorter-lived. But those were found to cause cancer, as well, nervous system damage and adversely affect brain function. So we moved to the synthetic pyrethroids – thought to degrade rapidly – nervous system toxicants, endocrine disruptors, showing up in the human body, found in stream beds adversely affecting aquatic organisms, and linked to cancer. And along the way, with risk assessment, our challenge has become to mitigate risks, come up with new formulations that appear less hazardous, with application methods that seek to minimize exposure from broadcast sprays to baits.

Now we have moved to the age of genetic engineering, with the promise that it too will represent a safer approach, reduce pesticide use, increase productivity and withstand drought. However, as we have learned, the growth of genetically engineered crops is wholly dependent on increasing herbicide use.

In fact, the use of the herbicide glyphosate accelerated and, as predictable as nature is, these glyphosate tolerant, “Roundup-Ready” crops are showing resistance to the herbicide. So, what is the solution, on this treadmill, to glyphosate-tolerant crops? Well, it’s obvious, a new 2,4-D tolerant crop – 2,4-D being one-half of the mixture of Agent Orange.

A Union of Concerned Scientists report, “Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years,” found that genetically engineered crops have been responsible for an increase of 383 million pounds of herbicide use in the U.S. over the first 13 years of commercial use of GE crops (1996-2008). The report identifies and discusses the primary cause of the increase – the emergence of herbicide-resistant weeds.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official speaking at an agricultural conference said that the heavy use of Roundup, an herbicide manufactured by Monsanto and used heavily on Roundup Ready genetically engineered (GE) crops, appears to be causing harmful changes in soil and potentially hindering yields of crops that farmers are cultivating. Reuters reported that Robert Kremer, Ph.D., a microbiologist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, told the audience at the August 12, 2011, conference sponsored by the Organization for Competitive Markets that repeated use of the herbicide glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup herbicide, impacts the root structure of plants, and 15 years of research indicates that the chemical could be causing fungal root disease.

Herbicide-tolerant crops cause ecological changes that undermine the effectiveness of GE technology, such as the accelerated spread of resistant weeds. At least 21 different species of weeds are found to be resistant to glyphosate, used across thousands of acres of Roundup Ready GE crops, according to a series of studies in the current issue of Weed Science.

And it’s not just herbicide resistance we’re talking about. You’re familiar with pesticide-incorporated plants (PIPs), where BT has been incorporated into plants. That too is showing resistance – insect resistance – and the usefulness of an important biological tool when used in an organic system is being compromised. All very predictable to students of nature. The yield from corn, averaged over the last several decades, has grown annually faster without the trait than with the trait (approximately 1 percent without the Bt trait and between 0.2 and 0.3 percent with the trait).

And yet, our U.S. Secretary of Agriculture supports co-existence – side-by-side farming of GE and non-GE/classical breeds, despite proven genetic trespass/drift, meaning contamination.

Those who have experienced pesticide drift know that we cannot ignore genetic drift or think that it won’t affect us. Organic bucked this historical pattern and it did so because you demanded it and you practiced it, and you supported it. That got us to where we are, so that we no longer sit in congressional and state legislative hearings, or approach our town, city and county governments without being able to point to the viability, productivity and profitability of organic methods.

Organic is a core belief that guides a lifestyle and a commitment to the next generation at home, in our communities, in our food production system.

You know about Camden and Rockport ordinances (2008) on pest management policy, which advances a vision for organic pest management and in so doing adopt this language:

It reads, “Organic Pest Management practices (i.e., natural, organic turf, tree, shrub and landscape cultural practices and maintenance) shall be the method of choice to understand, prevent and control potential pest problems. Control products used under the terms of this policy shall be ‘Allowable Products’ as defined in SECTION III.”

Organic pest management is a problem-solving strategy that prioritizes a natural, organic approach to turf grass and landscape management, and care of trees and shrubs without use of pesticides. It mandates the use of natural, organic cultural practices that promote healthy soil and plant life as a preventative measure against the onset of turf and landscape pest problems.

Organic Foods Production Act

This is what I believe we need to focus on:

Building on the experiences and leadership of MOFGA and pioneers of organic across the country, we have a national law that protects organic through a democratic decision making process, governed by the organic community and a National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), and a statute called the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). I have the honor of serving on that board with a five-year appointment by the Secretary of Agriculture that began in 2010 –which obviously doesn’t mean that I agree with all his positions. The law, I believe, is the best example of a public health and environmental law that we have in this country. In addition to evaluating hazards, it forces an alternatives assessment. Do we need it? Is there a better and safer way, one that raises less uncertainty in the manipulation of nature in all its complexity?

As Rachel Carson instructed, it requires us to recognize the interconnectedness of the natural world and requires us to respect it with analyses that look at biological and ecological systems (through an organic systems plan), whether the inputs we’re using can be harmful, not just in their use pattern, but in their life cycle from manufacture to disposal. We are required to consider the essentiality of an input (is it needed) and we’re committed to continuous improvement in very specific terms, where we incentivize non-synthetic materials and all organic ingredients in certified processed food. All materials are on a five-year sunset, which forces a constant reassessment of all of this, and there is a petition process for the public to challenge the status-quo. But key, and in alignment with Ms. Carson’s writing, is language in the law that says, “An organic plan shall contain provisions designed to foster soil fertility, primarily through the management of organic content of the soil through proper tillage, crop rotation, and manuring.”

How we use the power of this law to ensure the application of our core principles and values is up to us. (See Beyond Pesticides’ Keeping Organic Strong webpage,, for details.)

Will large food companies seek the allowance of inputs that challenge the integrity of the organic system? Will publicity on controversial (or in some people’s view, bad) decisions undermine the growing organic market? That is up to us.

But, I can tell you that Rachel Carson’s vision, her core beliefs, her scientific assessment, her analysis of the value of preventive rather than curative solutions implores us to grow organic with integrity. If we truly want to leave this planet for the next generation, we must build organic, because if people begin to distrust organic as a result of some controversial decisions, the future is even more perilous.

The chemical-intensive alternative is clearly no longer an option. The toxic pesticide experiment on humanity has failed. Organic is the only option. The organic solution will only flourish with the strength and power of Rachel Carson’s words in Silent Spring and our conviction.

Thank you Rachel Carson. Thank you MOFGA. Thank you organic Mainers for your vision and fortitude in the pursuit of organic change.

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