Sunday, November 28, 2010

Arsenic in Our Food

I came across a number of sources simultaneously this weekend that referred to arsenic in chicken manure. I used to use a chicken manure based “organic” fertilizer but I stopped when I found the OMRI report that showed that compared to other pelletized organic fertilizers that it had a very high level of arsenic. Now I think I know why. According to the movie and industry sources, arsenic is fed as part of a sub-therapeutic antibiotic in large poultry operations to help keep chickens healthy and put on more weight in inhumanely crowded and stressed out environments. I think we have to assume that arsenic is a marker that also indicates the presence of antibiotics (and other things? hormones?) since we know many antibiotics don’t break down even in hot composting operations. In the movie below and according to one of the conventional poultry industry’s lead magazines they mention that the “organic” form such as I guess is in Stutzman’s fertilizer is not as dangerous but that “Arsenic in chicken litter can convert to more dangerous forms of arsenic than those originally used in feed.” One example given in the movie is dust from the soil where chicken manure had been applied that had blown into people’s nearby houses by the wind.I stopped using this product over a year ago because arsenic is an element and can’t break down. Even though we may have adapted to exposure to small quantities of arsenic, after all we evolved with it in our environment and even use some forms of it in medicines, when we start building concentrations of it in our soils in order to grow a large number of developed and changing varieties of crops that this represents new territory that science still hasn’t caught up with.

I assume the only reason that these products are categorized as organic is because manure is simply not regulated in the organic standards the way that other ingredients are. Where there is arsenic my assumption is that there other sins as well such as antibiotics and other industrial chemicals that wouldn’t normally be allowed in an organic operation.I would like to see all such manures that we know contain additives that could never be considered organic otherwise except that they passed out of the rear end of an animal be banned. I am curious to hear if there is a reason to disagree with that, especially considering that there are so many other options to fertilize organically. I would like to see distributors voluntarily put a label prominently on the front of the bags that says “Contains ARSENIC” so people can decide for themselves whether they want to start salting their soil with this element. Better yet, until science catches up with us and we can show that products like this are safe and don’t have other antibiotics or other drugs maybe we should just stop using them. I can’t imagine that it would be a big cost difference to make this manure only using manure sourced from farms that aren’t spiking the feed or water with such toxic chemicals which they can only do because the animals will be slaughtered before they are old enough get sick enough from eating such poisons.

Another reason to stop buying these products is because they are derived from and support economically a style of farming that is eating away at the fabric of our country. The only place chemicals like this are used are CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding organizations) also known as feed lot in the case of beef in which tens of thousands to millions of animals are all kept in one place living on mountains of their own manure while everything is brought to them but very little is actually taken away or disposed of properly because doing so is “too expensive”. We shouldn’t support industries like this in any way since not even the food they create, while cheap, should be considered for human or other animal consumption.
We don’t need this kind of industrialized agriculture supported by taxpayer through the USDA commodity programs in order to maintain adequate supplies of food for our country or the world. The United States has vast grasslands where millions of bison, deer, elk, and other animals grazed in such vast numbers that it could take days for a herd to pass someone if the were able to stay in one place to watch it. This improved the quality and fertility of the soil, created a more diverse range, and manufactured the most nutritious meat. This actually increased carbon retention in soils instead of burning and releasing it into the air. We don’t need to grow our food in large cesspools where the only feed animals get is food that people could be eating and that doesn’t have the complete nutrition that grasslands have for ruminants and the kind of food that they are most adapted to eating.

When you buy fertilizer like Stutzman’s then it is like saying “I like my meat raised in poop” instead of free range and that you want arsenic and drugs that you don’t need in your food. It brings up another point regarding foods that are labeled organic. It is hard enough to know enough what to ask someone even if you were buying all of your food directly from a farmer. It is impossible to walk into a supermarket when you realize how corrupt the organic standards have become since they were first introduced. There is also a morality story about people that want too much and will accept gifts from strangers in order to get things where when we look into it they have turned want into need. My conclusion is that we usually will be much better off learning to make the best of what we have and managing those resources instead of assuming that it is sustainable to always be relying on external inputs and resources  or that there is no risk by seeking things from far and wide hoping and believe that innovation will make our lives richer or easier. Personally, I doubt if that is the case.

A River of Waste, The Hazardous Truth About Factory Farms