Risks of farming… are there more or less? What do you think?

January 19, 2011

This article is a bit disconcerting – “Superbugs, Agricultural Antibiotics, and Farm-Worker Infections: A New Study Connects the Dots” (Twilley, January 14, 2011). http://www.good.is/post/superbugs-agricultural-antibiotics-and-farm-worker-infections-a-new-study-connects-the-dots/  This is by no means my area of expertise,  the relationship between the use of antibiotics in agricultural practice and  increased disease resistance in humans, and nor can I judge the credibility of the source or the writer (perhaps someone out there can?).  Nevertheless, it brings to mind the notion of ‘risk’ and the farming vocation – and my family.


Grandpa Abraham & Grandma Barbara (circa ~1953)

My grandfather emigrated from Norway to Canada (through the US) in the late 1800s. He worked in New York for a time before crossing the border into what was then the Territories (now Saskatchewan).  He settled there, raised a family and farmed the land.  My grandfather died long before I was born.  But I remember watching my uncles working in the yard.  I distinctly recall Uncle Jacob dipping his bare arm into a 5 gallon pail of agricultural chemical, nonchalantly stirring it around,  then deftly wiping the excess with a rag and carrying on.  All of my uncles did this… All of my (farming) uncles have long since passed, and all of them due to neurological or brain related disease/cancer.  Now, I am not certain if there is relationship between the manner of their deaths and these unusual (unsafe) practices – but it is highly suspect.

Despite this, I feel that agriculture has progressed leaps and bounds since that time.  Safety is practiced far more diligently on-farm now more than ever. We know how to handle the chemicals and we are no longer ignorant to risk, so we know how to mitigate them.

According to the “Superbug” article, 3.7% of working farmers (in this study) were diagnosed with MRSA related infections. That rate seems alarming but if we put this all in historical context, would it not be safe to assume that the risks of farming are substantially lower now more than ever – no matter what the practice (conventional, organic or otherwise) or what inputs are used?



we need to de-romanticize our view of preindustrial food and farming…

An article by Rob Paarlberg:

Attention Whole Foods Shoppers: Stop obsessing about arugula. Your “sustainable” mantra — organic, local, and slow — is no recipe for saving the world’s hungry millions.

By Rob Paarlberg
Foreign Policy
May / June 2010

“If we are going to get serious about solving global hunger, we need to de-romanticize our view of preindustrial food and farming. And that means learning to appreciate the modern, science-intensive, and highly capitalized agricultural system … Wherever the rural poor have gained access to improved roads, modern seeds, less expensive fertilizer, electrical power, and better schools and clinics, their productivity and their income have increased. But recent efforts to deliver such essentials have been undercut by deeply misguided (if sometimes well-meaning) advocacy against agricultural modernization and foreign aid.”


New report out on GE & farm sustainability (US)

The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States (2010)

– National Research Council

Report Release and Public Briefing – Tuesday, April 13, 2010, 11:00 am-12:30 pm; Lecture Room, 2101 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC

The National Research Council announces the public release of a new report on genetically engineered crops. The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States is the first comprehensive assessment of the environmental, economic, and social impacts of the GE-crop revolution on U.S. farms. It addresses how GE crops have affected U.S. farmers, both adopters and nonadopters of the technology, their incomes, agronomic practices, production decisions, environmental resources, and personal well-being. The report offers several new findings and recommendations that will be of interest to farmers, industry representatives, science organizations, policymakers, government representatives, and the public.

Members of the public are welcome to attend. Please RSVP to Kamo Mutu at kmutu@nas.edu. The briefing will be streamed live at http://www.nas.edu.

Introduction by: Kara Laney, Study Director, National Research Council Featured speakers: * David E. Ervin (Chair), Professor of Environmental Management and Professor of Economics, Portland State University * L. LaReesa Wolfenbarger, Associate Professor of Biology, University of Nebraska, Omaha * Raymond A. Jussaume, Professor of Community and Rural Sociology, Washington State University

Planting Farm Saved Flaxseed this Spring?

Guidelines for Testing for Producers
March 26, 2010
Flax Council of Canada

Procedures for testing Farm Saved Seed:

* To ensure the highest confidence in the testing procedures, a sample of seed must be drawn across the entire lot of seed. This may be done a number of ways; however the best and most preferred method is to sample directly from a clean seed stream. This includes but is not limited to sampling as the clean seed is:
o coming off the cleaners,
o being loaded into a truck,
o being transferred from the truck into a seed bin on farm.

* A minimum 4 subsamples per 1 metric tonne (1 sample per 10 bu) must be drawn and mixed thoroughly. e.g. a 5 mt lot will require 20 subsamples
* A lot may not be any larger than 20 mt.
* A representative 2 kg sample is to be submitted to a lab on the FCC’s list of approved testing labs for Triffid testing (4×60 g).
* At harvest or delivery of the 2010 crop, the grower will be asked to provide a certificate of laboratory analysis that verifies the planting seed tested negative.

A list of ISO approved laboratory is provided as well. http://www.flaxcouncil.ca/files/web/NEWS%20RELEASE%20-%20Flax%20Council%20of%20Canada%20Announces%20Industry%20Stewardship%20Program%20for%20Farm%20Saved%20Planting%20Seed%2003.26.10%20FP1%20rev.3.pdf


Road Map for Delivering GM Crops to the Third World?

A Search for Regulators and a Road Map to Deliver GM Crops to Third World Farmers
March 31, 2010

The New York Times
by Gayathri Vaidyanathan of ClimateWire

“In the transgenic crop fight, the foot soldiers on either side have been dug in for years. But despite the doubts about the necessity of GM, farmers have been voting with their seeds.”


Key points in article:

Now and what is to come:

* transgenic crop acreage is increasing with developing nations and small farming ops being the newest adopters (up 7% over the last year according to the ISAAA)
* European Commission predicts that by 2015 there will be 120 commercial crops grown worldwide (currently there are 30)
* ~ 90% of 14 million farmers worldwide that use GM are ‘resource
poor’ farmers


* As many as 100 developing countries lack tech and management capacity to review tests and monitor compliance of GMs

“Biosafety regulations of countries are usually modeled after the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, an international agreement that promotes a “precautionary approach.” It says that GM crops can be adopted if they are of minimal risk to the environment and human health. It lays out a clear set of guidelines to test for that risk. But guidelines alone don’t suffice.”


‘Organic’ does not necessarily mean ‘pesticide-free’

As always, I find Alex Avery’s work insightful. Here is a few quotes from his latest:

“Nature’s Toxic Tools: The Organic Myth of Pesticide-Free Farming”
Alex A. Avery, Center for Global Food Issues


“The primary organic fungicides are sulfur and copper. Both products are mined from natural mineral ores. Both are toxic to a broad range of organisms and are long-term soil and environmental contaminants. Both are applied at significantly higher rates of active ingredient than synthetic fungicides.”


“All farmers use a combination of crop rotation, disease and insect-resistant crop varieties, and soil fertility management to maximize plant health and minimize the impacts of crop pests. But all farmers also combine these strategies with judicious pesticide use to achieve an acceptable balance between crop yield, pest damage, and profitability. The biggest difference between organic farmers and their conventional counterparts is that organic farmers generally accept higher amounts of crop damage and loss before using pesticides. They do so because of the price premium for organic food and because organic pesticides are generally more expensive and less effective than their synthetic counterparts.”


“But organic farmers refuse to use chemical herbicides to kill weeds. They are left with bare-earth weed control methods that lead to increased soil erosion and less sustainability. The irony is that herbicides are the least toxic class of pesticide and offer the most environmental benefit. Herbicides are mostly compounds that narrowly target plant enzymes and are virtually harmless to insects and mammals. Yet the benefits from their use are enormous. An all-organic mandate would eliminate all of these benefits.”