Book Review: Organic Manifesto (Part I)

Dan Maudsley / Flickr

The following is a brief review of the first part of Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe. Included are some key highlights as well.

I was raised on organic foods and try to buy organic whenever possible. Yet, when I read the title of this book as well as “This book is about the one thing we can do to save ourselves…. It may seem hard to believe that one change will make such a big difference, but I will show you how it will have an all-pervasive impact on global climate change while also preserving our health. In fact, it will inflitrate almost every aspect of our lives.” on the backflap of the book, I thought, “that sounds like an exaggeration and I don’t really buy it.” However, now that I am through “Part I: The Great Chemical Experiment (In Which We Are All Guinea Pigs)”, I can see where the author, Maria Rodale, is coming from.

Rodale writes in a fun and captivating yet highly informative and research-based way. Her summary of findings — regarding everything from the significant connections between pesticides and all sorts of human diseases to some of the great shortcomings of GMOs to the relationship between livestock antibiotics and our increasingly failing health — are chilling.

If you want to get down to whether or not you should really go organic, buy and read Organic Manifesto.

Here are a few highlights (or “lowlights”) of Part I.

Organic Soil Important to Stop Climate Change

A very fascinating topic to me is the fact that organically farmed soil has been shown to store a lot of carbon. It is actually the Mycorrhizal fungi that grow on the roots of the plants in the soil, especially organically grown ones, that store the carbon. Mycorrhizal fungi may not have gotten much attention from humans or researchers, but they are extremely important for our soil and our climate.

Regarding these fungi and our soil in general, Rodale writes: “Right now, soil scientists understand less than 1 percent of all the living things in the soil.”

With this information alone, it seems we should hault large-scale chemical farming. Unfortunately, there is much more that should bring us to that point as well.

2-Dog-Farm / Flickr

Massive Chemical Experiment on Humans

Did you know that “more than 80,000 new chemical compounds have been introduced since World War II,” many of them being used on our country’s agriculture. Over 2.5 billion tons of these chemicals are used each year and only half of these chemical compounds have been even minimally tested. Furthermore, “at least 75% of the manufactured chemical compounds that have been tested are known to cause cancer and are toxic to the human brain.

When someone says to you that chemicals used in farming are safe, you have to wonder where such a claim could come from.

Agricultural Chemicals in Our Water

Two more staggering stand-alone facts from the book: “60 percent of the freshwater in the United States is used for agricultural purposes” and as a result of our heavy reliance on chemicals in farming, these agricultural chemicals “currently account for approximately two-thirds of all water pollution.”

Image Credit: 2-Dog-Farm via flickr/CC license

maistora / Flickr

Linking Pesticides and Numerous Illnesses

Harvard-trained pediatrician Dr. Philip Landrigan, who has published over 500 scientific articles and is also a retired captain of the US Naval Reserve’s Medical Corps., has been trying for some time to get organophosphates banned. He has been successful getting them banned from homes, but they are still commonly used on farms. A 2009 study in the journal Therapeutic Drug Monitoring now provides “the first definitive connection between the most common childhood cancer, a form of leukemia, and the very organophosphate pesticides that Dr. Landrigan has been trying to get banned,” Rodale writes.

Additionally, the heavy, continuous use of antibiotics on livestock is another major topic of concern for Dr. Landrigan and Rodale. Rodale writes: “The rampant use of antibiotics to treat all food animals (cattle, hogs, and poultry) in these [animal] slums is shortsighted and dangerous, as many doctors have attested. Even the FDA is calling for a ban. Could you imagine keeping your children on antibiotics full-time just to keep them ‘healthy’.”

From 2001-2006, MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) head and neck infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria in children have gone from 12% to 28%. Dr. Landrigan considers that this is directly a result of overuse of antibiotics in livestock, which get passed on to those who eat the animals.

Rodale writes:

A peer-reviewed study in Applied and Environmental Microbiology confirmed that MRSA is found in almost half the pork and 20 percent of beef samples taken from a sampling of 30 supermarkets in Louisiana. The European Union, South Korea, and many other countries prohibit preventive use of antibiotics in the factories where animals are raised for meat. Not in the United States. In fact, farmers can just go to their local farm stores to buy a 50-pound bag of antibiotics–without a prescription.

And what do most parents and schools do in response to the increasing number of bacterial and viral infections? They use more pesticides. “You and your kids are washing your hands in pesticides,” Rodale writes. “The EPA recently allowed triclosan, the predominant antibacterial agent used in products from shampoo to water bottles to crib liners, to be re-registered… even though the EPA acknowledges that triclosan interacts with androgen and estrogen receptors and affects the thyroid glands in rats. The EPA acknowledges that triclosan is linked to antibiotic resistance, and that it is showing up in fish and drinking water.”

There is much more in this book and I think it is definitely worth reading. I only touched on a few topics that stood out to me. Towards the end of Part I, here are a few good summary remarks by Rodale:

There is much more we can study to help illuminate the problems with chemicals. But there is enough evidence to know now that synthetic chemicals are destroying our health and our ability to reproduce and, thus, our ability to survive as a species. Agricultural chemicals have statistically and significantly been implicated in causing all sorts of cancers, behavioral problems, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, Parkinson’s disease, reduced intelligence, infertility, miscarriage, diabetes, infant deformities, and low birth weight. And with endocrine disruptions come genital deformities, early puberty, gender “issues,” and, again, diabetes and cancer. But all this research comes from the few scientists courageous enough to swim against the tide, to resist the easy funding offered by chemical and pharmaceutical companies and the pressure of their peers who rely on that funding.

Eliminating chemicals one at a time will never make a big enough difference. The chemical industry is adept at changing names and formulas just enough to placate government regulators. By seemingly eliminating known toxins like DDT, Alar (daminozide), and lead, we are lulled into an illusion of safety. But it is an illusion. There is only one way to ensure our safety:

We must stop poisoning ourselves now. We must remove chemicals from the process of growing, harvesting, and preserving food.

I will see what Parts II and III bring, but, for now, I would highly recommend getting a copy of this book and reading it for yourself. I can say that my brief summary here doesn’t do the book justice.

Written by Zachary Shahan


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  1. Thanks for your review here, Zachary.

    If you’re looking for regular information on chemical agriculture and pesticide use, check out the Organic Manifesto Facebook page!

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