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A Return to Organic Gardening

Author Keith Akers, in A Vegetarian Sourcebook (1983), notes that by arguing against the killing of plants, the meat-eater "seeks to reduce vegetarianism to absurdity. If vegetarians object to killing living creatures (it is argued), then logically they should object to killing plants and insects as well as animals. But this is absurd. Therefore, it can’t be wrong to kill animals.

"Fruitarians take the argument concerning plants quite seriously; they do not eat any food which causes injury or death to either animals or plants. This means, in their view, a diet of those fruits, nuts and seeds which can be eaten without the destruction of the plant that produces the food.

"Finding an ethically significant line between plants and animals, though, is not particularly difficult. Plants have no evolutionary need to feel pain, and completely lack a central nervous system. Nature does not create pain gratuitously, but only when it enables the organism to survive. Animals, being mobile, would benefit from having a sense of pain; plants would not."

In determining a boundary between sentient and insentient life, Peter Singer in Animal Liberation suggests that "somewhere between a shrimp and an oyster seems as good a place to draw the line as any, and better than most."

Keith Akers states further, "Even if one does not want to become a fruitarian and believes that plants have feelings (against all evidence to the contrary), it does not follow that vegetarianism is absurd. We ought to destroy as few plants as possible. And by raising and eating an animal for food, many more plants are destroyed indirectly by the animals we eat than if we merely ate the plants directly."

(Meat-eaters indirectly kill ten times more plants than do vegetarians!)

"What about insects?" asks Akers, "While there may be reason to kill insects, there is no reason to kill them for food. One distinguishes between the way meat animals are killed for food and the way insects are killed.

"Insects are killed only when they intrude upon human territory, posing a threat to the comfort, health, or well-being of humans. There is a huge difference between ridding oneself of intruders and going out of one's way to find and kill something which would otherwise be harmless."

According to Akers:

"These questions may have a certain fascination for philosophers, but most vegetarians are not bothered by them. For any vegetarian who is not a biological pacifist, there would not seem to be any particular difficulty in distinguishing ethically between insects and plants on the one hand, and animals and humans on the other."

Organic farming is a direct response to the moral question of unnecessarily killing insects!

Anna Lappe says:

"Organic farming is also proving to dramatically reduce on-farm emissions as well as related emissions associated with producing food. Cut out synthetic fertilizer and on-farm petroleum-based chemicals and you're cutting back on significant greenhouse gases."

I'd like to see a return to organic farming. In 1989, concern over the use of the pesticide Alar on apples caused many Americans to consider organic produce. John Robbins writes in his Pulitzer Prize nominated book, Diet for a New America (1987), "We produce pesticides at a rate more than 13,000 times faster than we did only 35 years ago. Our environment and food chains are being inundated by a virtual avalanche of pesticides. What three decades ago took us six years to produce, we now produce every couple of hours."

"It is hard for us to imagine how destructive these substances are. Pesticides are extraordinarily concentrated and powerful chemicals which have been intentionally developed to kill living creatures. In fact, some of them were originally developed to kill human beings. Phosgene, used today to produce chemical herbicides and insecticides, was originally developed for use in chemical warfare, and as, in fact, the agent of almost all deaths due to poison gas in World War I. Zykon-B, another modern pesticide, is the substance which the Nazis used to produce deadly hydrogen cyanide gas, used to kill millions upon millions at Auschwitz, Dachau, and other concentration camps.

"Many of today's most widely used pesticides--including malathion and parathion--are members of the nerve gas family. So lethal is parathion that a chemist who swallowed an infinitesimal dose, amounting to 0.00424 of an ounce, was instantaneously paralyzed and died before he could take an antidote he prepared in advance and had at hand.

"Pesticides are not the kind of substances you'd want to have hanging around in your environment. But hang around many of them do. In fact, the chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides--DDT, aldrin, kepone, dieldrin, chlordane, heptachlor, endrin, mirex, PCB's, toxaphene, lindane, etc.--are extremely stable compounds. Ominously, they do not break down for decades, and in some cases, centuries."

Poisons used to kill insects accumulate on crops, in the soil and in greater concentration in the tissues of living creatures higher on the food chain. The Environmental Protection Agency's Pesticide Monitoring Journal reports that "Foods of animal origin (are) the major source of...pesticide residues in the diet."

John Robbins writes: "Recent studies indicate that of all the toxic chemical residues in the American diet, almost all, 95% to 99%, comes from meat, fish, dairy products and eggs. If you want to include pesticides in your diet, these are the foods to eat. Fortunately, you can overwhelmingly reduce your intake of these poisons by eating lower on the food chain, and not choosing foods of animal origin...

"While DDT has gotten most of the publicity, there are unfortunately many other toxic chemicals that are equally widespread in the environment, and actually more poisonous. The pesticide dieldrin, for example, is five times more poisonous than DDT when swallowed, and forty times more so when absorbed by the skin. Yet by the time dieldrin was finally banned in 1974, the FDA found it in 96 percent of all the meat, fish and poultry in the country, in 85% of all dairy products, and in the flesh of 99.5% of the American people! Sadly, dieldrin will remain with us for a long time; it is one of the most biologically stable of all pesticides, taking many decades to break down."

In his Pulitzer Prize nominated book, How to Survive in America the Poisoned, pesticide authority Lewis Regenstein writes: "Meat contains approximately 14 times more pesticides than do plant foods; dairy products 5 1/2 times more. Thus, by eating foods of animal origin, one ingests greatly concentrated amounts of hazardous chemicals. Analysis of various foods by the FDA shows that meat, poultry, fish, cheese and other dairy products contain levels of these pesticides more often and in greater amount than in other foods."

As far back as 1966, it was admitted in Congressional hearings that:

"No milk available on the market, today, in any part of the United States, is free of pesticide residues."

In 1975, the Council on Environmental Quality concluded dairy and meat products account for over 95% of the population's intake of DDT. The same is true of other pesticides.

A 1976 study by the Environmental Protection Agency found the breast milk of mothers who consume animal products to be 50 to 100 times more contaminated by pesticide residues than the milk of vegetarian or vegan mothers.

John Robbins writes: "Earl Butz, Secretary of Agriculture under Nixon, used to say that before the United States could consider organic farming, it would have to decide which 50 or 60 million Americans were going to be allowed to starve. His attitude exemplified the stance that government and agribusiness have taken in the past: that organic farming is a luxury we can ill-afford, and we need these chemicals to feed ourselves. The chemical companies...have spent millions to reinforce this way of thinking.

"But it could hardly be less true."

Organic farming and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) are getting more attention today. These utilize natural insect controls, such as predatory insects, weather, crop rotation, pest-resistant varieties, soil tillage, and other environmentally safe practices.

A 1979 Department of Agriculture task force of scientists and economists came to "...positive conclusions on the importance of organic farming and its potential contributions to agriculture and society." Until the end of the Second World War, American farmers produced bountiful harvests without relying on pesticides. There is no reason why America cannot do so again.

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