Regarding Henry I. Miller’s “The Myth of Organic Agriculture” (Jan. 12 Forum): There is no doubt about it, we live in a chemical world. Even so, I found Dr. Miller’s essay deeply disturbing. It was spin at its politically conservative best. What motivated the Hoover Institution to meddle in agriculture? Was it to serve the interests of the American chemical fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide industries?
The first question raised by Dr. Miller was, will the commercially derived chemicals that migrate through the food chain from field to plate affect our current or future health? Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind regarding the answer? Of course they will. How and when is the issue.
The second question raised is can we afford to pursue the organic “myth”? This question opens a two-pronged attack. First, the pocketbook issue — there are higher costs in transitioning to growing organically. In the long run? For small, backyard gardeners, the answer lies in a thorough soil test. For farmers, the jury is out. A battle is raging. The overriding question is, can we feed the world using strictly organic methods? Will the cost of “organic” foods drop so they become accessible to everyone? Must agriculture eventually settle for some synthetic chemical assistance?
Dr. Miller then calls into question the term “organic.” The definition of “organic” is vulnerable to criticism. Organically grown foods are, simply stated, those grown without the use of any commercially derived chemicals. The definition of “organic” has little, if anything, to do with nutritional value. For an understanding of this issue we must turn to a third set of “players,” one that Dr. Miller wholly ignores: The soil itself and the soil food web.
The most nutritionally rich organic food springs from soil in which the soil food web and the soil’s physical and chemical composition make available to a plant’s roots the nutrients required for the plant to produce at its nutritional best. Chemically derived agricultural aids destroy the soil food web and offer no micro-nutrient value to soil composition.
It is well-established that the uncontrolled and exclusive use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides has resulted in vast swaths of barren land globally. The damage excess chemicals have done to our rivers and oceans may be irreversible.
On one point only is Dr. Miller correct. The issue is complex. Spinning it to minimize any one approach at the expense of another is unconscionable.