Monday, March 7, 2011

Organic isn't what you think it is (maybe)

Organic is NOT pesticide free. In fact, some of the permitted pesticides from a pure chemistry perspective are inorganic. Benzene, ironically, is an organic solvent though it is a carcinogen. The upside is that the list of permitted pesticides is relatively short (see the end of this post), so you know what could have been used. But one would need to consult an expert to tell use the pros and cons of various treatments. Regardless, it bothers me that the lie "organic is pesticide free" is often repeated. Chances are if your food looks delicious, some kind of deterrent to bugs was used. The question is then associated risks, residues and quantity.

I actually like a lot of the same wines the “terroirists” do (and many they don’t), but if I hadn’t come across these wines via other channels, I’d be so turned off by the people supporting them I wouldn’t be interested. Much the way I’m turned off by the attitude of many $100+ Napa Cabs. Wine isn’t an ideology or an art installation; it’s an effin’ drink with good flavor, aroma and yes alcohol.

SO2 and organic are my biggest pet peeve with the “terroirists” because they simply don’t understand what they mean or do. SO2 is vital for microbial stability and scouring byproducts of oxidation. If you can’t assume perfect provenance and aren’t drinking the wine immediately, it is a net good. I suspect “terroirists” often confuse sulfites with sulfides or thiols, i.e. mercaptans. Scientific illiteracy is a dangerous thing in the hands of a ideologically bent idiot.

As for organic, I’m sure most “terroirists” are unaware that Copper Sulfate (gasp, an inorganic chemical) and elemental Sulfur are permitted as anti-fungal agents in USDA organic as well as European organic and biodynamic viticulture. Yet if you put SO2 in the finished wine, it is a crime. If an ideology lacks internal consistency, it fails. Talk about a failure: organic does not mean pesticide or fungicide free. It only limits the options to a specific list of traditional treatments.

Below is an excerpt from USDA regulations. I've bolded the section on plant disease control.
205.601 Synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production

In accordance with restrictions specified in this section, the following synthetic substances may be used in organic crop production: Provided, That, use of such substances do not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water. Substances allowed by this section, except disinfectants and sanitizers in paragraph (a) and those substances in paragraphs (c), (j), (k), and (l) of this section, may only be used when the provisions set forth in 205.206(a) through (d) prove insufficient to prevent or control the target pest.

(a) As algicide, disinfectants, and sanitizer, including irrigation system cleaning systems.
(1) Alcohols.
(i) Ethanol.
(ii) Isopropanol.
(2) Chlorine materials— Except, That, residual chlorine levels in the water shall not exceed the maximum residual disinfectant limit under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
(i) Calcium hypochlorite.
(ii) Chlorine dioxide.
(iii) Sodium hypochlorite.
(3) Copper sulfate—for use as an algicide in aquatic rice systems, is limited to one application per field during any 24-month period. Application rates are limited to those which do not increase baseline soil test values for copper over a timeframe agreed upon by the producer and accredited certifying agent.
(4) Hydrogen peroxide.
(5) Ozone gas—for use as an irrigation system cleaner only.
(6) Peracetic acid—for use in disinfecting equipment, seed, and asexually propagated planting material.
(7) Soap-based algicide/demossers.

(b) As herbicides, weed barriers, as applicable.
(1) Herbicides, soap-based—for use in farmstead maintenance (roadways, ditches, right of ways, building perimeters) and ornamental crops.
(2) Mulches.
(i) Newspaper or other recycled paper, without glossy or colored inks.
(ii) Plastic mulch and covers (petroleum-based other than polyvinyl chloride (PVC)).

(c) As compost feedstocks—Newspapers or other recycled paper, without glossy or colored inks.

(d) As animal repellents—Soaps, ammonium—for use as a large animal repellant only, no contact with soil or edible portion of crop.
(e) As insecticides (including acaricides or mite control).
(1) Ammonium carbonate—for use as bait in insect traps only, no direct contact with crop or soil.
(2) Boric acid—structural pest control, no direct contact with organic food or crops.
(3) Copper sulfate—for use as tadpole shrimp control in aquatic rice production, is limited to one application per field during any 24-month period. Application rates are limited to levels which do not increase baseline soil test values for copper over a timeframe agreed upon by the producer and accredited certifying agent.
(4) Elemental sulfur.
(5) Lime sulfur—including calcium polysulfide.
(6) Oils, horticultural—narrow range oils as dormant, suffocating, and summer oils.
(7) Soaps, insecticidal.
(8) Sticky traps/barriers.
(9) Sucrose octanoate esters (CAS #s—42922–74–7; 58064–47–4)—in accordance with approved labeling.

(f) As insect management. Pheromones.
(g) As rodenticides.
(1) Sulfur dioxide—underground rodent control only (smoke bombs).
(2) Vitamin D3.

(h) As slug or snail bait. Ferric phosphate (CAS # 10045–86–0).

(i) As plant disease control.
(1) Coppers, fixed—copper hydroxide, copper oxide, copper oxychloride, includes products exempted from EPA tolerance, Provided, That, copper-based materials must be used in a manner that minimizes accumulation in the soil and shall not be used as herbicides.
(2) Copper sulfate—Substance must be used in a manner that minimizes accumulation of copper in the soil. 3
(3) Hydrated lime.
(4) Hydrogen peroxide.
(5) Lime sulfur.
(6) Oils, horticultural, narrow range oils as dormant, suffocating, and summer oils.
(7) Peracetic acid—for use to control fire blight bacteria.
(8) Potassium bicarbonate.
(9) Elemental sulfur.
(10) Streptomycin, for fire blight control in apples and pears only.
(11) Tetracycline (oxytetracycline calcium complex), for fire blight control only.

(j) As plant or soil amendments.
(1) Aquatic plant extracts (other than hydrolyzed)—Extraction process is limited to the use of potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide; solvent amount used is limited to that amount necessary for extraction.
(2) Elemental sulfur.
(3) Humic acids—naturally occurring deposits, water and alkali extracts only.
(4) Lignin sulfonate—chelating agent, dust suppressant, floatation agent.
(5) Magnesium sulfate—allowed with a documented soil deficiency.
(6) Micronutrients—not to be used as a defoliant, herbicide, or desiccant. Those made from nitrates or chlorides are not allowed. Soil deficiency must be documented by testing.
(i) Soluble boron products.
(ii) Sulfates, carbonates, oxides, or silicates of zinc, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and cobalt.
(7) Liquid fish products—can be pH adjusted with sulfuric, citric or phosphoric acid. The amount of acid used shall not exceed the minimum needed to lower the pH to 3.5.
(8) Vitamins, B1, C, and E.

(k) As plant growth regulators. Ethylene gas—for regulation of pineapple flowering.
(l) As floating agents in postharvest handling.
(1) Lignin sulfonate.
(2) Sodium silicate—for tree fruit and fiber processing.

(m) As synthetic inert ingredients as classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for use with nonsynthetic substances or synthetic substances listed in this section and used as an active pesticide ingredient in accordance with any limitations on the use of such substances.
(1) EPA List 4—Inerts of Minimal Concern.
(2) EPA List 3—Inerts of Unknown Toxicity allowed:
(i) Glycerine Oleate (Glycerol monooleate) (CAS #s 37220–82–9)—for use only until December 31, 2006.
(ii) Inerts used in passive pheromone dispensers.
(n) Seed preparations. Hydrogen chloride (CAS # 7647–01–0)—for delinting cotton seed for planting.

1 comment:

Eric Baumholder said...

Being an informed consumer is what organic food is all about. You can find what I've learned at