Wicked Cool World of Organics - Edition 64

This week's dose of organic headlines, updates, resources, goodies, and recipes courtesy of dsnodgrass...

The Environmental Working Group has consistently been a fantastic resource for tracking the toxic assault we experience in our food, cosmetics, air, water, etc. They've released their latest list of non-organic produce with the highest amounts of pesticides, and celery is king, averaging 67 different pesticides.

So here you go - the good, the bad, and the toxic, via CNN.

The judge in that case has issued his decision, and it's a mixed bag. In essence, the judge appears to be aiming for a compromise position which looks to give farmers who are growing genetically modified sugar beets the time frame of a growing season to convert to non-gm crops.

The Dirty Dozen





Domestic blueberries


Sweet bell peppers

Spinach, kale and collard greens



Imported grapes


Not all non-organic fruits and vegetables have a high pesticide level. Some produce has a strong outer layer that provides a defense against pesticide contamination. The group found a number of non-organic fruits and vegetables dubbed the "Clean 15" that contained little to no pesticides.

The Clean 15



Sweet corn



Sweet peas


Kiwi fruit






Sweet potatoes

Sweet onions


James McWilliams melds freakonomics, organic agriculture, and global warming.

In 2008, the Rodale Institute—an organization dedicated to the promotion of organic agriculture—published a widely noted report entitled “Regenerative Organic Farming: A Solution to Global Warming.” The takeaway was that organic agriculture, due to its reliance on biological rather than chemical methods, could substantially reduce carbon emissions generated by the agricultural sector. Rodale predicted that if the world’s 3.5 billion acres of arable land were placed under organic production, 40 percent of global carbon emissions would be immediately sequestered.

It was an impressive projection and, as far as I can tell, an accurate one. Organic farming’s use of cover crops and composted manure is a remarkably effective way to sequester carbon dioxide. The Rodale report continues to garner widespread attention.  As recently as a month ago, Peter Melchett, Policy Director of the U.K.’s Soil Association, championed the assertion that organic agriculture reduces global warming. He spoke as if the claim was conventional wisdom—which, in a way, it is.

But this bit of conventional wisdom is not as simple as it seems.  Yes, organic methods sequester more carbon dioxide than conventional ones. But the ultimate culprit behind agriculture-driven climate change isn’t carbon dioxide. Instead, it’s methane and nitrous oxide—two gasses conspicuously absent from the Rodale study. Agricultural production in the U.S. accounts for only 7 percent of overall carbon dioxide emissions. By contrast, it accounts for 19-25 percent of methane emissions and 70-75 percent of nitrous oxide emissions. Methane, according to the EPA, is 23 times more potent a GHG than carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide is 310 times as potent. 

So the key question, as far as GHG emissions and agriculture goes, is not how much carbon dioxide organic agriculture sequesters. Instead, it’s how much methane and nitrous oxide it sequesters.  And this question, like any controversial topic in agriculture, is riddled with caveats and qualifications.  A recent conference in France dedicated to organic agriculture and climate change found that, in some cases, organic systems sometimes had higher GHG emissions and that, in other cases, conventional systems had higher levels of output. “The data,” it judiciously observed, “are very variable according to the situation and the production system.”

Not all assessments of the issue have been so moderate. The most aggressive (and, at the same time, legitimate) answer I could find came from Dr. Steve Savage, a plant pathologist and agricultural consultant based in California.  Savage, who dutifully expresses deep admiration for organic production, nonetheless came to the stark conclusion that, regarding GHG emissions and organic agriculture, “gain in soil carbon on an organic farm comes at the substantial carbon cost of methane and nitrous oxide emissions.”

A vastly overlooked source of dangerous toxins is the cosmetic industry. Rodolphe Balz is one of the people trying to change this. 

When the cosmetics giant L’Oréal bought Sanoflore in 2006, many commentators saw it as a sign that organic makeup and personal care had finally broken into the mainstream of the beauty business.

Founded as an organic aromatherapy company in 1986 by Rodolphe Balz, Sanoflore, based in this small village in the Drôme region of southeast France, had branched out into beauty products, building up annual sales of about €15 million, or $18.3 million, and had 147 employees.

Mr. Balz, a lifelong advocate of “green chemistry,” a plant-based alternative to petrochemistry, had integrated the entire production process for organic aromatherapy products, essential oils and cosmetics. Local farmers were brought on board to cooperatively produce organic plants, and Sanoflore formed partnerships with farmers in other countries.


“When we first started out, people saw us as Indians in the mountains,” said Mr. Balz, speaking of his early years as an organic pioneer, at a time when the organics movement was still seen by many as marginal and suspect.

Today, the values that Mr. Balz helped to establish are on the verge of becoming basic certification requirements for cosmetic companies around the world seeking to describe their products as organic.



Related Reading:

What is the Future of UK Development Policy?
Producer/Director Gene Rosow Talks "Dirt"

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  • Posted on June 4, 2010. Listed in:

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