This week's edition of the Food Programme on BBC Radio 4 (3 September 2006) brought together Joel Salatin - famous for his 'beyond organic' farming system - and Dennis Avery, a vigorous supporter of pesticides, irradiation, GMOs etc.
You can listen to the programme here for the next few days: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/foodprogramme.shtml
Below are the BBC's programme details and useful notes made on the programme by Trish Shuker.
Trish points out an interesting detail. On his '70 acre farm, which looks remarkably organic', Avery apparently uses a mulch of 'organic horse manure' from his stable to help grow his tomatoes.
Why's that so remarkable?
Because Dennis Avery is not only the Director of Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute, a rich and powerful US free-market think tank funded, amongst others, by chemical companies, agribusiness and the biotech corporations, but he's the originator of the great 'E. Coli myth.' This is the idea that people who eat organic foods are at a significantly higher risk of food poisoning because of organic farming's use of farmyard manure.
It all started when Avery published an article entitled 'The Hidden Dangers in Organic Food' in the Fall, 1998, issue of American Outlook, a quarterly publication of the Hudson Institute. Avery's article began, 'According to recent data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people who eat organic and natural foods are eight times as likely as the rest of the population to be attacked by a deadly new strain of E. coli bacteria (0157:H7).'
Unfortunately for Avery, CDC denied ever having done the studies, but stories about 'killer organic food' have appeared in the US, Canada, and Europe ever since, despite the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, amongst others, concluding organic practices actually reduce e-coli infection and reduce the levels of contaminants in foods. http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=15
But Avery it seems is not really so daft as to believe his own horse manure.
For more on the attackers of organic agriculture: http://www.gmwatch.org/p2temp2.asp?aid=7&page=1&op=1
Sunday 3 Septmber 2006 http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/foodprogramme.shtml
Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia produces some of the finest beef, chicken and pork in the US and food lovers say it's all down to owner Joel Salatin's novel approach to farming.
In the final part of the Food Programme's American series, reporter Jean Snedegar discovers Salatin's secret - a system he calls 'beyond organic.' Joel only sells locally (although the term means something slightly different in the US context) so customers travel hundreds of miles to pick up their meat. Jean joins them for the July pick up to find out why it's worth the journey.
She also speaks to Joel's neighbour, Dennis Avery, a man vociferous in his criticism of the organic movement, and a passionate advocate of industrial 'high yield' farming. Formerly agricultural analyst for the US State Department, he now works with the conservative think tank the Hudson Institute.
http://www.polyfacefarms.com/ [This is the website for Joel Salatin] http://www.hudson.org/learn/index.cfm?fuseaction=staff_bio&eid=AverDenn [More on Avery]
Holy Cows and Hog Heaven by Joel Salatin published by Polyface (Mar 2005), ISBN: 0963810944
Saving the Planet with Pesticides and Plastic: The Environmental Triumph of High-Yield Farming by Dennis Avery published by Hudson Institute, Progress and Freedom Foundation (Feb 1995), ISBN: 1558130519
Trish's notes on the programme:
Joel Salatin Polyface Farm, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
Not certified organic, but chemical free for 45 years, 550 acres, which is productive beyond the dreams of most hi-tech, commercial farmers
Revolutionary farming system, animals are on a constant, orderly rotation. He believes the whole world could be fed using this method.
100 acres open land, 450 acres of forest land. He has pig pastures in the forest.
Pigs and forests have always coexisted. Pigs are gradually converting small areas into savannah. The pigs are in heaven - pigs are omnivores - keep moving them on to another * acre section. Pigs are moved every 2 or 3 days so they are always eating grass at its optimum nutritional value, not too tall, not too short, using inexpensive solar powered electric fencing. The cows are moved every day, also using the electric fencing. Looking at ground level there is orchard grass, dandelion, red clover, white clover - Joel has picked up about 10 or 12 grasses and plants in almost a square foot - he calls it the cows' salad bar.
How did he get this variety of plants it takes time, building the soil with organic matter - with composting, with controlled grazing - at any one time 95% of the fields are at rest.
Joel says that since 2002 the organic system in the US has been watered down - organic eggs in the US can be from a 10,000 bird house. There is a false sense of accomplishment in a minimalistic standard, that's now being co-opted by the empires, and the transnationals and the globalists that have continued to erode the true blue standards of organic farming.
He calls himself 'beyond organic'. He reckons his standards are higher.
His chickens live in 'egg-mobiles' - 12 x 20 foot portable chicken houses - the chickens follow the cows in their rotation. They eat the fly larva in the cow pats and clean the field after the cows.
Their manure acts as a fertiliser. Today's industrial agriculture thinks that manure is a liability, where animals and chickens are kept in huge industrial buildings or feed lots. CAFOs Confined Animal Feeding Operations.
Dennis Avery, of the Hudson Institute, supports industrial, high intensive farming and lives just a few miles up the Shenandoah Valley from Joel Salatin. He has a 70 acre farm, which looks remarkably organic.
On his tomatoes, he has a mulch of organic horse manure from the stable!
He believes in confined feeding of animals and birds - thinks it is the greatest asset. They are in a temperature controlled building with controlled feeding. Does he feel it is unnatural? He says that humans live in air-conditioned apartments, so why not animals?
Organic agriculture makes up 2 or 3% of agriculture in the US. Why does he decry it? He says because it takes up too much land. Now there are 6 billion plus people, you cannot take up so much land. If all food was organic, you would need to sacrifice too much forest.
Joel Salatin disagrees with this opinion. He thinks you could feed the world with his system. You would have a lot more farmers - outdoor farming with more natural production, does not have to be ecologically devastating. Earlier this year, Wal-Mart announced they are going into organic food into a big way. Joel says that this will mean big, industrialised organic farms. Wal-Mart says their organic food will only cost about 10% more.
Joel sells his beef, pork and chickens locally. 50 customers spent $20,000 on his meat in one day in July. One couple drove five hours to buy his meat. The flavour is great. One person bought a whole cow, and some broilers - he spent about $1,500. Joel says he sells the cheapest grass fed beef in Virginia.
Joel Salatin and Dennis Avery are both passionate about agriculture, but with widely different views. They agreed to meet. Joel says his system is sustainable - cheap food denigrates the farmer, who is the steward of the landscape, and that is not sustainable. Dennis Avery says that modern food is equally as nutritious. Joel says that nutrient quality of vegetables has diminished over the last 50 years, because of intensive farming.
Jean brought some produce from Joel's farm and has invited some neighbours to try his beef. One person says that this beef has a texture that is out of this world. He says it tastes visionary.