News From the Farm | April 8, 2019

Lambs on their way to do their part for Open Farm Day!

A recent article in the N.Y. Times described the spread of a deadly, drug-resistant fungus, infecting people around the world.  The fungus has developed resistance to common drugs that used to be effective in treating it and thus most patients do not recover from infections. Many researchers believe that the drug resistant fungi causing these infections in humans, developed as a result of the heavy use of fungicides to control plant disease on crops. Many of the fungicides used in agriculture are closely related to the antibiotics used to treat fungal infections in humans.  Repeated exposure encourages the fungal populations to develop resistance. This is similar to the concern that antibiotic resistant bacteria have developed as a result of the excessive use of antibiotics in animal feed.  Unfortunately, in confined animal production systems, antibiotics are commonly administered to healthy livestock in low does for disease prevention.

In organic agriculture, antibiotics are not used in animal feeds, they are not used to control plant diseases and they are not administered in low doses for animal health. Animals on organic farms are supposed to be provided with pasture and healthy living conditions, reducing the need for lots of interventions to keep them healthy.

There is a widespread misconception that organic farmers spread raw manure on their fields, which might result in residues of antibiotics and pesticides from conventional production building up in organic soils. (This misconception, oddly, was repeated in the N.Y. Times article.)  However, the use of COMPOSTED materials is supported by the National Organic Program and strongly encouraged by most organic certifiers, resulting in limited use of raw manures from conventional agriculture transferred to organic agriculture.  When manure is used as a fertilizer on organic farms, the majority of organic farmers use the manure as a stock for their compost and in the process of making compost, they heat the manure to temperatures that break down antibiotics and pesticides. 

For all of these reasons, it seems clear that one benefit of certified organic agriculture is the protection of global public health by the reduced exposure to antibiotics and the reduction in development of antibiotic resistant fungi and bacteria.  

Unfortunately, organic agriculture is but a small part of the whole.  In California, only 4% of the land is managed organically, even after 40 years of the organic movement. California has by far the most certified organic farms of any other state in the country and has been a leader in the organic movement for many years.  Even though the number of organic farms, the sale of organic products, and the amount of organic land in the U.S. are all rising, there is a long way to go before the benefits of organic agriculture will be enjoyed by more people.  

There is turmoil in the organic movement these days.  The current administration of the National Organic Program refused last year to implement animal welfare rules that the entire organic industry supported, saying that animal welfare is not a part of organic certification. In other controversial actions, hydroponic farms have been certified organic even though these farms ignore sustainable soil health or other fundamental tenets of organic agriculture.  Many of the benefits of organic agriculture are described in a recent report released by the California Certified Organic Farmers. Because the organic movement is facing so many threats, this is an important time to review its benefits and founding principals.  Full Belly Farm thanks all of our CSA members and other friends in our extended community for continuing to be concerned, aware and supportive of the spread of organic agriculture.  Organic farmers depend on your involvement to achieve our common goals!

—Judith Redmond