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Fermenting Revolution:
How to Drink Beer and Save the World
By Chris O'Brien, Seven Bridges Cooperative Member/Owner

Authored by one of our Member-owners, this book turns mere beer drinkers into "beer activists." Historically, beer has fermented fundamental change in human society, from gender roles to religious theologies. It helped established civilisation, sparked the Industrial Revolution, and triggered scientific theories. Today, beer activists are fermenting a revolution in social and environmental sustainability. Includes chapters on organic beer, "globeerization", "beerodiversity", and a twenty four point action plan for how to drink beer and save the world. Even though written with a homebrewer friendly humorous approach, the well researched facts and thought provoking subject matter are sure to provide ample subject matter for your next beer related conversation. Scroll below to read an excerpt from the book. By Chris O'Brien, 288 page illustrated paperback edition.

Visit Fermenting Revolution online: http://www.fermentingrevolution.com/

Contact Fermenting Revolution & the author: chris@fermentingrevolution.com

Chapter 12: Make Mine Organic
“Drink organic, think organic, and let us live in harmony with nature.”
Roger Protz, Britain’s top beer guru, and founder of the Campaign for Real
A soup of toxic chemicals is burbling in the world’s farmlands, promising
a poisonous supper for farmers as well as the land they tend. This lethal
chemical gumbo is tainting our food, air, and water, and causing death and
destruction to plants and animals. But a hopeful aroma of beer is wafting
from a small but growing number of breweries that are part of the
promising growth in organic agriculture.
In the 1970s, toxic chemicals became all the rage during what is
ironically known as the agricultural “green revolution.” Organic farming
emerged as a response to this “big ag” and serves as a sustainable
approach to food production that works with nature, instead of against it.
Organic farming makes use of local, non–toxic farm inputs and natural
biological cycles to promote biodiversity and improve soil fertility. It
protects people and the planet by preventing toxic chemicals known to
cause health problems like asthma and cancer, from ending up in the
ground, air, water, and food supply. Because organic agriculture doesn’t
use toxic and persistent pesticides, choosing organic products is an easy
way for consumers to protect themselves while enjoying delicious,
nourishing, safe food.
35. Figure 12.1 (photo)
Caption: Morgan Wolaver behind the taps at the Otter Creek/Wolaver’s
tasting room in his Middlebury, Vermont–based brewery. Wolaver’s was
America’s first nationally distributed line of organic beers.
Photo credit: Christopher M. O’Brien
Conventional fertilizers are primarily made from petroleum products that
are refined down to the chemicals nitrogen, potash, and phosphorous, which
in overabundance kill off helpful soil microorganisms. Organic producers
use natural materials and processes instead, like composted manure and
crop rotation, to improve soil fertility. As a result, organic practices
protect surface and groundwater by preventing the runoff of chemicals
known to cause “dead zones” in bodies of water. Organic practices also
prohibit the use of hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs for stimulating
abnormal growth in livestock. Public health authorities now link the use
of antibiotics in livestock to the greater numbers of people contracting
infections that resist treatment with the same drugs. For example,
microbiologist Rustam Aminov, at the University of Illinois, looked at the
soil and water underneath waste lagoons from pigs that were treated with
antibiotics. He found that the soil and ground water contained bacteria
with genes that were resistant to tetracycline, which is widely used to
treat a variety of common infections like strep throat, the flu, and
typhus. If the bacteria are resistant to tetracycline it means the
treatment will no longer work.
{TBox}”Organic farming is now the fastest growing sector of the world
agricultural economy.” Chris Bright, <I>State of the World Report<i>
2003{END Tbox}
{SH1}A Household Word{SH1}
In the US, the term “organic” is now regulated by the Department of
Agriculture (USDA) and denotes products made in accordance with the
Organic Foods Production Act. In addition to the natural practices
described above, food products labeled organic must also be
non–genetically modified and cannot be fertilized with sewage sludge — a
common practice in conventional farming. From 1997 to the time of this
writing in 2005, the US market for certified organic products grew more
than 20 percent every year. This growth is expected to increase at even
higher rates in coming years. According to <I>Organic Monitor,<i> the
global organic foods market topped US$23 billion in 2002. It is by far the
fastest growing segment of the food market in America. Every food category
now has an organic option. And non–food agricultural products are being
grown organically too — even cotton, which conventional experts had
previously said would be impossible.
Happily, this growth includes an ever-expanding array of organic beers,
breweries, and restaurants around the world, particularly in North America
and Europe. Restaurant Nora in Washington D.C. was the first restaurant in
America to become certified organic — everything from the tablecloths to
the beer is organic. The second US restaurant to become certified organic
was a brewpub. Ukiah Brewing Company, in Ukiah, California, specializes in
homemade organic beers, complementing a full organic dining menu, and a
fine organic live music scene.
36. Figure 12.2 (photo)
Caption: The all-organic Duke of Cambridge pub in London serves a large
range of certified organic Real Ales, including the aptly named Eco
Warrior from Pitfield Brewing.
Photo credit: Christopher M. O’Brien
With organic drinks the barley, hops, grapes, apples, and other
ingredients used to make fermented refreshments, are spared the
application of toxic chemicals. But to fully comprehend the importance of
organic beer makers like Ukiah, it is necessary to bear witness to the
fatal chemical mess that is its alternative. Don’t be tempted to gloss
through this dizzying maze of deadly toxins. By facing the disastrous end
that is the logical conclusion of industrial agriculture, the pleasing
fruits of the organic brewing revolution will be all the tastier. Fair
warning: the end of this chapter is probably a good time for a beer break.
{SH1}Chemical Weapons{SH1}
In general, commercial beers are made with just four ingredients: yeast,
malted barley, hops, and water. As a living microscopic organism generally
cultivated on pure sugar, yeast is not a major concern in any debate about
organic brewing. Suffice to say that using organic ingredients
sufficiently addresses the issue of organic yeast. Non-organic barley and
hops are grown with heaps of horrible chemicals known to be toxic to
humans, plants, and animals. Many of them end up polluting the water
supply, which in turn ends up killing people and animals. The most
dangerous chemicals persist, remaining unchanged and accumulating as they
move up through the food chain.
Researchers at Cornell University estimate that at least 67 million birds
die each year from pesticides sprayed on US fields. The number of fish
killed is conservatively estimated at four to six million. Even more
shocking is the evidence cited in Issue 481 of Rachel’s Environment and
Health Weekly, estimating that every year 10,400 people die from cancers
caused by exposure to pesticides.
{SH1}Farmer Friendly{SH1}
Not only does chemically–intensive farming devastate ecosystems and harm
human populations, it also contributes to the crisis in family–owned
farms. Chemically–intensive industrial agriculture traps small farmers in
debt cycles that run their livelihoods into bankruptcy, forcing them to
sell out to corporate ag companies or land developers. Between 1993 and
1997, the number of mid–sized family farms dropped by 74,440. According to
Farm Aid, 330 farmers leave their land every week. Less than half of
American farmland is controlled by family farmers, and yet a Roper survey
shows that 85 percent of American consumers trust family farms more than
corporate farms to provide safe and nutritious food.
Organic farming is proving to be both profitable and family–friendly.
Farmers like Ron Rosemann, of Harlan, Iowa, say it is a saving grace for
family farms. Unlike industrial–scale corporate–owned factory farms, small
farmers have a vested interest in their communities, so they are more
likely to use sustainable farming techniques to protect natural resources
and human health. Organic agriculture farmers like Rosemann communicate
this commitment to consumers by labeling their food as organic. The result
has been a surge in support for small, local, organic family farms.
In addition to sustainable, organic production methods, family farms
provide jobs to members of their communities, and support local businesses
by purchasing goods and services locally. Industrial agriculture
operations employ as few workers as possible and, according to William
Weida at the Global Resource Action Center for the Environment, they
typically purchase supplies, equipment, and building materials from
outside the local community. This leaves rural areas with high rates of
unemployment and little opportunity for economic growth. As we lose family
farms, we also lose diversity in the food supply, and the American diet is
increasingly dictated by the interests of a few corporate behemoths.
Genetically modified food products, called “Frankenfoods” by critics like
Friends of the Earth, are now common in the American marketplace. Some
industrial light lagers probably already include genetically modified
(GMO) corn. Aventis corporation produces a GMO corn called StarLink that
contains genes from a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis. The
genes enable this “Bt corn” to produce a protein that acts as a natural
pesticide. Less insecticide seems like a good thing, right? Unfortunately,
in addition to killing the European corn borer, this pesticide also kills
desirable bugs like the monarch butterfly. Scarier still is the fact that
the insecticidal protein also seems to survive the digestive process
intact and enters the human blood stream where it can cause severe
allergic reactions. As a result, the EPA banned it from being used in corn
meant for human consumption and allowed it only for corn used as animal
feed. Unfortunately, corn from StarLink fields get mixed with corn from
regular non–GMO fields. Investigations have found at least 300 consumer
products that contained Bt corn, including products used by brewers.
Pizza Port, a brewpub in Carlsbad, California, renowned for its high
quality beers, reportedly dumped a thirty barrel batch of their Amigo
Mexican Lager after being informed by their supplier, Briess Malting, that
the corn used in the beer may have contained StarLink GMOs. Briess
refunded their payment for the suspected Bt corn, as well as the costs of
dumping the batch of beer. Since then Briess began testing to ensure
Bt–free corn supplies. Guaranteeing that brewing corn is GMO–free is not a
simple test though. Coors Brewing claims that due to the sheer quantities
of corn being processed in mills, it is impossible for them to know for
sure that the corn that ends up in their beer is GMO–free.{endTBox}
{SH1}There’s Something in the Water{SH1}
Water accounts for roughly 90 percent of most beers. Clean, pure sources
are therefore vital to brewers, who constantly monitor water quality, and
modify its chemical composition according to the style of beer they want
to produce. While conventional farming pollutes water, according to a
report by the Food and Agriculture Organization, “Organic farming can help
reduce ground and surface water contamination, and can safeguard drinking
water supplies in certain areas, thus contributing to food safety in a
larger sense and sustainable agriculture.”
Conventional practices have led to measurable problems. The 2001 Pew
Oceans Commission report “Marine Pollution in the United States:
Significant Accomplishments, Future Challenges” found that polluted runoff
from farms and cities went largely unabated or actually increased over the
prior 30 years. The report notes that many of the nation’s coastal
environments exhibit symptoms of phosphorous over–enrichment. According to
Dr. Donald Boesch, the report’s lead reviewer, symptoms include algal
blooms, which may be toxic; loss of sea grasses and coral reefs; and
serious oxygen depletion. As a result, coastal regions see reduced
production of fisheries, threats to biodiversity, and ecosystems less
resilient to natural and human influences.
{SH1}Reinheitsgebot: Pure Beer or Pure Bull?{SH1}
Renate Kuenast, who served as the German Minister for Agriculture until
2005, vowed to make 20 percent of German agriculture organic by 2010,
commenting that Germans must develop the same reverence for their
environment as they have always had for their beer. This last remark
refers to the German Beer Purity act of 1516, aka the Reinheitsgebot.
This law’s enforcement was in effect for nearly 500 years and is believed
to be the longest running food hygiene law ever. Since the law forbids the
use of anything but barley, hops, and water in the brewing of beer, many
modern brewers continue to revere it’s protection of unadulterated beers.
Others consider it restrictive, saying it stymies creativity. In either
case, the original intent of the law probably had less to do with quality
and more to do with taxes, as earlier discussed.
But just as the Reinheitsgebot failed to include yeast as a permissible
ingredient in beer (its existence, and therefore its importance to beer,
was unknown at the time), neither did it mention the use of toxic
chemicals in the growing of brewing ingredients. A beer purity law in the
modern age, though, would require such a restriction. Even though craft
brewers shun chemical additives and preservatives during brewing, their
beers are heavily laden with dangerous chemicals from the dozens of
chemical inputs used to grow barley and hops, the primary ingredients in
{SH1}Healthy Hops{SH1}
Hops were first planted in the US in 1629 and by the mid–1800s Americans
were producing 1.5 million pounds annually, much of it in upstate New
York. Due to diseases like powdery mildew, hops production moved westward
during the early 1900s. Today, most US hops are grown in the Yakima Valley
in Washington state, where disease pressure is lower than in the humid
eastern states. Virtually all American hops are grown using conventional
agricultural methods, relying heavily on fungicides to control mildews and
pesticides to keep hop aphids in check.
An issue of concern to even the most casual observer is the fact that
allowable levels and types of pesticide use vary greatly from one country
to the next. For example, Germany and the US, two major hop-producing
countries, use wildly different regulations on pesticide–use for hops.
According to Dr. Adrian Forster: “From altogether 80 available hop
spraying agents 40 are licensed in Germany at the moment and 11 in the
USA. Only six [of these agents] are licensed in both countries.
Consequently five agents licensed in the USA may not be used in Germany
and 34 sprayings licensed in Germany may not be applied in the USA.”
Paraquat is a good example. It has been banned or severely restricted in
sixteen countries, including most of northern Europe, and is included on
the Pesticide Action Network’s “Dirty Dozen” list of the worst pesticides,
but its use is still allowed in the US.
Endothall is a highly toxic herbicide also allowed on US-grown hops.
According to Environmental Defense, it is suspected of causing kidney and
blood damage in humans, and is believed to be toxic to fish. Until 1993,
the acutely toxic pesticide fosetyl–al was also allowed in US hops
production, but was finally banned by the Delaney clause, a landmark
directive prohibiting the use of food additives known to induce cancer in
humans or animals.
< SH1>John Barleycorn Gets Blotto<SH1>
The good news about barley is that much of what is used in American beers
is grown and processed right in the USA., so at least it’s produced
relatively locally. The bad news is that loads of toxic chemicals are
applied to barley crops. The sheer number and variety employed is enough
to give a beer drinker pause, but the nasty health and environmental
effects are staggering. Conventional grain production relies heavily on
herbicides, particularly to control wild oats and mustards, which are the
primary invasive weeds. The following is a mere sampling of the dirty
laundry list of toxic chemicals used on barley.
Monsanto’s best seller, RoundUp, is perhaps the most famous and probably
the worst herbicidal culprit. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in
RoundUp, is typical in its range of harmful effects, from making workers
sick to contributing to cancer in consumers, and even hurting the plants
it is meant to protect. In California, glyphosate exposure was the
third-most commonly reported cause of pesticide illness among agricultural
workers. For landscape maintenance workers, it ranked highest. What is
really frightening is that glyphosate residues are found in food long
after their application in the field. Barley planted a year after
treatment still contained residues at harvest time. According to a study
led by R.L. Tominack that included Monsanto’s own toxicologist, ingestion
of RoundUp has been shown to cause “irritation of the oral mucous membrane
and gastrointestinal tract … pulmonary dysfunction, oliguria, metabolic
acidosis, hypotension, leukocytosis and fever.” Scary sounding names, but
what does it all mean? In plain language, glyphosate causes the worst
stomachache imaginable and treatment requires patients to restrict their
diets to a very few bland food choices. Glyphosate has also been linked to
non–Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the worse of the two main forms of lymphoma.
Furthermore, tests on pregnant lab rats showed multiple abnormalities in
both the mother and the fetus when exposed to glyphosate. RoundUp is also
a proven endocrine disruptor, which means it messes with reproductive
systems. So if RoundUp is this bad for people and animals, what does it do
to plants? Glyphosate application increases the susceptibility of crop
plants to a number of diseases. For example, spraying of RoundUp prior to
planting barley increased the severity of Rhizoctonia root rot and
actually <I>decreased<i> barley yield.
Besides malted barley, wheat is another high quality-brewing grain. And
although these two grains have long been the main ingredients preferred by
professional brewers, industrial brewing companies now use a great deal of
“ adjunct” ingredients like corn and rice, which tend to contribute less
body and flavor to beer and are much cheaper. Like barley, these grains
are all grown using toxic chemicals.
Dicamba is an herbicide used to kill unwanted broadleaf plants in corn and
wheat crops. In humans, exposure to dicamba is associated with the
inhibition of the nervous system enzyme acetylcholinesterase and an
increased frequency of non–Hodgkin's lymphoma. In laboratory animals,
dicamba decreases body weight, causes liver damage, is associated with an
increased frequency of fetal loss, and severe, sometimes irreversible eye
damage. Dicamba also causes genetic damage in human blood cells, bacteria,
and barley. Because dicamba is mobile in soil, it contaminates waterways,
including the groundwater in at least 17 US states. Dicamba evaporates
easily and has been known to drift airborne for several miles. It inhibits
some of the organisms important in soil nutrient cycling and thus impairs
soil fertility and has been associated with an increase in the frequency
of some plant diseases, including chromosome aberrations in barley.
{TBbox}{SH1}Protective Barley{SH1}
Organic agriculture can be a lifeline for small farms because it offers an
alternative market where sellers can command fair prices for crops. Barley
crops can themselves act as good alternatives to chemical inputs. Fred and
Paula Smeds come from farming families. With Fred’s father Alfred, they
grow grapes on their Savage Island Farm in California’s San Joaquin
Valley. For years they fought pests and weeds with conventional
insecticides and herbicides. Then in 1985 Fred got cancer and re-evaluated
his farming techniques. “I didn't want to put myself at risk using
chemicals that might aggravate my condition,” said Smeds. “I didn't want
to use any more pesticides than I had to. But I was willing to use what I
needed in order to keep my crop free of diseases and pests. It didn't work
out at first. I found myself spraying more and more, probably because I
had disrupted the natural controls that had once been there.”
Then the Smeds tried using a cover crop to reduce pests. The first was a
simple mixture of vetch and barley. Fred was amazed to see all the
beneficial insects that appeared. “I allowed the vetch and barley to grow
well into May. Walking into that waist–high cover was a little spooky — so
many things were rustling around in there that I couldn't help wondering
what might head up my pants leg,” he said. “I've seen the buildup of a
whole natural enemy complex as I've converted each block and began mowing
the berms instead of spraying them with herbicides. Once the cover crops
were established, they provided habitat for the beneficials.”
Perhaps the most noticeable beneficial insect population to set up on
Savage Island Farm was spiders. Since they can balloon in, spiders are one
of the fastest colonizers. “Lady beetles and lacewings are very important
as well, but there are so many tiny wasps and flies that we can't even see
that are on the job from day one,” Fred observed. “If we don't kill them
off, then even the first year without spraying can surprise you. Keep in
mind that the longer we maintain habitat and go without spraying, the more
diverse and resilient the natural enemy complex becomes.” {endTBox}
{SH1}There’s Fungus Among Us and Insects Are Inside{SH1}
Unfortunately, unlike the Smeds, most farmers have yet to switch to
organics and still rely heavily on toxic inputs. Triademefon is a
fungicide used on grains, fruit trees, vegetables and — wine drinkers take
note — grapes. It is a known carcinogen but was long used as a food
additive in milled barley and wheat. Imazalil is another fungicide used on
barley and wheat. Both of these chemicals were finally regulated out of
use in 1985 by the Delaney clause. But many other toxic chemicals have yet
to be banned in the US Chemical compounds known as organophosphates
include some of the most toxic chemicals used in agriculture.
{SH1}Malicious Malathion Mauls Fish{SH1}
Malathion is one of the most extensively used organophosphate insecticides
around the globe. It is toxic to a wide variety of plants, animals, soil
microorganisms, and beneficial insects like snails and worms. One study
concluded that malathion is so toxic it should never be used near any
natural body of water. Not only does it kill a wide variety of fish,
including steelhead trout, striped bass, and starry flounders, it inhibits
plant photosynthesis, growth and respiration of wheat seedlings, and
causes damage to the chromosomes in pollen cells from barley plants,
resulting in chlorophyll mutations.
Based on US Food and Drug Administration residue analyses, malathion is
the most commonly detected pesticide in food products. Residues were found
in 18 percent of the 936 food items tested. In 1988, EPA estimated that
children could be consuming malathion residues 1,133 percent — and adults
507 percent — over the amount currently determined not to be safe.
Malathion residues <I>increased<i> with storage time in treated <I>brewing
ingredients<i> like wheat, barley, and rice.
Ethyl parathion, another organophosphate, is considered to be one of the
most toxic pesticides currently in use worldwide and has been shown to be
responsible for the deaths of thousands of birds. It has also killed
domestic mammals, including humans, in cases where applicators mishandled
the chemical. Its toxicity prompted the EPA to restrict its use in 1991 to
nine US grown crops, <I>including<i> brewing grains like barley, corn,
sorghum, and wheat.
{SH1}Dying from the Ds{SH1}
Another member of the fine family of organophosphates is
2,4–dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4–D), which is applied to wheat, corn,
barley, rice, and oats, and has been proven to be toxic to the eye,
thyroid, kidney, adrenals, and ovaries/testes. In a 2003 study of
pesticides present in the bodies of US residents, the US Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention reported that children 6–11 years of age
had significantly higher levels of both 2,4–D and 2,4–dichlorophenol (a
breakdown product of 2,4–D and triclosan) than adults and youth aged 12–19
years. Epidemiological studies link 2,4–D to non–Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL)
among farmers. A number of studies also link 2,4–D exposure to childhood
cancers including leukemia, NHL, and brain cancers.
While we’re on the “Ds” let’s cover diazinon too, which includes
sulfotepp, an acutely toxic organophosphate. Diazinon has secret
ingredients that are supposed to be inert. Though these mystery
ingredients are not publicly declared, at least two have been identified
as ethylbenzene and xylene, both of which are acutely and chronically
toxic. In barley, diazinon exposure caused abnormal cell division in root
tip cells, chromosome abnormalities in pollen mother cells, and
chlorophyll–deficient mutants. Use of diazinon by farmers in Iowa and
Minnesota has been linked to an increased risk of non–Hodgkins lymphoma
and risks of the disease were elevated for farmers who had never even
personally handled diazinon. Humans are also exposed to diazinon from a
variety of foods, including grains used for brewing. In 1990, the US Food
and Drug Administration's Total Diet Study found that diazinon was the
eighth most commonly detected pesticide, out of 200 analyzed. Two EPA
surveys found diazinon to be the sixth most frequent cause of accidental
death due to pesticides and the sixth most frequent cause of
pesticide–related hospitalizations. Symptoms of acute poisoning in humans
include inhibition of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, dizziness, muscle
twitching, and excessive salivation and urination. Beekeepers and mead
should take not that diazinon is highly toxic to bees.
{TBbox}”Exposure to pesticides can cause a range of ill effects in humans,
from relatively mild effects such as headaches, fatigue, and nausea, to
more serious effects such as cancer and neurological disorders. In 1999,
EPA estimated that nationwide there were at least 10,000 to 20,000
physician–diagnosed pesticide illnesses and injuries per year in farm
work. Environmental effects are evident in the findings of the US
Geological Survey, which reported in 1999 that more than 90 percent of
water and fish samples from streams and about 50 percent of all sampled
wells contained one or more pesticides. The concern about pesticides in
water is especially acute in agricultural areas, where most pesticides are
used.” US General Accounting Office, <I>Agricultural Pesticides:
Management Improvements Needed to Further Promote Integrated Pest
Management,<i> August, 2001{endTBox}
{SH1}Killing with Chlorpyrifos{SH1}
Chlorpyrifos, yet another organophosphate, is the most widely used
insecticide in the US, with pest control in corn crops ranking among its
top uses. This pesticide is toxic to a wide variety of beneficial
arthropods including bees, ladybugs, and parasitic wasps, and has also
been known to poison cats.
As an insecticide, chlorpyrifos is not expected to be toxic to plants, but
“ surprise, surprise,” it is! Of particular concern to beer drinkers, it
causes chlorophyll–deficient mutants in barley. If an entire ecosystem is
exposed to chlorpyrifos, significant population reductions occur in a
number of species. This is well–documented in aquatic ecosystems.
Chlorpyrifos products also contain a number of hazardous unidentified
inert ingredients like xylene, the same ingredient found in diazinon that
causes nausea, vomiting, hearing and memory loss, reduced fertility, and
{SH1}Suffering from Sulfometuron Methyl{SH1}
Sulfometuron methyl is one compound in a large class of herbicides called
sulfonylureas. In addition to their acute and chronic toxicity for humans
and many other animals, and being carcinogenic and mutagenic, Oust, which
is DuPont’s trade name for the herbicide, <I>kills barley crops<i> by
blowing from a sprayed field to a barley field.
Because tiny amounts of Oust can kill plants, any drift has the potential
to cause significant damage. A 1985 incident in Franklin County
dramatically illustrates this problem. Located in eastern Washington,
Franklin County contains diversified, productive farmland. In April of
that year, county and state road maintenance crews applied Oust along 700
miles of roadsides within the county. Almost all of the rainfall in this
geographic area occurs during the fall, so most of the applied Oust
remained on top of the very light, sandy soil for several months. The soil
blew from the roadsides into agricultural land, causing extensive damage.
Corn, barley, and wheat crops, among many others, were all affected,
killing many of them outright. Also, because there are no legal residue
limits for Oust on food crops (since all of its registered uses are on
nonfood crops), processors could not accept crops grown on contaminated
acreage. The settlements paid by DuPont, Franklin County, and the
Washington State Department of Highways totaled almost a million dollars.
Ironically, the Oust used in Franklin County was intended to kill
puncturevine, a weed that <I>according to the product’s own label<i> is
not controlled by Oust.
{SH1}America: World’s Leading User of Banned Chemicals{SH1}
Just as paraquat is banned elsewhere but liberally applied to
American–grown hops, barley crops also endure a host of toxic chemicals
that are banned in other countries. In September 2002, the EPA approved
the re–registration of lindane as a seed treatment for barley, corn, oats,
rye, sorghum, and wheat. But in 2004, Canada and Mexico both decided to
ban lindane use in agriculture. In fact, the United States is one of the
few industrialized countries where lindane is still permitted. At least 18
other countries have completely banned it. The Rotterdam Convention on
Prior Informed Consent includes lindane on its list, and the pesticide is
restricted under the international protocol on Long–Range Transboundary
Air Pollution. Lindane is also considered a potential candidate for
addition to the list of chemicals targeted for global elimination under
the Stockholm Convention on persistent organophosphates (POPs). Lindane
easily meets the POPs criteria of persistence, bioaccumulation, long range
transport, and toxicity.
Endosulfan, according to the EPA, is currently registered to control
insects and mites on 60 US crops, including barley. Yet many other
countries have banned its use out of concern for its health and
environmental effects, and they have found and implemented safer
alternatives. This neurotoxin is rated by the EPA as a Category I
pesticide with extremely high acute toxicity. Health effects of accidental
exposure include central nervous system disorders such as dizziness,
convulsions, and loss of consciousness. Endosulfan exposure has been
linked to dozens of deaths in the US and around the world, and there is
strong evidence that it is an endocrine disrupting chemical. According to
the EPA's risk assessment, US farm workers face significant health risks
from endosulfan exposure. Twelve of the 21 worker exposure scenarios
examined found exposure levels “of concern” to the agency.
{TBbox}{SH1}Clean Dirt{SH1}
According to a comprehensive European–wide literature review, farm
comparisons in Europe have shown nitrate leaching rates on organic farms
are 40–57 percent lower per hectare and carbon dioxide emissions are 40–60
percent lower per hectare than conventional systems. Stolze, Piorr, Haring
and Dabbert, <I>Environmental and resource use impacts of organic farming
in Europe,<i> 2000{endTBox}
{SH1}Does Organic Really Work?{SH1}
Not only does organic farming avoid the problems caused by toxic
chemicals, it is also more resource–efficient and economically beneficial
for farmers. For example, a 22–year farming study comparing organic and
conventional growing practices in corn and other grains, showed that they
each produced similar yields, but organic methods used 30 percent less
energy, less water and no pesticides.
David Pimentel, lead author of the study, analyzed the environmental,
energy, and economic costs and benefits of growing corn and soybeans
organically versus conventionally. Pimental, a Cornell University
professor of ecology and agriculture, concluded: “Organic farming offers
real advantages for such crops as corn and soybeans … Organic farming
approaches for these crops not only use an average of 30 percent less
fossil energy but also conserve more water in the soil, induce less
erosion, maintain soil quality and conserve more biological resources than
conventional farming does.”
The fact that organic agriculture also absorbs and retains significant
amounts of carbon in the soil has implications for global warming,
Pimentel noted, pointing out that soil carbon in the organic systems
increased by 15 to 28 percent, the equivalent of taking about 3,500 pounds
of carbon dioxide per hectare out of the air.
Pimentel also explained that since organic foods command higher prices in
the marketplace they make the net economic return per acre either equal to
or higher than that of conventionally produced crops, even when including
the increased labor costs of organic farming. He specifically concluded
that organic farming can compete effectively in growing barley, wheat, and
Cider enthusiasts can celebrate a study of apple farming published in the
April 19, 2001 issue of <I>Nature<i> which found that organic orchards can
be more profitable, produce tastier fruit at similar yields, and be better
for the environment. In the six–year study, John Reganold and colleagues
at Washington State University farmed three experimental plots of Golden
Delicious apples using organic, conventional, and “integrated” growing
methods. Although the organic system took longer to reach profitability,
by the end of the study it ranked first in environmental sustainability,
profitability, and energy efficiency. Integrated farming, reducing the use
of chemicals by combining organic and conventional production methods,
came in second, with conventional farming bringing up the rear.
{SH1}Healthy Moms, Dads, and Babies{SH1}
Growing crops in healthy soils results in food products that offer healthy
nutrients. A mounting body of evidence shows that organically grown
grains, fruits, and vegetables may offer more of some nutrients, including
vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus, and less exposure to nitrates
and pesticide residues than their counterparts grown using synthetic
pesticides and fertilizers. The Organic Center's 2005 <I>State of Science
Review<i> concluded that organic farming methods have the potential to
elevate average antioxidant levels. A report by Charles Benbrook, PhD
reveals that on average, antioxidant levels were about 30 percent higher
in organic food compared to conventional food grown under the same
conditions. Diets rich in antioxidants and low in calories are known to
extend human life spans by as much as 100 percent.
While organics provide health benefits, conventional farming continues to
be hazardous to human health. Take these examples where moms and babies
are particularly affected. A National Cancer Institute researcher reported
that pregnant women living within nine miles of farms where pesticides are
sprayed on fields may have increased risk of losing an unborn baby to
birth defects. Moreover, the report claims: “Pesticides and other
pollutants can interfere with proper sexual differentiation; they can also
cause other birth defects and multigenerational health problems, such as
allergies, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and cancer in the individual,
that individual’s offspring, and subsequent generations.” A Canadian–US
study detected pesticides in the amniotic fluid in one third of human
According to John Aitken, head of biological sciences at the University of
Newcastle in Australia, scientists estimate that up to 85 percent of the
sperm produced by a healthy human has DNA damage. Scientists suspect a
variety of environmental causes, including exposure to pesticides and
other industrial chemicals.
{SH1}Organic Barley Is Better for Beer{SH1}
British beer guru Roger Protz writes in his <I>Organic Beer Guide<i>:
“ Brewers want the finest malted barley for their brews. The best brewing
malts are low in nitrogen, because too much of it can make for a hazy
beer. Yet the agro–chemical industry nearly forces farmers to dump
nitrogen fertilizers on their fields. This is a very good reason for
brewers to choose organic malts.”
Ralph Bucca, another beer writer, explained further in a 2002 article in
< I>Mid Atlantic Brewing News<i>: “Organic malts have a lower protein
content, which produces a clear mash and less haze in the finished
product. It has been reported that fast starch conversions and
better–than–normal mash efficiencies occur. The health benefits include no
chemical residues to interfere with fermentation or leave an unwanted
aftertaste in the beer.”
But does organic barley cost more? Yes and no. It generally does cost a
little more, but the increased price is nominal in the total cost equation
of brewing. The slightly higher price is partly a consequence of
conventionally grown foods being kept artificially low through
externalized costs, like petroleum subsidies, which industrial agriculture
relies on to keep its costs low. Organic malts are high quality though, so
a small cost premium is easily justified.
Gambrinus Malting in Armstrong, British Columbia, started producing
organic malt in 2004, with three 24 metric ton batches to start out. “It’s
a customer driven item. We’d been approached about certified organic malt
for four to five years, but had to wait for critical mass to happen, which
did this year,” said Robert Leidl, Gambrinus General Manager. “It’s
fantastic. It’s plump, has great flavor and yield, and lauters great,”
says Christian Ettinger of Laurelwood Brewing in Portland, Oregon.
Lautering is the part of the brewing process in sugar is extracted from
the grains in a shower of water, so efficiency and reliability are
particularly important. “It’s really consistent. We’ve had nothing but
luck with it,” says Brian MacIsaac of Crannog Ales in Sorrento, BC.
“ Brewers should try the new malt.”
And they are trying it. Oregon brewers were early to embrace the organic
brewing trend, organizing the first organic beer festival in 2003, in
Portland, Oregon. Thirty organic beers attracted over 1500 festival goers.
Naturally, organic drinks often taste better too. Andy Myers, dining room
Manager at the all–organic Restaurant Nora, summarizes this nicely: “I
recommend organic wines and beers to our customers because of their
excellent quality, not just because it’s the right thing to do.

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