Challenging Nature
published by Ecco/Harper Collins, 2006
Professor of molecular biology and public policy in the Woodrow Wilson school of Public & International Affairs at Princeton University
Lee Silver photo
Challenging Nature
Previous books
Princeton teaching
Organic farmers never use toxic chemical pesticides on their crops, right? GM crops are more likely to be dangerous than organic ones, right? Actually, the first claim is factually incorrect, and the second flies in the face of empirical data! So why are so many people so easily fooled?
Organic food is promoted as safer than “conventional” food because it is grown without chemical pesticides, and better for the environment because it excludes the use of any genetically engineered organisms. Both of these claims are false. Organic advocates who make them are either self-deluding, ignorant of the real practice of organic farming, or purposely trying to fool consumers.
In fact, organic farmers DO use chemical pesticides including pyrethrin (C21H28O3), one of several common toxic chemicals sprayed onto organic fruit trees—even on the day of harvesting (if it wasn't toxic to pests, it wouldn't be used). Another organic chemical is rotenone (C23H22O6), a potent neurotoxin, long used to kill fish and recently linked to Parkinson's disease.
rotenone organic rotenone pyrtherin
How can organic farmers justify the use of these and other chemical pesticides? The answer comes from the delusion that substances produced by living organisms are not really chemicals, but rather organic constituents of nature. Since pyrethrin is produced naturally by chrysanthemums and rotenone comes from a native Indian vine, they are deemed organic and acceptable for use on organic farms. Even the highly lethal poison strychnine is considered “organic” because it is made naturally, although it’s too lethal for use by even organic farmers.  (In reality, no currently approved pesticide -- whether organic or not -- has a detectable effect on the health of consumers.)
Meanwhile, the pigs grown on organic farms need to be fed supplements of phosphorous (a required mineral), because the phosphorous in their grain is poorly absorbed and is mostly excreted into manure. Phosophorous-rich pig manure is a major cause of ecological degradation in Northern Europe and East Asia, and has killed all of the aquatic life in some rivers and estuaries. A cheap and efficient solution to this environmental problem could be achieved by providing pigs with a gene (naturally found in the human gut) that produces an enzyme for digesting phosphorous contained in grain. Organic farmers are unable to even consider such a solution because of their religious faith in the beneficence of Mother Nature over "human artifact."  In fact, crops like corn, tomatoes and apples (and most others) simply didn't exist as edible entities until they were created by selective breeding, long ago.
Although some natural organic substances like strychnine and ricin are lethal to everyone, and are not used in agriculture, other common food substances -- present most notably in soy and peanuts -- are harmless to most people but can cause severe allergies in some children, leading to anaphylactic shock and occasionally death. Organic soy and peanuts are just as toxic to these unfortunate children as conventionally produced foods. But the biochemistry of these allergies is very well understood, and already, a much less allergenic soy has been engineered by shutting off the activity of a particular gene. If one day, conventional farmers switch their planting to such precisely engineered crops, they will benefit thousands of children who would have otherwise suffered greatly. However, organic farmers will refuse to consider the evidence and will blindly continue to plant and sell their allergenic soy and peanuts, leading to suffering and death that could have been avoided.
Absolute faith in dogma, of any kind, when the evidence demonstrates that the dogma is false, is the definition of fundamentalism. Blind organic advocates are no different, in this regard, from Christian fundamentalists or Muslim fundamentalists, who willing sacrifice individual human lives for some “greater good.”
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remaking eden
One body/two souls?Abby_and_Britty
Organic farmers are allowed to spray this onto their "chemical-free" organic plants rotenone
Click on photos below to see whole album
Spiritual journey to heaven rotenone bottle
Spread-eagle sacrifice to the gods planting rice
Weigh station to determine whether souls are worthy of entry into heaven Micheal and Devil
Fundamentalists on the 'spiritual left' play god

Without the fruits of biotechnology, one can only pray for cures to disease homeopathy
A French pastoral scene: 99% unnaturalfrench countryside
Tikal, Guatemala: the ironic consequence of unsustainable agricultural practicesTikal
1906 New York Times article21 grams - soul has weight
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