Henry Waxman is at it again. The Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade-climate change bill, which has been called the largest tax bill in history because it would levy a national tax on energy use, narrowly passed the House in late June and is still pending in the Senate, but the California Democrat has already moved on to his next bad idea: trying to save the nation’s populace by making farmlands sterile, so that only organic foods can be grown.
Waxman’s bill, HR 2749, would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate all of America’s farms and the produce from our farms with a “Rube Goldberg” system of huge buffers, drained wetlands, bulldozed trees (to prevent the possibility of bird droppings) and fields lined with poison-filled tubes to kill rodents.
That’s not all. Children under age five “will be prohibited from setting foot on farmland or tilled soil for fear of leaking diapers,” according to an analysis of the proposed legislation by journalist Paul Williams. And if a crow should be so bold as to land in a cornfield, the whole crop would have to be destroyed, under the radical provisions of Waxman’s bill.
The stated purpose of Waxman’s bill is to rid farms of the food-borne, lethal bacteria, e. Coli.O157:H7, one of many strains of bacterium that cause food-borne illness. But the legislation may be superfluous. In 2007, the Canadian drug company Bioniche announced it had developed a bovine vaccine that could reduce the bacterium in cattle by more than 99 percent. Not only does Waxman’s bill attempt to solve a problem that already has answer, but it does so at a high cost: Enforcing the bill’s provisions in the nation’s 2 million farms could prove extremely expensive.
Why all this trouble for legislation that no one – least of all America’s farmers – actually needs? Call it the lure of the organic. The congressional district Waxman represents is populated by affluent and liberal constituents, who may never have seen a farm but who fervently preach the virtues of organic produce. Upscale grocery stores, their shelves loaded with imported delicacies and plenty of organic foods, abound in Waxman-land.
Indeed, the kinds of restrictions that Waxman has in mind for the country’s farmers are already the norm in California. The San Francisco Chronicle article recently reported how crops and ponds are being destroyed in a quest for safety of foods. One Salinas Valley, California, farmer, Dick Peixoto, was quoted as saying: “I was driving by a field where a squirrel fed off the end of the field, and so 30 feet in we had to destroy the crop (and) one field where a deer just walked through, we had to take out 30 feet on each side of his tracks.”
With the nation deep in debt, and farmers already hit by the recession, this seems a particularly odd time to make them spend more money for the Waxman scheme. Yet organics have become many environmental elitists’ definition of food. Demand for organic produce has risen by 13 percent a year for the past five years, and the organic label, now found on everything from dairy items to dietary supplements, has become an all-purpose seal of approval.
Even the U.S. government has been swept up in the organic fad. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has in place a set of national standards that food labeled “organic” must meet. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a government-approved certifier inspects the farm to make sure the farmer is following the rules to meet USDA organic standards.
It is worth nothing that the USDA makes no claim that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food. And with good reason: While Waxman seeks to guard organic produce, scientists have found that organic foods are not to be worshiped.
In an article set to be published in the September issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine pored over literature and all studies on chemical analysis of food produced using organic compared with conventional methods for the past 50 years—from 1958 to 2008. From a total of 52,471 articles, they honed in on 162 studies related to nutrient content of organic compared with conventionally produced food. The amount of nutritionally relevant substances, nutrients such as vitamin C, calcium and zinc, reported in quality studies were compared between foodstuffs organically produced and conventionally produced. Then, just to avert any researcher bias, an independent panel of experts was set up to advise on issues related to how the scientists made their review. These conclusions were reviewed by five additional experts.
The final results indicated no evidence of a difference between organic and conventional crops “in terms of their content.” When they looked at animal-source food, the researchers and experts also found no evidence of a difference in nutrient content.
The Mayo Clinic recently came to the same conclusion. According to Mayo, there is no conclusive evidence showing that organic foods are more nutritious than conventionally grown food. “Organic foods meet the same quality and safety standards as conventional foods,” the Mayo Clinic reported. Mayo also noted that even though the Department of Agriculture certifies organic food, that doesn’t make organic foods safer or any more wholesome. Organic foods do have certain disadvantages, however. Although they cost more, Mayo notes, “organic fruits and vegetables spoil faster because they aren’t treated with waxes or preservatives.” Some organic produce also has odd shapes, varying colors and is smaller than conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, Mayo added.
And what of the non-organic farmers that Waxman’s bill would effectively punish? They aren’t much of a problem, it turns out. Conventional growers use pesticides to protect their crops from insects, molds and disease. There is some residue on the produce from the spray. But experts agree, according to Mayo, that “the amount of pesticides left on fruits and vegetables is so slight that it poses almost no health risk.”
That would probably come as news to Henry Waxman. Whether its climate change or agriculture, Waxman seems to embody the view that more government regulation is the answer – costs, consequences, and all evidence to the contrary be damned.