Avery vs. Salatin Debate
A sustainable farmer and a think-tank analyst share their perspectives in this WSVA Valley Farm Forum radio show recorded July 28, 1999.
The following material is a word-for-word transcript of a talk radio program that aired on July 28, 1999 on WSVA radio in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Copyright 1999. Host and program producer Jeff Ishee has given Sustainble Farming Connection explicit permission to post this no-holds- barred, thought-provoking, sparks-a-flying talk radio debate on current agricultural policies and practices. For more information, contact:
Farm Director, WSVA Radio
P.O. Box 752
Harrisonburg, VA 22801
Host Jeff Ishee: Good morning again neighbors, Id like to welcome you to the Valley Farm Forum, a monthly program where we invite our guests in the studio to discuss the agricultural issues of the day . . . at length . . . with your participation. My name is Jeff Ishee, and joining us in the studio today are Mr. Dennis Avery and Mr. Joel Salatin, two of the most widely-known and, in my opinion, respected agricultural analysts in North America. The both travel extensively throughout the year addressing the concerns of farmers and the industry of agriculture, but as you will soon bear witness, they are as diametrically opposed in their viewpoints as anyone can possibly be when it comes to modern agricultural practices and policies.
Dennis Avery is Director of the Center for Global Food Issues, a project of the Hudson Institute, and is a former senior agricultural analyst to the U.S. State Department. He is author of the 1995 book entitled "Saving the Planet With Pesticides and Plastics: The Environmental Triumph of High-Yield Farming." Dennis Avery resides with his family at their farm in the tiny community of Swoope, Virginia.
Joel Salatin is an active farmer, producing and marketing poultry, beef, pork and other farm products directly from his farm to a customer base of four hundred families and twenty white tablecloth restaurants. He was one of the founders of an organization called the Virginia Association for Biological Farming, and has written three books, the most recent entitled "You Can Farm: The Entrepreneurs Guide to Start and Succeed in a Farming Enterprise." Joel resides with his family at their farm in, yes, the tiny community of Swoope, Virginia.
Gentlemen, good morning to both of you.
I, like many of our listeners, have been waiting for this program for quite some time. Its been my goal to get the two of you together in the studios of WSVA since I began this position a few years ago. In my opinion, we have two of the keenest minds in agriculture in the studio with us today, and both live within a few miles of each other. The Shenandoah Valley is blessed in more ways than one.
Well, there are numerous ways that we could begin todays discussion, but I think Ill start off by simply repeating a story that the Associated Press ran one week ago today. Perhaps this will demonstrate to our listeners some of the basic beliefs and concerns of Dennis and Joel when it comes to agricultural policy. Then later in the program, well get to some more decisive (and probably divisive) issues in farming today.
But first, this story as reported by the Associated Press on July 23rd.
"A transatlantic battle over hormone-treated beef escalated on Tuesday with US officials blasting comments by the French that America has (quote)"the worst food in the world." A US plan to slap sanctions on European farm exports in a battle over hormone-treated beef drew howls of pain from European pork producers on Tuesday, and calls from French farmers for a boycott of American farm products. The French government strongly criticized the US move, but the European Union refused to give up hope of a negotiated solution to avert the US threat of punitive 100 percent duties on EU farm exports.
French Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany said (quoting here) "the United States is the country that has the worst food in the world." American Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman said the "inflammatory nature" of the remarks about US food by his French counterpart could only worsen the dispute. Glickman said the French went too far when they criticized the safety and quality of U.S. farm products.
Now, while Dennis Avery and Joel Salatin are pondering their reaction to this story, Id like to invite you, our listeners, to feel free to join the conversation at any point by calling us at 433-9782, or you can call us toll-free from anywhere in Virginia or West Virginia at 1-800-388-9782. If you agree, or disagree, with any of the comments our guests have made, we invite you join in the discussion and tell us what you think. Those numbers again, 433-9782, or toll free 1-800-388-9782.
Well lets get started with todays Valley Farm Forum. Gentlemen, your comments on this story. Dennis, well start with you.
Dennis Avery: The hormone treated beef controversy is a very good place to start. About a dozen years ago, Europe announced that it would not use, and would not accept, beef from animals that had been treated with hormones. It was basically to prevent a worsening of their meat surplus, and the hormones do allow farmers to produce meatier carcasses more quickly and at somewhat less cost. The Europeans have now had twelve years, actually they had time before that, but theyve had twelve years since the ban to find a danger in those hormones to point to as a reason for their erecting the trade barriers, and they havent been able to find one. Recently the Codex Aliment arius in Rome, which is the referee for the World Trade Organization, said "Since you havent given us any proof of danger, youre going to have to lift the trade barrier." All of this rhetoric about Americans having bad food is a reaction to Europe having its feet held to the fire on scientific proof of danger. Either put up or shut up, and they cant put up. If the beef were dangerous, the Europeans would be dying like flies. When I was at the State Department, I remember a report from Belgium that about 40% of the beef carcasses slaughtered in that country that year still had the residues of the hormones in them. The European farmers are almost universally using the hormones, but instead of buying them from a reputable pharmaceutical firm, they buy them from the black market. People have been shot to death in minor wars over these illegal hormones.
Host Jeff Ishee: Joel, your response to this story?
Joel Salatin: I guess that I would suggest, and I would like to ask Dennis "Is science objective?"
Avery: Science is as objective as we get, Joel, and obviously science is complicated and anytime you see one report on something, youd better wait for what the researchers call the "consensus," but on meat hormones, weve had twenty years to develop, first a consensus, and then a regulatory posture, and then the results of it, which are a continuing decline in our cancer rates, and no indication of any problems with the hormone treated beef.
Salatin: There have plenty of reports coming out of especially Central America showing the hormones in meats that have caused early puberty in children and things like that . . .
Avery: There have been accusations of that Joel . . .
Salatin: But you see, the question is "Is science objective?" Are there any limitations to science?
Avery: Well, that is a very broad question. I dont think I am willing to proceed in a world where we regulate things on the basis of hysteria and rumor rather than trying to figure out reality. Basically, science is just talking about analyzing reality.
Salatin: But what is reality?
Avery: Reality might be deformed frogs in Minnesota that were blamed on pesticides until the researchers proved that there were tiny parasites that were attacking the tadpoles, and the parasites prevented the legs of the frogs from growing normally. Thats one aspect of science versus hysteria. We had school kids all over America communicating on the internet about the number of deformed frogs that they had found, and speculating about which chemical caused it. Then it turned out that we had a natural cause.
Salatin: You know, we can get into "I could give you five details. You could give me five details." We can get bogged down in detail. But I think that the important thing is to understand that our paradigm, our frame of reference, our world view dictates how we approach science. Science has two primary limitations: One is that it has to be observable, and the other is that it has to be duplicatable. Those are the, by definition, those are the two limitations of science. As you said, they are as real as we can get. We have to see it, we have to duplicate it. And so for example, when Chernobyl blew, when the nuclear reactor blew up a few years ago, and the people, the bureaucrats in Moscow were talking over the telephone with the fellows in the control room, they asked them "If youve had a meltdown, is there any graphite?" Well, there were graphite chunks the size of wheelbarrows lying around the yard at Chernobyl, and the scientists said "No. No. There is no graphite on the lawn," because they so believed in the foolproof design of the nuclear reactor, that they absolutely could not see the graphite.
Avery: I have to warn you, and I worked in the State Department for almost ten years. I had very high security clearances. I was reading Russian radio traffic the day after it occurred. These people . . . this was not a belief in science. This was a Russian system that lied to each other endemically on a daily basis . . .
Salatin: And you think that Monsanto, Ceiba-Geigy, and DuPont never lied to each other, and that the tobacco industry never lies to us?
Avery: I think we have a lot more checks and balances than we used to.
Salatin: I think you are very mistaken.
Avery: If you dont think that we have more checks and balances in our society than Stalin had in his, I would suggest you reread your textbook.
Salatin: I think humans are basically the same, and we all operate under certain paradigms. Our paradigms define what the questions we will ask in a scientific experiment. I could give you, I could go for two hours, and give you easily the skewed and flawed questions that research is asked as parameters of research projects to, not come to the answer, but come to the answer that best suits the funding of the research, of the researching donor or grantor.
Avery: Well maybe its useful, Joel, to look at some of the broader outcomes. Weve added roughly twenty years to our life spans in the pesticide era. Our kids IQ scores keep going up, the kids keep getting bigger, stronger, faster, can throw the ball farther, kick the soccer ball past the goalie with more power. Its partly a result of better nutrition, and the better nutrition is partly the result of high-yield farming. And not only are we giving the people of the world about a third more calories than they used to get per person, but were giving them far more of the high quality protein and micro-nutrients like calcium and iron . . .
Host Jeff Ishee: High-yield agriculture is exactly the topic that Id like to get to next, but at the moment were going to take a commercial break. You are listening to the Valley Farm Forum in Harrisonburg, Virginia on News Radio 550, WSVA.
Host Jeff Ishee: Dennis, I know that you are an avid supporter of high-yield agriculture and its environmental benefits. Please explain to our audience what high-yield agriculture is, and just how does it benefit our environment?
Avery: The Soil and Water Conservation Society of America says that modern farming with hybrid seeds, irrigation, chemical fertilizer, integrated pest management with pesticides, and conservation tillage, which also needs herbicides to help prevent soil erosion, they say this is the most sustainable farming in history. We have used it to basically triple the yields on the worlds best farmland. Because of that, we have saved fifteen million square miles of wildlife habitat from being plowed down to get todays food supply. We are farming 37% of the earths land area, but thats about what we were farming at the end of World War II when we had half as many people eating far less well. So, as we look forward to a peak world population of eight and a half billion affluent, non-vegetarians, well demand three times as much farm output. My concern is that we get the three fold increase in farm output by tripling the yields on the best farmland, maybe quadrupling the yields on American farmland, so that we dont have to plow down wildlife and wild species in order to eat.
Host Jeff Ishee: Id like to ask you about tripling and perhaps quadrupling the output in modern American agriculture, but I want to get to our callers, and at this point weve got several folks who would like to join the conversation, so, lets go to the phones. Good Morning and welcome to the Valley Farm Forum. You are on the air.
Caller: I am interested in your discussion. I dont have a strong opinion about feeding hormones to animals. Maybe I should have, but I dont. But now I do have strong opinions about the use of irradiation in foods. Im not against it. Im very much for it. How come the government doesnt force business to irradiate foods that are potentially harmful to us because of e-coli, salmonella, and maybe other viruses?
Avery: I, also, am in favor of irradiation. I am particularly in favor of it for organic food that is grown when it is grown with the assistance of manure, because that involves a serious bacterial risk, and the irradiation would eliminate that. To me, irradiation is the one big, obvious thing we can do to make what is already the safest food supply in world history significantly safer. But, so far, the public doesnt want it, and we live in a democracy. I think until the public gets really scared of something, and we got pasteurization in milk because we were really scared of tuberculosis in the cows, until we get scared enough, in my view, of e-coli, the opponents of irradiation will continue to win.
Caller: Let me take you back about 30 years, when our government decided that cyclamates had to be taken out of soft drinks. They said that if you drink eight hundred cans of soda a day, you might get cancer. They did tests on rats and found out that it did cause cancer, but youd have to drink eight hundred cans a day. Now, if the government can force the public to go without cyclamates and go to something else, why couldnt they demand . . . uh, I dont believe that there would be a great backlash against irradiation. I know some people dont want to eat meats anyway, so they are very vocal. But, if thats the only choice you had, to eat irradiated meat, especially hamburger. Now it is more dangerous than steak, I believe, isnt that right?
Avery: You are absolutely correct. I love rare hamburgers, and I dont dare eat them anymore . . .
Caller: I dont either.
Avery: I would offer irradiated meat, and this is now possible, the Department of Agriculture has just finalized the regulations for irradiating meat, but Id offer it as a premium product.
Salatin: Id like to offer the fact that there are plenty of people, in the scientific community, who talk about formaldehyde, and the carcinogenic qualities, the nuclear type of qualities, that are caused by the irradiation of food, and I would rather, instead of eating sterilized poop, Id rather get the poop out of it. Get the salmonella out, the e-coli out. Cornell University just told us that if we would quit feeding grain to cattle, there is no e-coli in the gut. I would rather see us go to systems where there is no manure in it, where it is clean to begin with, rather than irradiating so that we can all eat, at least, irradiated manure. Id rather not eat sterile manure myself.
Avery: Joel, Joel, Joel. Lets keep it a little bit more honest here. Were not talking about irradiated manure. Were talking about meat which is sometimes contaminated with bacteria of various kinds. And irradiation kills them all. It kills the salmonella, it kills the e-coli, it kills virtually all of the dangerous bacteria which weve never in history been able to totally eliminate.
Salatin: And weve never had the strains that we have today because of the mutated, resistant varieties done by centralized agriculture. Thats right out of the Government Accounting Office report. You know, I can read it to you right out of here. But the whole reason that weve got so much tainted food now, is because of the overcrowding and the centralization of the American food system. Thats right out of the Government Accounting Office.
Avery: Well, the Government Accounting Office has accountants and lawyers. It doesnt have scientists.
Salatin: Oh! So now were back to science once again. See, whenever science is on your side, you say science is objective. Whenever science is on my side, you say "Oh. Well those guys arent real scientists. Theyre out here make believe and in a fantasy world." Look. Lets cut it to the quick. All scientists are operating under the limitations of their own paradigm. Period.
Avery: Theyre all trying to find out the reality . . .
Salatin: No. They are not trying to find out the reality, the truth. Do you think the tobacco companies are trying to find out the reality of whether tobacco is hurting us or not? Do you think Monsanto wants to find out if genetically modified organisms are harmful or not? Do they really want to find out, when theyve already invested a billion dollars in Mycogen and in the research to find out if its any good?
Avery: The science says tobacco is deadly dangerous. The tobacco companies didnt want to admit that, but science has forced that reality on all of us. It took awhile.
Salatin: Science hasnt done it. Public pressure has done it.
Avery: Public pressure, because people found out what the science said. Id have to raise here the fact that the organic movement has been declaring for fifty years that they were going to protect us from the cancer-causing elements in pesticides, and after that fifty years is over, we find that our cancer risk started down in 1950. Im a non-smoker, and for non-smokers, cancer risk started down in 1950 just about the time we started using pesticide. So all of this expensive organic food that was going to protect us from a cancer risk that didnt exist, and now, when we find that we have a really nasty e-coli 0157:H7, a new bug, its deadly even to the healthy, this isnt just carrying off elderly people and infants, and suddenly the organic movement isnt concerned about consumer safety.
Salatin: Why do you think the beef cattle industry, after this Cornell study which showed that if quit feeding cattle grain . . . Listen, this isnt an organic or inorganic argument. This is just plain old mechanisms of production models. But, after Cornell showed us that if quit feeding grain a week before slaughter, and go to grass and hay, we could eliminate e-coli. Why is the beef cattle industry opposed to that?
Avery: I dont know if they are . . .
Salatin: They certainly are.
Avery: . . . and if that works, Im hoping that well have enough research to duplicate the Cornell results and find out . . .
Salatin: You are extremely naive if you think that the research conducted at land grant institutions, and for that matter any government institution, is an unbiased, unprejudicial type of research.
Avery: You can argue bias, Joel, but youve got a lot of people doing science from all different aspects . . .
Salatin: Thats right.
Avery: . . . and its a competitive game. Competition is what I believe in.
Salatin: I do too. And that is exactly why how you garner your sources and people you quote . . . for every PhD you can give me in favor of irradiation and the centers that are doing the irradiation research, theyve already been in court numerous times for leaks, for workers that have been overexposed to radiation, its empirical, its in the courts, its in the record, its been done, and thats the science.
Avery: The fact that something is in the courts has nothing to do with science, Joel. And you and I know it. Ive been an expert witness in court. The tort lawyers have no shame whatsoever.
Salatin: OK. But my point is that those exposure risks, and those levels, and those fraudulent things have occurred already. That is just a fact.
Host Jeff Ishee: Joel, I know that you spend a lot of time each year traveling around North America, matter of fact the world, talking about family-friendly agriculture. Talking about, in your own words, is environmentally, economically, and emotionally enhancing. How does this fit into a modern, science-based agriculture that wants to feed the world?
Salatin: Number One. I think its important for us to understand that the world has plenty of food. The world is awash in food. We dont need to produce more food. As far as forecasting the population in the year 2050, I think it is unbelievably arrogant to say that we can sit here and forecast the worlds population in 2050. The thing that is important for us to understand is we can talk about feeding the world and we can talk about wonderful things, but the bottom line is weve got to have community family-friendly type of models. The median age of the American farmer is now 57.8 years old, something like that. There is a business principle on Wall Street in that any business in which the median age of its practitioners is over 45 is in serious trouble. Its not a healthy economic sector. In farming, we have now exceeded that by 12 ½ years. Which means there is something terribly wrong with farming as a business, as an economic sector. I think its fascinating that in all this discussion about feeding the world and high-yield, and plow-down agriculture, we hear almost nothing about making agriculture a viable enterprise to make people go into with the level of skill and care and attention that is necessary to ensure a safe food supply. If I could just take one more second, Id like to share with you, and you talk about science. Cornell University wrote a textbook for us in 1942. I just got this down at Virginia Tech, out of the old stacks. It was a farming textbook used throughout the country. And it says:
"Farming is not adapted to large scale operations because of the following reasons: Farming is concerned with plants and animals that live, grow, and die."
So we are dealing with biology, not industry. We are dealing with animate, not inanimate. Industry has given us some wonderful machines. I love my four-wheel drive tractor with a front-end loader. But everything has a balance to it, and if we tip over into saying "OK. Now weve got some mechanism and machinery, lets turn that mechanism into plants and animals," weve stepped too far. Ill stop right there, Ive talked enough for right now.
Host Jeff Ishee: Dennis, your response.
Avery: Im in the business of looking at global long term trends, and there are some long term trends that are very, very dependable. Im not saying they are predictable, but they are very powerful because they are ongoing over a long time. Id like to mention three. Population is one of them. Were in the tail end of a population explosion that was basically caused by lower death rates. Weve gone from two billion people in the world to six, and itll probably stop about eight and a half billion. Some people thought that we were going to go to fifteen or twenty. Eight and a half is a challenge, but its not terrifying. I dont think its arrogant to look at it. I think it would be arrogantly foolish not to look at it. The second trend is affluence. The world is getting richer. Technology, trade, literacy, is spreading all over the world. Recently the third world has been twice as fast economically as the first world. China, since 1978, has gone from maybe as much as $100 per capita income to today having a purchasing power of $3000. Its a dramatic change, and it causes dramatic changes in what they want to eat. Finally, the trend toward off-farm jobs. We used to have 95% of our people on farms. We now have 3%. The rest of the world is moving in that direction because off-farm jobs pay better.
Host Jeff Ishee: OK. We are going to go back to the phone line where we have several people waiting patiently. Good morning. You are on the Valley Farm Forum.
Caller: Good morning sir. I have a question concerning your analysis of the hormone use in beef. There was an interesting little news bit last night, maybe the night before, I think it was on TV, where Secretary of Agriculture Glickman was on there talking about the Europeans not wanting to take our hormone treated beef. One of the questions, besides the scientific aspect of the hormones, is the economic aspect of its use. Now here weve got a common market with what, say two hundred million people in it, whatever, and they are part of a huge customer base for American beef. Here we are fighting with them over the use of hormones. They are prohibiting the sale of beef because their people dont want, and maybe their government doesnt either, but their people must have a reason, even if its not a valid scientific reason, that they still dont want the hormones. Here we are with this huge market, and we are saying that no, we are still going to force those hormones on those people. We are going to make them take it. And now we start this trade war with them. Isnt the customer normally right? They dont want this, and if they dont want it, then why do we, as producers, force it on them?
Second thing, it seems like the only winner here is the chemical company. The chemical companies are constantly telling us "Oh, youve got to use these hormones in beef to make it grow faster. Youll use less feed" and this, that, and the other. Were awash in beef now. Weve got too much beef. Its seems to me that we farmers need to say "Hey look. Weve got too much of this stuff, and we dont need this so-called efficiency." The only person really winning is the chemical company making money on it.
Avery: Well, the rest of the world is not awash in beef. America is already the best fed nation in the world. Your productivity keeps rising. Your efficiency keeps going up just through cross breeding if nothing else. The only market for your additional output is overseas. Fortunately, there a couple of billion people in Asia that live in food short countries where good diets are very expensive and where you should be able to offer your product. You cant because of trade barriers, and this beef hormone discussion is basically about trade barriers. If there is no referee, if there is no rule on whats allowed to be traded, then its not hard at all for some rabble rouser to get up and stir the hysteria about any product. I can remember seeing pictures of trucks overturned at European border crossing stations, and the food in those trucks burned, out of anger, out of hysteria, either on the part of farmers or on the part of consumers. That isnt a basis on which you can get free trade. And so all of the nations in the World Trade Organization, and the European Union countries are part of that organization. So are we. So is India, China is trying to get in. All of those countries agreed to abide by a certain set of rules. One of the rules they agreed to abide by was that they would go on scientific evidence of food safety. The Codex Alimentarius commission in Rome decides what scientifically valid.
Salatin: And Im sure that Codex Alimentarius is looking at science completely objectively, with nobody wining and dining them in expensive restaurants at the behest of producers of hormone, and that the hormone companies have no input, and no interest in what the Codex Alimentarius does.
Avery: Actually, Ive known some of the people on that commission, and I dont think taking them to a restaurant would have much of an impact on their professional judgement.
Salatin: (laughing) You can say that, but . . .
Avery: Joel, You can say that these are . . .
Salatin: Whether its a set of golf clubs or . . .
Avery: Youre trying to say that there is no objective reality . . .
Salatin: Thats correct.
Avery: . . . and thats not valid. Thats really not.
Salatin: Why? Why? Why?
Avery: There are varying shades of gray, black, and white, but really, I mean that . . . for example your cancer scare. Its out the window, and yet you guys are sticking with it.
Salatin: Youre trying to suggest . . .
Avery: Where is the cancer threat?
Salatin: I can show you report after report after report, and I know people who have died from pesticide exposure and from herbicide exposure. We have a lot of customers . . .
Avery: Joel, you dont know of any such thing.
Salatin: Of course I do. I talk with these people.
Avery: You believe it, but . . .
Salatin: Look, you can sit there in front of a computer all day, and you can look at your statisticians and you databases, but I know people. If you dont live in that world, thats not the real world. Thats a fantasy world of government flying around, jetting around the country telling people whats going to happen in fifty years by looking at databases and reading scientific journals. We have customers that come to us from medical doctors with environmental sensitivities caused by residues, hormones, call it what you will, pesticides, herbicides . . .
Avery: Or allergies.
Salatin: Or allergies, but most of them are not. They are sensitivities to the problems, and whether its food dye number 29 or whatever, thats in food. These are our friends. There are not part of any computer database.
Avery: I had a letter from a lady in Indianapolis who said that organic food had saved her life twice, because shed had cancer twice. (laughs) I thought the organic food was supposed to prevent her from getting cancer, and that recovering from cancer should reflect some credit on her doctors. She really believed that eating organic food had cured her from cancer twice, having gotten cancer twice. I mean, this is not a rational reality.
Salatin: It is irrational, it is absolutely irrational, to think that there is nothing about a chicken or a pig or a cow that is unique, and that is any different than a computer or a robotic machine. That is not real.
Avery: Who is saying that?
Salatin: Well, you are.
Avery: Oh, heavens no. Biology is . . .
Salatin: You dont care about humane . . .
Avery: Biology is infinitely more complex than a robot or a computer.
Salatin: Ahhh. Yes. So biology and industry are different. And yet the whole predication of genetically modified organisms, irradiation, and everything else you are espousing, its all predicated on a philosophy that animals and plants are simply machines.
Avery: No. No. No. No. No.
Salatin: Absolutely. Otherwise, how in the world could you live with yourself cooping nine chickens up in sixteen by twenty-two inch cage, cutting their beak off so they dont kill each other, feeding cows broiler litter, uh chicken manure, feeding dead chickens back to chickens. Turkeys die up here at Wampler Long-Acre, and so we grind them up and feed them back to turkeys. How else can you justify, crating pigs up in a, crating a mother pig up in a crate that is so small she cant even turn around, living her whole life so that she dies in a year. How else can you be so inhumane to animals?
Avery: If that chicken isnt comfortable and well treated, then she doesnt lay eggs. Ive seen the free range chickens huddled in the corner of the bare ground pasture, in the hot sun and the cold rain. I dont think that putting chickens outdoors is any great favor to the chickens. Weve got half a dozen free range chickens on our farm. They spend, voluntarily, they spend most of their time in an unused dog run where they feel safe, enclosed by wire on all sides.
Host Jeff Ishee: Unfortunately we are going to have to take a break. A fascinating conversation, I think our listeners will agree, and our phone banks are full. We promise that well get to you just a soon as possible.
Host Jeff Ishee: Lets get back to the phones. Good morning. You are on the Valley farm Forum.
Caller: Good morning. Thank you. I can hardly believe my ears this morning. I have two comments if youll give me the time. The first has to do with the statistic concerning the average age of farmers. I did quite a lot of work some years ago in this area, and what you are seeing reflected there is not an aging farm ownership population about to go out of business or about to die off. What you see there is the average age of the farm owner, the person who fills out the farm census form. He may have. He may have three sons, two sons-in-laws, and five cousins who are ready to take over the farm who are between the ages of 16 and 39. So that is a bogus number completely.
And the other comment I feel like I have to make here has to do with science. We can argue back and forth on "I know somebody who did this, and I know somebody who died of that" all day long, but thats why we have science. That kind of evidence is really not trustworthy. Mr. Salatin is right about bias in science and all that, because we are all human beings. But, we have science and we can try to duplicate experiments. Cornell science says this, well so what. The University of Alabama science tries to duplicate it and they come up with something completely different. We work gradually over time towards what we believe to be the truth, and thats always changing. If we dont have something that we try to work toward as objective truth, then we have nothing. What is there to protect Mr. Salatin from my writing to the media, or filing claims in court, that my mother ate organic food and died prematurely, or went blind, or that my son never reached adolescence, because he had eating disorders. If there is no attempt to get medical authority involved, to do research, to find out what is true and not true, then we are at the mercy of this prejudice, which is all I hear coming from him. He has a prejudice against raising chickens a certain way, that it doesnt sound nice to him, its unappetizing to him. Well, thats not objective at all. If he wants to grow chickens differently, thats his right. But I dont think he has made a single point that convinces me that producing food on a large scale is somehow a violation of biology. Thats just ridiculous.
Host Jeff Ishee: Caller, we appreciate your comments, but we are coming up on the top of the hour and time is running out in our first segment. Joel, your response?
Salatin: I take very strongly the fact that life is not mechanistic. In other words, thats one reason our young people are having self esteem problems today is because weve just told them they evolved from monkeys, and that they are not created, and they dont have a soul and they are just a pile a protons, electrons, and neutrons. If thats all life is, a blob of protoplasm and minerals and things, then we can manipulate it, and we can abuse it. The Bible says "Dont muzzle the ox that treads the corn." There is a reverence there for life, whether you go to Hindu, Buddhist, Judeo-Christian, New Age, Cosmic, Native American, there is a reverence and a mysticism for fearfully and wonderfully made aspects, a reverence for life and biology. In Genesis, God created it and said "Let the seed bear after its own kind." Now weve decided that its fine to have tomatoes bearing peppers, and cows bearing human genes. So this whole idea that science is objective, and that if I take a reverential view toward life, and that is a prejudicial, biased statement, is not human.
Host Jeff Ishee: Joel, thank you for your response. Again, joining us in the studio today are Mr. Dennis Avery and Mr. Joel Salatin. Its a very decisive and divisive conversation, and I know youll want to stay tuned for the second hour. You are listening to the Valley Farm Forum on News Radio 550, WSVA.
(News and commercial break)
Host Jeff Ishee: Welcome back. Lets go right back to the phones. Good morning. Thanks for your patience and welcome to the Valley Farm Forum.
Caller: I have a few questions and figures mostly directed at Mr. Avery. Ive heard him on the program before and he seems to blow off a lot of things like he just did by saying " Well I know the members of the commission in Europe, blah, blah, blah" and he seems to think that hes been a lot of places and done a lot of things and that stupid, native Shenandoah Valley people will believe whatever he says. He made the statement this morning that cancer rates are down. I didnt think that was right, so I looked it up in the almanac, and estimated new cases of cancer for all types, of men and women in this country, has risen from a million and forty thousand in 1990 to one million and fifty-two thousand in 1995. The overall cancer rate percentage has increased by twenty-one percent between the 1959/1961 period to the 1989/1991 period. He is misstating facts, or is wrong about the facts. I wonder if we can trust Mr. Averys statement that science is seeking the truth when we hear him on your program denying the very notion that what we are doing to our water in the Shenandoah Valley and other parts of Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic states through agriculture, through increased population, through increased street runoff. We hear him denying that these things are affecting the Chesapeake Bay, and just a basic, fundamental understanding of mans impact on the environment. The sciences tell us in every way that we are doing it through our agricultural practices. Of course there is a relationship between our population growth and what we are doing to our streams, but for Mr. Avery to suggest that science is not biased means that we have to ignore the programs that he has done on WSVA. For him to say that a system of agriculture that has increasingly diminished returns to the producer, where the producer has to use more and more land to make a living from farming, is going to save wildlife habitat is ridiculous. Its a system which requires more and more land for a farmer to make a living and is going to require the farmer to bring more and more land that is marginal, of marginal agricultural value, into production.
Avery: OK. I appreciate your bringing up these numbers, because I think it will help clear up some of the confusion that sometimes gets thrown around about cancer. I wont argue with your numbers, but if you get the graph on the age adjusted risk from the American Cancer Institute, it will show that non-smoking cancer risks, age adjusted, cancer is basically a disease of old age and we are living twenty years longer now, on average, than when we started using pesticides, that graph shows the age adjusted cancer risk coming down from 1950 to today. Its coming down a little faster recently and thats good news. The fact that we have eliminated almost all of the things that we used to die of like diphtheria and smallpox and polio and so forth, is also good news. Even the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, says that the whole lump of environmental cancers, and that means not just pesticides but asbestos and radon and all these industrial chemicals, all those things together only caused three percent of our cancers. Nobody has ever been able to identify a single person who has died from consuming pesticide residues. Bruce Ames, from the University of California Berkeley, who just got the Presidential Science Award, says we got ten thousand times more cancer risk from the chemicals inside our fruits and vegetables than we do from the pesticides. The water pollution hurting the (Chesapeake) Bay, also a matter of science, we are measuring the nutrients that go out of the Shenandoah River into the Potomac, and I hope Ive got these numbers right, I know Ive got the relationship right, that the Shenandoah puts out six thousand tons of nutrients per year. The sewage treatment plant at Blue Plains down below Washington, D.C. puts out fourteen thousand. And we have never found a linkage between those nutrients and the health of the Bay. Marine ecologists say we have no knowledge of the linkage between the nutrients and the health of the Bay. We are all trying. We are all trying to eliminate cancer. We are all trying to make sure the Chesapeake Bay is healthy and dynamic and has lots of fish and oysters, but lets be honest with each other.
Host Jeff Ishee: Joel, do you have any response to the callers topic?
Salatin: Just to point out that depending on who is funding the study, you can manipulate figures. I was in debate all through college and we used to debate things where we would use the same piece of evidence, affirmative and negative, based on which numbers we chose to pull off the chart. So you talk about "Weve got to age adjust these things," and this is all euphemistic terminology for statisticians to pull the numbers that they think are meaningful from a chart. See, this is pulling . . .
Avery: Adding twenty years to our life span is hardly euphemistic.
Salatin: But you admitted yourself that most of this is due to childhood diseases which are hygiene. It has nothing to do with pesticides or high-yield agriculture. Its primarily things like iodized salt to eliminate goiter and things like that, its hygiene, its sanitation, its washing your hands before you amputate a leg . . .
Avery: Well then, lets focus on what we can do, as individuals, to lower our cancer risk. The medical professions are all agreed on this. This isnt a matter of debate. Eat five fruits and vegetables a day no matter how they were grown.
Salatin: Oh! They are all in agreement? Including homeopaths, naturopaths, chiropractors, . . .
Avery: I dont think Im going to take my cancer advice from a chiropractor.
Salatin: Oh, OK.
Avery: Although if I have a back problem I might . . .
Salatin: See. There you are compartmentalizing our life, and saying that Im just a bit of bits and pieces rather than a whole person.
Avery: How about the American Cancer Institute and the American Dietetic Association and the American Medical Association, those are pretty good names.
Salatin: Oh, I dont think so. AMA denies me the ability to get laetril, they almost made it impossible for me to get vitamins, and if it hadnt been for the backlash from the health food store and vitamin lobby, they would have made vitamins a prescription-only pharmaceutical. Dont tell me the AMA is non-prejudicial. Sixty years ago, fifty percent of all members of the AMA, the MDs, were homeopaths. Today, thats called quackery in the AMA. Dont tell me that is not prejudicial.
Avery: Or maybe weve learned some things in the meantime.
Salatin: Yeah. Weve learned how to make a lot of money in hospitals and health insurance and make the metropolitan bankers very wealthy and extract the wealth from the countryside.
Host Jeff Ishee: Weve got more callers that want to join the conversation. Good morning, you are on the Valley Farm Forum.
Caller: Good morning gentlemen. One thing Id like to bring out is that it is very important that we keep our research in our extension departments and not in the chemical hands. Its to the chemical companys advantage to keep us dependant on these chemicals. During a commercial, you had a news story where we are having a problem with our childrens water now from these pesticides. Last night, there was a news story about water being absorbed with a gasoline chemical. Now, I feel as though Americans, ourselves, want to overdo everything. When it says a little bit of chemical will kill the thistle, you add a little bit more. Therefore our opinion is, I guess, we kill it quicker. Well, dead is dead. If you just need a certain amount, you should just use a certain amount. Here a year or so ago, we had a feed shortage such as we are having now, and with the poultry industry here, the poultry companies put less chickens in the poultry houses thinking that it would bring the prices up on chickens, that we would have less chicken on the market. And with the feed cost being so high, they wouldnt be losing as much. Well, I had a neighbor that sent more pounds of chicken out of his chicken house by not putting so many chickens in the house. He had less death loss. He had a better feed conversion. So, what Im saying is that we need to moderate things. We need to use some of these chemicals, and try to do away with them as things come forth so we can do away with them. We have sheep in other countries that have never received any type of worm medicine. In this country, we are dependant on worm medicine pretty much every 30-45 days to keep our sheep from dying from worms. I think we can genetically engineer some of these animals. We need to look at what already is provided here that we can breed a healthier animal. We have cattle that are down in other countries that are disease resistant, insect resistant, and here in this country we are vaccinating these cows more than we ever did in the past. I just think that we need to moderate things. Dont go to the extremes that the American has already been doing more, and more, and more of as we come along.
Host Jeff Ishee: Sir, we appreciate your comments. Gentlemen, your response.
Avery: Well, Im glad that he brought up that question about competing research between our public institutions and the chemical companies. I think that is very important, and I think that Joel and I both agree that competition in science, as well as in markets, is a good thing. He also brought up the news report on atrazine that was on the news just a few moments ago. Its kind of a wild thing to be on the program today, its certainly relevant to what we are talking about. About two years ago, the EPA revised its safety rating on atrazine. Thats the chemical they are talking about. The Environmental Working Group is charging that it is poisoning our children. The EPA raised its safety rating on atrazine by seven fold. First of all, they have never found a cancer linkage. Weve been using it for thirty years, and theyve gone so far as to survey the women in agriculture and forestry because they reasonably would have more exposure to it than anybody else, and they found that they had a lower rate of breast cancer than the average. To get above the "no effect" level on the rat tests, by EPAs own numbers, a woman would have to drink one hundred and fifty-four thousand gallons of water per day for seventy years, and for nine months of the year, shes have to add her own atrazine, because it is a spring flush phenomena. To claim that this is threatening the health of our children is scientifically wild. These are the same people that, a couple of months ago, made up their own toxicity index for fruits and vegetables. They said that eating one peach would destroy your child.
Host Jeff Ishee: Joel, the caller brought up a point about livestock health as it relates to population. What is your opinion on that?
Salatin: Well, I think the caller is exactly right. Its amazing what would happen in some of these factory houses if we dropped the populations down, what would happen in terms of mortality, animal growth and things like that and did some more humane type of husbandry. His thing about the sheep and the worm medicines, talking about genetically modifying animals because there are animals all around that dont need these wormers, just makes me want to bring up a broad idea, and that is the idea of weak links. So often, we dont attack the weak link. Looking at the hormones in beef for example, our weak link is not hormones, our weak link is proper pasture management. Through good, controlled managed grazing, we can increase the productivity of our pasture lands by somewhere between two hundred and four hundred percent without any chemical or fertilizer usage, or anything. My point is that we have become extremely accurate at hitting the bulls eye of the wrong target.
Host Jeff Ishee: Were going to have to take a break, and we do have several phone lines holding. Well get to you just as soon as possible. You are listening to the Valley Farm Forum on WSVA.
Host Jeff Ishee: Lets go right back to the phones. You are on the air.
Caller: Hello. I thought that was definitely a misstatement that we are living twenty years longer now since pesticides have been introduced in the 50's. Weve had presidents, John Adams for instance, that was ninety something when he died. Benjamin Franklin was into his nineties when he died.
Avery: Look it up. The numbers are right in your library.
Caller: Well, you can go through these old cemeteries where the headstones are hardly legible anymore, but you can make out the names of people who, in the mid 1800's, they lived for eighty, ninety, and a hundred years.
Avery: We had a lot of infants die. We had a lot of women die in childbirth. We had a lot of people die of epidemic diseases. That doesnt alter the fact that we are living longer. We are living a lot longer than we did in 1950, on average.
Salatin: But I think that Dennis and I would both agree that, yes, if you look at the numbers, the raw averages, we are living longer. But where he would suggest that its even with pesticides, I would suggest that all the longevity, not just the numbers, are attributable to just exactly what he said: infant mortality, childbirth mortality, hygiene sanitation and things like that which skew the numbers. So, the people who survive their thirties are not living longer. But that skews the total numbers, and I would reject the notion that its because of pesticides.
Avery: Oh I never made the claim that it was . . .
Salatin: But you always tack that on to make the delusion that it because of . . .
Avery: Oh Joel!
Salatin: Of course you do. You say "While were doing pesticides" as if you could put some sort of subconscious idea that this is because of pesticides.
Avery: Joel, I dont want to dump this all on your head, but the organic movement keeps talking about this huge cancer epidemic, and we dont have it. What we have are a bunch of people who are now, for the first time, living long enough to die of cancer. Its almost something to brag about. In every country that is getting rich, and using pesticides, and both correlate with longer life spans, the doctors tell us that what is causing cancer is first of all, old age; secondly, too much fat and not enough fruits and vegetables in the diet; and thirdly, our own heredity. And we are learning more and more about these patterns of family cancer history. It doesnt leave a lot of blame to put on the pesticides.
Salatin: OK. Then just dont finish your statement with "pesticides" all the time, thats all I ask.
Host Jeff Ishee: Lets get to another caller. Good morning. You are on the Valley Farm Forum.
Caller: Good morning. I have a lot of respect for both of these gentlemens opinions. At one level, I think that people are living longer. They probably are more prone to get cancer at an older age or what not. Whether the benefits are coming from our agricultural practices is very debatable as far as I am concerned. I think that we are raping and extorting the environment at this point. The fact that people are living longer isnt necessarily the point.
Host Jeff Ishee: Lets get a response from both of our guests here in the studio to your comment "raping the environment."
Avery: Well, my basic point is that without the high-yield farming, wed have raped and pillaged another fifteen million square miles to get todays food supply. I dont know anywhere in the world where people get concerned about the environment before they are well fed. So, my crusade is to raise the yields on Americas farms high enough to help feed another billion people in Asia a good diet without clearing their tropical forests. I want to do it from land that we are already farming, and I think that is environmentally constructive. Now, Joel may not agree.
Salatin: No. I dont agree, because I believe that the Asians could feed themselves through a lot of high-yield, non-chemical approaches like permaculture concepts, like forest farming, stacking, symbiosis, synergism, multi-species symbiosis, and all of these kinds of principles which integrate animals, plants, and the complex, diverse, natural characteristics of type of thing. The indigenous cultures can feed themselves . . .
Avery: The indigenous cultures have cleared two-thirds of the tropical forest that weve lost. Its called slash and burn traditional farming.
Salatin: Yeah, thats right, but that is not organic farming. And that is where we really have a problem, in viewing anything that is pagan and non-chemical as organic. I reject that view because we are producing way more per acre than anyone else in the area, and we dont use any chemicals. We are using high tech. We are taking the best of the industrial model, but balancing it. I appreciated the previous caller who talked about moderation. We are balancing it with a biological view toward food, as opposed to a mechanical view toward the environment, towards our resources, and towards the plants and animals.
Avery: Joel, I have enormous respect for what you do on your farm, and your intensive pasture management is terrific. But, I like to eat chicken in the winter to. Im not willing to clear wildlife habitat to do all of our chickens on free range.
Salatin: See. Thats where youve got a real problem, because your computer models are constructed on low yields, and also based on the fact that weve got to feed herbivores grain. Seventy percent of the grain produced in North America goes through multi-stomached animals, herbivores. I reject the very notion that herbivores need that grain. If we would quit plowing and herbiciding and chemicalizing and producing seventy percent of the grains, and go to highly intensively managed, perennial prairie polycultures, we could produce far more herbivores, and . . .
Avery: Joel, we are already using . . .
Salatin: . . . and we could reduce all the negatives of the quote-unquote high yield agriculture.
Avery: The most popular meat in the world is pork. Chicken will soon be more popular than pork, and most of the feed that goes into our herbivores is stuff humans cant eat. We havent gotten anymore pasture lands naturally, and if we are going to have more pasture . . .
Salatin: If we would manage the pasture that we have, we would have three times as much production without anything. Thats why Im saying that we are not attacking the weak links. We are out here creating vaccinations. We are out here creating hormones and all this stuff to stimulate production, and its not the weak link.
Avery: Why not do both? Why not do better pasture management plus the vaccines and the worm killing . . .
Salatin: Because we dont need to. We can use diatomaceous earth. We can use herbs, we can use all sorts of things. We can even select for them. But if all of our animals . . .
Avery: We are talking about four times as much yield on every American acre for the year 2040, because some of the land in the world that is being used for farming is pretty marginal, and the lands wont yield because its too dry, or its too acid or its too something. I dont see that we are going to be able to get a four fold yield increase from the kinds of technologies you are talking about.
Salatin: Well, you probably havent listened to the Ph.D.s and scientific community that I listen to. And you havent made a living farming like . . .
Avery: I read the Journal of Alternative Agriculture and they are not reporting these kind of yield increases.
Salatin: Probably because many of the people in that community are still locked into the . . .
Avery: But this is Rodale.
Salatin: Yeah, I know. And Rodale has been bought by Monsanto.
Avery: That takes the conspiracy theory to a whole new level. (Laughing)
Salatin: Im not saying there is a conspiracy. Im saying we live in a very conviction-less society.
Host Jeff Ishee: Gentlemen, I want to get in as many of the phone callers as possible. Theyve been patiently waiting. Good morning, you are on the Valley farm Forum.
Caller: I would like to say that you have a very nice program. One side is pro, and one side is the other. Therefore, you get two opposing views. I would suggest that in the future you do the same. As a nurse, I have seen a lot of youngsters with cancer. That isnt to say that its genetically or environmentally caused. You can make your own call on that. What I would like to ask, and both of you are gentlemen, is what do you think about sludge. Is it beneficial? Is it bad? I know that driving down the road, I have put my thumb and my index finger on my nose, and tried to outrun the smell. Its smells so terrible. After leaving that terrible smell, I get a terrible headache. I would like to ask them what is in sludge, and is it beneficial or is it bad for the crops that we grow in this valley. Thank you.
Host Jeff Ishee: Caller, we certainly appreciate your comments and questions. Gentlemen, where does municipal sludge belong in agriculture?
Avery: Well, it certainly doesnt belong on food crops. There are pathogens in it that are not always killed even by composting. There are heavy metals that can cause production problems long term. On the other hand, we need some way to dispose of it effectively. If its done carefully, and if its used on feed crops rather than food crops, again, that doesnt deal with the odor problem, and that is a local problem, perhaps even an individual situation, but its like a lot of things in our society, it is a shade of gray.
Salatin: Again, I would suggest that the whole problem is a result of a centralized food system. With the centralized food system that we have, the average chicken and the average t-bone steak in America sees more of America than the farmer that produced it.
Avery: Joel, thats because we live in cities. It isnt the food system. Its where people live.
Salatin: No its not. Why is it that all the beef sold in Virginia . . . Virginia loses millions of dollars on balance of trade deficit . . .
Avery: Now you are changing the subject.
Salatin: No. No, listen Im not. We can grow all of our beef for Virginia right here and produce and process it right here. Guess what. The only federally inspected processing facility within sixty miles of where you and I are sitting doesnt buy Shenandoah Valley beef. Do you know why? Because it is all eating chicken manure. Thats per the USDA Best Management Practices for chicken manure, because we are producing so much of it, its creating nitrates in the wells, so we say "So what else can we do with it? Oh, we can feed it to cows." Well, thats real natural, feeding chicken manure to cows. They always eat chicken manure in nature."
Avery: Do you have a problem with nitrates in the wells?
Avery: Do you know why?
Salatin: Do I have a problem with nitrates in the wells?
Salatin: I dont like blue baby syndrome for one thing. Hey, dont change the subject . . .
Avery: OK. Lets get back to sludge.
Salatin: I said that its created by a centralized food system.
Avery: And that is obviously not true.
Salatin: It is absolutely true.
Salatin: See, again, the man with the moderation. The fact that we have a small processing facility doesnt equate to a multi-million dollar processing facility . . .
Avery: This is not an answer Joel. This is a sermon.
(long pause of silence)
Salatin: Well, I guess weve boiled down to whats right in life. If a sermon cant provide an answer, I guess weve hit new lows in our discussion of topics.
Salatin: I am dead serious. What weve got here is a centralized food system. When you decentralize the food system so that every municipality has farmers producing for that municipality, and dont take this to an extreme, but in a general sense . . .
Avery: New York City doesnt have any good land.
Salatin: Why should we have a New York City?
Avery: Because the people in New York City choose to live there.
Salatin: Should we create a toilet bowl in the Shenandoah Valley in order to feed New York City and Bangladesh?
Avery: When you get the New Yorkers to agree to move, then we can do away with New York City.
Salatin: Look. All Im dealing with is a local, Shenandoah Valley sludge problem, and Im suggesting that it is very short-sighted, and stupid, to turn our own backyards into a toilet bowl, that we cant even live in, in order to feed somebody that are only two . . . I dont care if they are only two hundred miles away. Let alone Pakistan, Bangladesh, the French and the Russians.
Avery: Well, we could incinerate it.
Salatin: Incinerate it?
Salatin: Thats ridiculous. Again, it should be produced . . .
Avery: Can we dump it in the ocean?
Salatin: Well, youre going from stupidity to absurdity.
Avery: My point is "What do we do with it?"
Salatin: What do we do with it? We dont produce so much right here in the valley because we dont eat that much, so we dont have to turn ourselves into a toilet bowl. Thats my point.
Avery: Cities produce sludge.
Salatin: OK. Lets go to the sludge. For one thing, sludge can be treated so that it doesnt smell. The sludge that the lady is talking about is industrial sludge from food processing facilities. I dont think that its municipal sludge per se, I mean human sludge. There are two rules of thumb for food production, for agriculture. That is if it stinks or it is not pretty, it is not right. Period.
Avery: Oh, come on. Manure stinks and it is not pretty, and it is very useful.
Salatin: No it doesnt. If you handle it right, it will never smell. Come to our farm.
Host Jeff Ishee: Well, we are going to have to take a break on that point, but well be back in just a few moments.
Host Jeff Ishee: Gentlemen, our number one priority is to get to as many of these callers as we can before the top of the hour, so lets go right back to the phones. You are on the air.
Caller: Good morning Jeff, I really wanted to thank you for your most stimulating program this morning. It really has gotten me going. Couple of comments that I wanted to share quickly. As far as the cancer rates and the supposed longer life span, what I see really happening is, yes, children are healthier, and perhaps some of that is reflected in the statistics, but what I see is that we have increased our death process. People are living longer periods of time and struggling with diseases that probably would have caused them to pass in a much shorter period of time in years past. But, the one comment shared by Mr. Avery that was something I just had to call in about was the quote about the indigenous cultures burning the rain forest. Indigenous cultures have slash and burned the rain forest at the behooving of large, American corporations that have sought to use agricultural processes down there that, particularly in South and Central America, because of cheaper labor, cheaper land, and have basically used these horrendous agricultural practices that strip topsoil, that increase erosion . . .
Avery: Caller, I dont know where you got your information on this, but the biggest factor in the burning of the rain forests in Latin America was a Brazilian government subsidy that paid people for quote, creating farmland in the Amazon rain forest. The generals who ran Brazil at that time thought that if they didnt populate the Amazon, that some other country would invade it, and they deliberately built roads and they deliberately subsidized farming in that region. Fortunately, they dont do that anymore. In Southeast Asia, the clearing of tropical forest has been to provide food and jobs by small people. Corporations had nothing to do with it.
Caller: Well, we would disagree on that point, but I did want to thank you for the conversation this morning. I really appreciate it, because it encouraged me to further move our own small farm operation into a more permaculture, bio-dynamic type of operation.
Host Jeff Ishee: Caller, we appreciate your comments. Lets move to the next caller. You are on the air.
Caller: OK. I just wanted to express an opinion about some of the things I have heard about the sludge. They said the odor was from industrial sludge. Well, when these farmers agreed to take industrial sludge, I dont think they realized all of the heavy metals that are in industrial sludge. Also, we are on very karst soil here in the Shenandoah Valley, and even though there are EPA laws out there, I dont think studies have been conducted as to where to put sludge. It goes down into all of our cracks and crevices that karst is famous for, and we do know that there has been an increase in the number of blue babies and miscarriages, and that only leads to believe that there is high nitrates around, plus many other pathogens that can be in this sludge. So, EPA will probably not write the guidelines, so Congress has to do a budget for this. Im for the farmer, but I think we need more management of what we are doing to our farms.
Avery: Id like to set your mind at rest on the blue baby side of things. The latest medical research, and my son has just been published in a peer reviewed magazine called Environmental Health Perspectives, the modern medical evidence shows that nitrates dont cause blue baby. The blue baby is basically caused by gastro-enteritis (sp) in the in the child, usually bacterial contamination. We got fooled because the contaminated wells had both bacteria and nitrate. But, it is not the nitrate causing the blue baby.
Salatin: I would just simply say, about the sludge, and I dont know all the particulars about this, but its a hot issue in Page County. Its a hot issue down near where Dennis and I live in Augusta County. I would simply say that, based on who I know is doing the spreading, Ive got two responses. One is, again, its a result of, just one of those natural results of a centralized food system. Number two is that whenever I see the DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) doing their studies and their "all clear" reports, I dont believe it for a second. Ive been to Richmond, and Ive been to Senate hearings, and Ive watched who pays for the wining and dining of the congressman, the legislators, the bureaucrats, and its a big fraternity. I dont trust those guys as far as I can throw a bull by the tail, and thats not very far.
Host Jeff Ishee: Dennis and Joel, its certainly been an entertaining two hours and a fascinating conversation. I had four pages of questions, and I havent gotten to a single one yet, and Im bound and determined to ask at least one question. What role do you think that government should play, both on the farm, and in agriculture overall?
Avery: I think government should be a player in the research game, and I think that the government needs to be very aggressive in making sure that American farmers get the opportunity to help contribute to feeding a larger, more affluent population that we are going to have in the year 2040. That means eliminating the trade barriers and opening the playing field to everybody.
Salatin: Well, I dont believe that we should have a USDA. Period. All it is, is collusion with the multi-national corporations, and they stack the deck and create all this scientific information thats biased and prejudiced. We dont get good research. Ive watched it for forty years come out of the cow colleges, the land grant universities. Virginia Tech figures out how to kill a bug, and the environmental scientist group at the University of Virginia figures out what else it killed. Thats basically the type of research we have. So, I dont think there is any place for the USDA. Wed be a lot better without it at all. Turn it into a free market . . .
Avery: But then youd have only the companies.
Salatin: Ah! But I can compete with the company. But I cant compete with all the academic fraternization that occurs with the collusion between the bureaucrats and the companies themselves. On equal footing, well compete fine. Privatize it, and were in business.
Host Jeff Ishee: One other question, and this is totally unrelated, but I still somehow think that its pertinent. You are both dynamic speakers, you are both very well versed in modern agricultural practices and policies, but you are also both fathers. Both of you have sons who are following in your footsteps. Dennis, a comment about your son Alex, and Joel, a comment about your son Daniel, both following in your footsteps. How does that make you feel?
Avery: Oh, it makes me feel a little nervous, because we dont get paid very well for what we do in this field, and Im concerned that hell be able to build the kind of career that his brain power and energy ought to let him have.
Salatin: For my part, I really cant talk about it without getting choked up. Its the blessing of anything that we have created in agricultural paradigms on our farm, and thats romancing the next generation into it. And that, to me, is the ultimate sustainability.
Host Jeff Ishee: I think a lot of our listeners might want to pursue these topics a little bit more in depth. I know that both of you have written books, Please tell us the names of your books and how we can get them.
Avery: Saving the Planet With Pesticides and Plastic: The Environmental Triumph of High-Yield Agriculture. You can get it by calling 1-800- 876-8011.
Salatin: Pastured Poultry Profits, Salad Bar Beef, and You Can Farm: The Entrepreneurs Guide to Start and Succeed in a Farming Enterprise. You can call 1-800- 355-5313.
Host Jeff Ishee: Mr. Dennis Avery and Mr. Joel Salatin, its been all our pleasure having you here in the studios of WSVA.
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