One thing I find so challenging to accept in current conventional agriculture practices is all the chemicals.
Recently on my Truckin’ Chicas adventure, we had to take the new cows and Romeo, the new bull, across a State border and from a tick area (tick here means the small animal tick) to a tick free area. I do not want to pass comment on whether it is necessary or not – I don’t know enough about all this to pass an informed decision. I just observe the chemicals and application processes.
My journey to a more sustainable lifestyle was heavily influenced by reading “Silent Spring”. “Silent Spring” was a book written by Rachel Carson, published in 1962. Rachel had been disagnosed with breast cancer in 1960. This was the last book she wrote before her death in 1964. Many people cite her book as starting the Green Movement.
At the time of reading, I was doing my MIT (Masters in Information Technology). I was focused on data and information from a statistical point of view. I was trying to collect data and information relating to health. This was only 6 years ago – in the 21st century with phones and mobiles and faxes and computers and internet and express postal services and all the other methods/technology we have available to transfer information or to communicate with people rapidly and within a double click.
I almost became bald pulling my hair out with frustration trying to get data – and I had ALL this technology to seamlessly download data to my computer. I could pick up a phone with a sure knowing that everyone I wanted to talk with had a phone connection and a computer.
As I read Rachel’s book I wondered at the amazingness of this woman. She was a woman collecting scientific data in the 1950’s. Women in science then were the exception rather than the rule. She was only the second woman to gain a permanent job with the Department of Agriculture in the US. Telecommunications would have been phones if you were lucky but they would have been incredibly expensive and not common place. No computers to store data, no internet to do a quick Google search as to where data was reposited and to upload it. No Google search to search for whom to contact via mobile or email with regard to data about a certain project. I imagined Rachel in some old slow car driving around physically collecting data on paper and collating it by hand. Rachel is one of my heroines!
Rachel’s book is entitled “Silent Spring”. Spring is the season Spring – the season where everything bursts into life. A time of fervour and activity. The bulbs burst into flower, the trees grow new verdant foliage, the birds are busy building nests – there is natural activity and reproduction everywhere. The cacophony of the birds is part of Spring.
But Rachel described a Spring of silence – no birds chirping. They were all killed – legally, gradually by the application of biocides (I use the word biocide to cover any chemical agent that kills a broad spectrum of living organisms; agents such as pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides etc. The word biocide comes from the Greek word bios meaning life/living organism and from the Latin – cida meaning “killer,cutter” – biocide basically means life killer.).
Rachel describes direct and indirect toxicity of biocides. How, by applying small amounts of biocides (many of which have their production history associated with the production of chemical agents for biological warfare in WWI and WWII – scary), they can become present in the food chain either directly (where the biocide is absorbed into the orgnanisms’ body eg fish, crabs and is present at that time) or indirectly, which relates to its persistence. Indirectly can be either through what is called bioconcentration (the tendency for a compound to accumulate over time in an organism’s tissues (especially in fatty tissues for fat soluble organochlorines such as DDT)) and biomagnification (an increase in concentration up the food chain. eg the soil bacteria consume the DDT, the worms eat a million bacteria each with a little DDT in them, the wrens eat a thousand worms, the butcher birds eat lots of wrens, the eagles eat the butcher birds, the health of the eagle is seriously compromised, the US thinks about a new national emblem to replace the eagle!! It works like this in the aquatic sense too – humans being the end consumer of fish and benthic dwellers – bottom-dwelling aquatic animals).
(Some of this information has been taken from this fabulous set of articles about pesticides by Patricia Muir).
Rachel courageously documented how the application of DDT (a toxic pesticide) and other synthetic biocides biomagnified up the food chain to the birds and to humans. Through her courage to speak out she more or less single handedly changed US legislation and the banning of DDT. She was attacked in so many ways after the publication of her book, especially by the chemical companies producing the pesticides and the so called academic scientists of the day. She spent the last 2 years of her life as she was dying from breast cancer defending her claims in Silent Spring. She was persecuted as being unscientific – anyone who reads Silent Spring can clearly see, like SO many people in the world, she was a top class scientist despite not having the academic seal of a PhD (which in the US seems to mean anything you say is correct and no matter what you say you are more correct than anyone else!!). She was so meticulous in her work and observed the changes and consequences. She was an active environmental scientist of the highest calibre.
For me Silent Spring reminds me that all I am told by seemingly educated sources and products which have been made available to me to consume are not necessarily true and safe. It is easy to live believing just because a product is available in the supermarket or in the farm produce supplier, it is safe. The caustic, toxic scents of many products should warn us as to their nature. If we have to don space suits to apply a product, surely it can’t be safe?
As I watched our beautiful healthy new cows being forced into the cattle tick dip, I wondered how much of this dip, a toxin, a biocide, is bioconcentrated into the flesh of the cows. How much of this dip and the other chemicals which are applied to/ingested by grazing animals over their lives through dipping, feed supplementation, injections, worming, vaccines etc is biomagnified into us humans when we consume the meat – the dead cows’ flesh? As we eat fruit, vegetables, cereals, dairy products and meat, how much of these toxins, which in their tiny doses on each spinach or kale leaf are harmless to humans, gradually accumulate into our bodies?
Jude, my truckin’ companion/ driver, and I discuss this at great length as we drove through the beautiful valley near Heifer Creek from Gatton to Clifton (before we got the flat tyre!!). We talked about the low level of antibiotics (anti = against, bio = life) which are always included in the feed of mass production feedlot meat to keep them “healthy”. These poor animals live such stressed, unnatural lives that their health MUST be compromised so they are left naturally weakened and vulnerable to bacterial attacks. Just like us humans when we live stressful lives which has lead us to being susceptible to an endless list of health issues.
As I quoted in this previous post, “According to The Australian Lot Feeders Association “80% of beef sold in major domestic supermarkets and the majority of production growth in the beef industry over the last 10 years has been due to the expanding feedlot sector.”. By deduction, this must mean that at least 80% of beef consumed in Australia must contain antibiotics and other “health(!!!!)” supplements. Most Australians eating beef must therefore constantly get a low grade exposure to antibiotics. Why is the Australian Health Department so surprised that antibiotics are no longer working??
I have been so ignorant of mass food production, particularly the meat industry. Maybe I chose to ignore all the chemical additives to my food chain. It’s easier – far less confronting. Through our discussions as we drove, Jude shared her extensive knowledge with me. I realised the implications of this constant drip of biocide/ antibiotic could have on my precious intestinal flora/ fauna. Once again it was highlighted to me, that despite the benefits of pesticides being toted, they are harmful to the micro environment of my body and the macro environment of our planet. I am glad I do not eat meat, especially mass produced meat, and I again I was reminded that I MUST persevere and continue to eat food without preservatives, conservatives, artificial flavourings, colourings, enhances etc even when I feel I do not have time – or the energy to make real, slow, healthy food.
I’m reminded why I buy locally from Revisiting Nature, a local, organic, online food and products store in Inverell.
I am so glad to live on a farm where chemicals are not a way of life. I am glad that the person making the decisions about the welfare of the land and the animals and ultimately us, ie Jude, thinks for herself and questions the current so called knowledge and wisdom which is liberally feed to the farming community – so often sponsored through university “research”and other educational institutions, by the chemical companies whose morals and motives are questionable in my view.
It rained on the way home. We hoped some of the chemicals our beautiful cows were forced to be immersed in washed off so as not to pollute The GO Lands.
I’m hoping that we will never have a Silent Spring on The GO.
[A video summarising Rachel’s contribution and the lasting effects of her courage can be viewed here: