Just read about the death on 10/1/2012 of the scientist and activist Barry Commoner, and was reminded of his four rules of ecology:
1. Everything is connected to everything else.
2. Everything must go somewhere.
3. Nature knows best.
4. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
And then I read Consumer Reports on arsenic in rice. Guess what? Barry was right. Everything is connected. Everything must go somewhere. If we dump poisons on the soil that feeds us, we end up with poison in our bodies.
Those who defend destructive agricultural practices usually point to the short-term benefits–we can feed more people, we can keep food prices low. But there is no such thing as a free lunch. The bill always comes due eventually. How will we feed ourselves when we have so poisoned the water and soil that the food they produce is no longer safe to eat?
I found one darkly humorous tidbit in the Consumer Reports article. In some parts of the southeastern U.S., arsenic levels are so high it hurts the rice plants and reduces yields. So what did the USDA do? Did it say, whoa, better not grow rice here unless you can clean up the arsenic? No, the USDA, acting as a (taxpayer supported) subsidiary of agribusiness, invested in research to develop arsenic-resistant strains of rice. Which, presumably, still absorb arsenic and deliver it to our bodies.
Thanks, USDA. I’m sure the parents who have been feeding their babies rice cereal appreciate your looking out for us.
Hail and farewell Barry Commoner, scientist, prophet, fighter for environmental justice.