In response to the article “Is organic food really free from pesticides?”, I would like to comment.
As the manager of an organic agricultural company, I know from experience that the most common organic pesticide used in the South East Asian region is BT or Bacillus Thuringiensis. This is a gram-positive bacterium which produces crystal proteins during sporulation. When these are ingested by insect larva, a toxin is released which paralyzes the digestive tract and causes starvation. Because of the specificity, BT has little or no effect on humans, wildlife and beneficial insects. However, the author did not even mention this common pesticide in his article at all.
70% of the labour work in organic farms is weeding, herbicides are conveniently used in industrial farms to do the jobs. According to the Pesticides Report of EPA, USA, there were 1,133 million lbs of pesticides used in 2007 in USA and 531 million lbs of these were herbicides, which are more than 5 times the insecticides used (93 million lbs). The most common herbicide ‘RoundUP’, is produced to be used together with GM crops in the USA, which was detected in human breast milk in recent news.2
As a responsible organic farm manager, I read the organic standards clearly before allow any input to be used in the organic farm. According to IFOAM standards, rotenone cannot be used near waterways, nor on the edible parts of plant (by NASAA standards) and the usage is subjected to the approval of the certification body. As a child, I grew up on a farm. It is common knowledge that rotenone cannot be used anywhere near water as it may kill the fish in the river.
As for Pyrethrins, recent studies have shown that it is biodegradable, not persistent and easily breaks down on exposure to light and oxygen. Hence, it is allowed in organic farming under certain standards. However, neither rotenone nor pyrethrin products are currently available in the local market.
The natural pesticides that an internationally certified organic grower is allowed to use are very clearly defined by the regulatory bodies such as IFOAM, EU Organics and USDA. Organic inspections are carried out on a regular basis to assure compliance. These audits verify that no synthetic chemicals are used throughout the complete seed to table production for 3 years and the farming methods have to be environmentally sustainable, before certification is granted. Standards are religiously followed and records kept to ensure transparency. These effort should not be discredited.
While I believe that many studies are still needed to be done on the long-term effects of organic pesticides, our current understanding is that the synthetic pesticides are certainly not safer. In my opinion, crop rotation, a common practice in the organic farms, is the best way to confuse the insects’ dining patterns, which is the best bet to protect the juicy organic vegetables from pests and provide a safer environment and food source for us.
TAI SENG YEE
Director, Zenxin Organic Food
Thanks Straits Times for publishing it on the forum letter.