Home » 2019 Symposium | Jay Feldman

Good morning everybody. So, the solution I think, is in this room. And the question is, “How are we going to apply it to the mainstream on behalf of our children and our grandchildren?”

The concept of pesticide reliance is not a new one to folks in this room.

The question is, “How are we going to move beyond that?”

Rachel Carson explained that to us back in the 60s and the interesting thing is that every time I reread the book, what I glean from it is her attention to complex biological systems. Or, as she called them ‘communities.’

Silent Spring quote by Rachel Carson

And that there were solutions she pointed us to. She also said we needed to devote more of our energy and resources to developing new solutions. She thought we should use our ingenuity in that way.

So my goal is to listen, to follow the research in the science, to educate through public awareness, to advocate, to seek policy adoption so we can institutionalize the changes that you all have adopted, to follow the implementation of that policy and to affect marketplace change.

We originally started out calling ourselves a National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides because we didn’t want to offend anybody. We wanted people to focus on their misuse.

I showed up at a meeting one time with a bunch of farmers, a lot of conventional guys, and one of them said “You think any pesticide use is a misuse.”

And I realized he was right.

Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides speaks to organic farmers and concerned consumer at the Real Organic Project Symposium in March, 2019

So we changed our name, about 20 years ago to Beyond Pesticides. And our focus was on identifying unacceptable and unnecessary poisoning while advancing solutions by listening to the victims – from farmers to farm workers.

We heard stories of adverse health effects, of cancer, of reproductive damage, of nervous system poisons.

Video Clip:

Robert MacNeil, MacNeil/Lehrer PBS News Hour, 1989:
“President Bush today proposed legislation to make it easier to remove pesticides that are thought to be harmful from the market. He referred to widespread public concern over stories about the cancer-causing chemical alar on apples and the fungicide EBDC on fruit and vegetables.”

President George Bush, 1989:
“And it is true that some of the public’s perception is based on valid concerns about the government’s slow and cumbersome process for removing pesticides from the market and that’s why we’re here today to announce a major new initiative.”

Robert MacNeil, MacNeil/Lehrer PBS News Hour, 1989:
“Environmentalists attacked the plan. Criticism also came from another environmental group, the National Coalition against the Misuse of Pesticides.”

Triptch of Jim Lehrer, President George Bush and Jay Feldman in 1989.

Jay Feldman, speaking on behalf of the National Association for the Misuse of Pesticides, 1989:
“The president is more interested in calming public fears about pesticide than actually doing something substantive about it.

In fact, the proposals, if implemented, for the most part would mean business-as-usual, when in fact the public is calling for a dramatic change in safety of food in their grocery stores.”

End Video Clip.

So contaminated food brought people’s awareness to this issue, but we realized that we needed to go beyond food safety issues and connect people at their dinner tables to what was going on in the fields.

I spent two years traveling the country meeting with farm workers and small farmers, farm workers like these who’d been contaminated by Benlate in Florida, a fungicide widely used. We talked about adverse effects, collaborated with Cesar Chavez, and these folks helped to form the Association of Florida Farm Workers.

Poisoned Florida Farm Workers pose in  group photo decades ago.

So bringing environmental justice into our discussion is key and it’s part of what we’re trying to do with our work, We have a database that is called Eating with a Conscience where we connect people to the adverse impacts.

But the outrage comes from the fact that we’re not always moving forward despite the proclamations of a president.

We actually repealed the Delaney Clause back in the 80s and early 90s, which was intended to remove carcinogens from the food supply. Yet as an environmental community, as people concerned about health who pushed for banning carcinogens – today we find that glyphosate is in our food, every food group that’s evaluated.

I think the ecosystem is one of the biggest failings of our regulatory system.

Video Clip:

California Beekeeper:
“We started looking at pollen samples and we started seeing things that nobody ever knew was there. Looking at pollen samples we’re finding as high as 127 different contaminants, just in a little sample of pollen, about the size of the end of your little finger.”

End Video Clip.

So I’ve been spending a lot of time with conventional beekeepers who take their truckloads of bees to the almond orchards of California, because pollinators don’t exist out there and they’re experiencing an insect apocalypse.

“We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life and are currently on course for an ecological Armageddon, and I find these guys are the best ones to talk about it.” – Dr. David Goulson, Sussex University, UK

In back of this rally in front of EPA, this is Dave Hackenberg a beekeeper and his truckload of bees dead bees, standing right in front of the EPA.

So what do you do when you identify a problem like this? You write a report, right? So that’s what we did, we wrote a report. It was called Unnecessary Risks and was inspired by a board member, an organic farmer on our board who was also a PhD chemist, and we went about the process of identifying that there were no benefits evaluated by EPA related to pesticides. So, we felt more empowered to ask for pesticide free zones.

We went into communities and said “we don’t need these pesticides” and then we identified the regulatory bias that is associated with the regulation of pesticides.

And if you look at this cartoon you’ll see “could you please hurry up and find a cure for cancer?” That would be so much easier than prevention.

So we were asking for a shift in the paradigm. We’re asking to go from a risk assessment based system to one that’s precautionary. And that’s what we did when we started introducing laws in Congress to institutionalize what we knew was happening on organic farms.

The ’82 the Organic Farming Act failed. The Agricultural Productivity Act.

Bob Rodale came in and we actually used the “O word” in the agriculture committees of Congress. That started, that did pass, and it started the Low Income Sustainable Agriculture Program which then became SARE, and later, in 1990, the Organic Foods Production Act.

So now we’re into this new era of talking about organic integrity based on an existing law. And the law is really intended to address some of the frustrations and the failures of those failed processes that the president said we were going to fix back in 1989.

So those foundational processes that are in the Organic Foods Production Act really for me stems from democratic decision-making, transparency, stakeholder assessment, and control of allowed substances, reliance on science and farm experience, and meeting consumer expectations. All of these things take a high degree of public involvement.

You know the saying goes “democracy only works if you choose to use it.” The same is true for the Organic Foods Production Act.

So we are looking at core values, which you’ve already heard about this morning – a systems approach to looking at the ecosystem, biodiversity enhancing ecological harmony, which is part of the Organic Foods Production Act.

What’s different here is that we’re looking at a systems approach which ae don’t do when we regulate pesticides. It is purely reductionist. We’re looking at NPK, we’re looking at feeding soluble nutrients to plants, we’re not looking at the ecosystem in which those are functioning.

That’s how EPA allows chemical after chemical to be included and we move from organochlorines to organophosphates to synthetic pyrethroids to you know, to the newest – neonicotinoids, and in each iteration, each generation we experienced new problems. Deeper problems, more insidious problems.

We’ve now gone from cancer to epigenetic effects to trans-generational effects.

This is a systems approach and it requires that we look holistically from cradle to grave; a full lifecycle analysis of what that input is and what it does from manufacturing through production to disposal, taking into account all forms of exposure whether it’s through ingestion, inhalation, absorption – what the emissions are, what the contamination is.

That’s a holistic analysis. That is part of our law. That is what we have to make happen. But it’s not always happening.

How do we evaluate those adverse health effects?

That’s our job when we’re on the National Organic Standards Board. That’s our job in this room.

So we’re looking at biological and chemical interactions in the agro-ecosystem, that’s the mandate. Now when we assess synthetic inputs (which a lot of people tell me I start to sound wonky when I’m talking about,) this is where the rubber meets the road. Because if you don’t focus on the system, which you do – everybody in this room does, but if we allow the law not to focus on the system, that’s when we allow Big Food to come in and identify inputs as the basis of organic production.

That’s when we lose that ‘whole system analysis’ and we lose the outrage associated with EPA’s failure to do it.

So how do we prevent a Big Food takeover like that?

Well we make sure that the stakeholders on that board represent the groups, the farmers, the environmentalists, the consumers, the retailers. We make sure that their voice is strong and we lobby our sector. We go there. We know who our farmer is on the NOSB.

Do you know who your farmer is on the NOSB? Who’s your consumer rep? You’re also a consumer, right? You’re an environmentalist – who’s your environmental rep?

You also shop at a retail store. Who is your retailer on that board? That retailer is representing your retailer, and if that retailer is not saying what you think he or she should be saying then we need to get in their face.

So the default assumption for natural inputs, in accordance with standards, is that we go through this checklist of ensuring that it doesn’t cause adverse effects in a holistic cradle-to-grave analysis.

We make sure it’s compatible with organic systems. That it does not adversely affect biodiversity, that it’s building and enhancing soil, that it’s protecting the ecosystem, and we make sure it’s essential. We ask: is it necessary?

You can meet the first two factors here health and compatibility, if it’s not essential, if it’s not necessary, go away because you know what you’re asking us to allow a synthetic input into organic production and I don’t care what anybody says, there’s always going to be an uncertainty, whether it’s an inert ingredient, whether it’s a mixture, whether it’s a synergy effect, there are going to be unknowns associated with that.

So there’s a petition process. The petition is rigorous, right. You’ve got to show that you meet all these factors. And then, there’s the sunset process.

You know I don’t care how much research we do, I don’t care how many models we have of good work, if we want to create a mainstream movement, which we need to do, we need to convert the 2% to 98% of agriculture, we need to understand that we cannot allow an erosion of the processes around what the inputs are in organic production. And this is a very informed and robust discussion.

Farmers come in, explain the essentiality, explain their experience with the product, the scientists or the science is informed by technical review documents but this process must default on a cycle bit, this was the intent and spirit of the original law, was intended to have these materials sunset off the list.

Why? Because different from EPA and that madness that I showed you at the beginning of this presentation, different from EPA is the idea that we DO want to modernize, that we DO want continuous improvement, that we DO want to hear far more experiences. We DO want farmers to come in and say “I don’t use this material, this is why, this is what I do”.

We want that to inform the debate. And that’s how we stay modern and we don’t get into the rut that we see on the pesticide side. And then, so then the question is, is that relisting? Is that just relisting these materials.

Just because you sunset a material, does not mean that it can’t come back as a relisted material.

This is an iterative process and it’s an interactive process. It’s transparent, but it only works if we participate.

If the knowledge in this room doesn’t come before the NOSB then we fail. We fail to grow the experience. We fail to grow the models.

Models grow by bringing that information to a format in which we can institutionalize these changes.

We can see continuous improvement under this law and we will.

All of this has happened with tremendous all of this the things like sunset which are being eroded, the makeup of the NOSB is being eroded, the materials that are allowed are being eroded.

This industry is the result of a rigorous program – look at this, a fifty billion dollar industry from basically nothing, grown with a rigorous program. I think that’s evidence that we should make it even more rigorous and maintain the integrity. And that’s what the Real Organic Project is about.

We need to drive the market, we need to maintain this integrity, we need to grow the integrity. We’re only as strong as our weakest link. If we allow that weak link to emerge in the public it threatens the value of the label, it threatens people’s trust in that label, it influences their decision when they’re standing there deciding are they going to go with the Non-GMO Project, or the bird friendly project, or the rainforest alliance project, or the organic project?

What are they going to do? They need to be drawn to that organic label and trust it. This for me is the bottom line.

Here’s a study out of Washington State, I guess this is a (Charles) Benbrook study. So, look at this on the right side, look at what Organic is doing for us. I mean there’s no question – this is the solution to our problems.

Whether we’re talking about nutritional quality, yield, soil quality, minimization of energy use, biodiversity, water pollution, profitability, total costs, ecosystem services (which a conventional farmer doesn’t seem to get most often,) employment of workers, reducing worker exposure, that is an incredible benefit on an organic farm – and it’s also minimizing pesticide residues.

Whereas on the conventional side you can see it’s totally out of whack it’s not offering solutions. It’s taking us in the wrong direction.

So, the only option for a livable future is organic. And the Real Organic Project.