CRAPping on organic

Jan 312007

King Julian, the lemur lord in Dreamworks’ animated hit “Madagascar,” once asked his citizens, “Who wants a cookie?” His lemur faithful replied joyously, “I do!” Continuing with my theme from previous columns, I ask you a similar question: Who wants to talk more about cattle emissions and global warming? I do!

You might be saying, “Oh, come on, Sides! Enough with the stinkin’ cows!”

While last week I expressed distrust of United Nations’ science reports, I’ve decided to give the UN another try.

If – if the United Nations has it right – that cattle manure and “emissions” are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere and cause more atmospheric harm than mankind – then some drastic steps need to be taken.

But first, an acronym. “Greenhouses gases” is shortened to “GHG.” In regards to the methane and ammonia-rich cattle farts and manure I’ve discussed previously, I hereby dub all phrases concerning harmful, global warming-causing cow emissions as CRAP: Cattle Ruining the Atmosphere by Pooping.

According to the Food Agricultural Organization (FAO), there are 1.5 billion cattle worldwide. That’s a lot of CRAP.

If we are to believe the UN and other environmental groups, then conventional ranchers and beef producers only care about juicing their product with growth hormones and raping the environment for their own gain. Maybe alternative, environmentally-friendly agricultural methods should be considered.

Can anyone say “organic?” “Organic” sounds so healthy and environmentally-aware that its benefits are worth the exuberant prices. To be fair, though, let’s look at the facts before we allow the UN to perform an organic overhaul of the cattle and ranch business.

We’ve heard that organic food is great for the planet. But organic food’s impact on the environment is “dreadful,” laments Dennis T. Avery, director for the Center for Global Food Issues. For starters, Avery notes, organic farms require twice as much land as conventional farms to produce a ton of food. Avery explains that organic farms need more land because organic farmers don’t use nitrogen fertilizer to replace the nitrogen taken from the soil by growing their crops.

Then where do organic farmers get their fertilizer? From cow manure, says Avery. Organic farmers use their extra land as cattle pasture or as fields to grow non-food legumes such as clover and hairy vetch.

Organic farmers use cow manure as fertilizer? Don’t they know about CRAP?

Advances in conventional agricultural technology have drastically reduced the amount of land needed to produce our food supply. Dr. Thomas Elam, using USDA and FAO database numbers, reports that “it takes less than half as much land today on a per-person basis to produce our meat, dairy and poultry supply than in 1960-61.” Conventional agriculture is doing more with less, but the same can’t be said of organic systems.

What about hormone-free organic milk? Conventional dairy cattle are injected with bovine growth hormone (BGH) to increase milk production, while non-conventional dairy cattle are void of ruminant ‘roids. But doesn’t that mean that organic dairy farmers need more cattle to produce just as much milk as conventional dairy farmers? That means more CRAP.

The concern over BGH was that it caused high levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) that has been linked to cancer. But Dale Bauman, professor of animal science at Cornell University, shatters that myth. According to Bauman, we would have to drink 95 quarts of milk to equal the IGF-1 we make daily in our saliva and other digestive tract secretions.

Gary Smith, a Monfort distinguished professor of meat science at our very own CSU, dismisses the oxy-moronic claims of “hormone-free” animal products since all animals produce hormones naturally. Smith also derails any health benefits of organic foods, saying such claims are “not supported by science.”

Yet this whole issue is about freedom. If consumers have the monetary means, they have the freedom to purchase whatever products they desire – whether it’s organic food or a Cadillac Escalade.

People can ignore the environmentally-unfriendly reality of organic food but choose to eat it anyway because it’s their right. But spare us the false-advertising parade of the personal and environmental wonders of organic food, because it’s just a bunch of crap.

Trevor Sides is a senior speech communication major. His column appears every Thursday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to

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