By Barbara Kessler

Farm subsidies are one of the most complex topics to plow in Washington. Well, there’s health care….Still, the debate over farm aid is right up there, deep, difficult and with seriously entrenched sides.

The debate even echoes aspects of the argument over the Iraq war. Some say that pulling back on farm subsidies would cause dangerous cracks in the whole U.S. agricultural machine. Others argue that the subsidies support large corporations instead of the individual farmers they were intended to free from financial ups-and-downs.

barn.jpgSee the parallel? It’s OK if you don’t. More important is that there’s some potential good news for consumers buried in this tennis match. If Congress were to pass an amendment to the current Farm Bill, known as the Kind-Flake Amendment, some of your taxpayer farm supports will be used to encourage farmers to switch to organic farming.

Yes, you heard right. Some lawmakers want to encourage organic farming. Dare we say that that would be good for the environment, healthy for consumers and possibly even help bring down the price of organic produce?

According to the Cornucopia Institute, a growing number of consumers aren’t just buying organic food for their own health, they’re concerned about the environment and want to support farmers who forego pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. They want cleaner land and water, as well as cleaner food. (Note to skeptics: Find the downside.)

For more information on the farm debate, see the ever-vigilant Mulch website. Here news geeks and other interested parties can see who are the biggest winners of farm subsidies and get a breakdown for their own state.

To sign a petition (at least until the Farm Bill is voted on) supporting the Kind-Flake Amendment and urging your very own Congressional representative to vote that direction, visit the Environmental Working Group website.

The EWG is an established Washington policy and advocacy group working for a cleaner environment in many areas. A few years ago they produced a list of the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables that tested as having the most pesticide residues. That list, which also identifies the least contaminated conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, can serve as a guide to what produce you might want to buy only as certified organic. The EWG makes a handy cut out version of the list for your refrigerator door.

The website also explains more about how many pesticides end up on fruits and vegetables.

Granted the medical evidence about the harm that’s cost by traces of pesticides is inconclusive. We know that exposure to large amounts of pesticides is bad for us. Studies have found higher incidences of cancer among certain groups of people, like crop dusters, for example.

We also kjulyaug_toc.jpgnow that several pesticides in use today are listed as carcinogens. But what remains unclear is what small doses from eating contaminated or inadequately washed produce does. Part of why we know so little, ironically, is because we exposed to so many chemicals, dozens literally, on a daily basis. The EWG, among other groups, generally tell people to pay special attention to the food we feed our young children and expecting mothers.

A great source for more information on organic food, what’s safe and what’s probably not hurting you, is the Nutrition Action Health Letter put out by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Their July/August cover story Organic Food – Worth the Price? offers some advice and some information that might surprise organic-minded shoppers. The article details concerns about pesticide on produce, but says that fears about antibiotic and pesticide residues in conventionally raised livestock may be unfounded.

Furthermore, the article by David Schardt reminds us that eating fruits and vegetables is a good thing, regardless, because a diet high in plant food has been shown to protect against certain cancers and promotes general good health.

“The bottom line: it can’t hurt to avoid pesticides, but you’re better off eating fruits and vegetables with pesticides than not eating fruits and vegetables.”

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