Chemicals or Naturals
Posted on February 26th, 2014
This post is an attempt to continue a long-standing conversation that I've been having over many years. I'm hoping those concerned will read it, but in particular to continue that discussion. While I don't expect to reach any conclusions immediately, I would like to make some headway, lay a few foundations and move on.
The first postulate is to contrast the use of chemicals against natural (bio) methods in farming. While no expert in this matter, I have an empirical understanding of what is at stake.
Second, chemicals move through from the farming process (both animal and crops) into the human food chain (our bodies) and those that get back into or stay in the environment.
I will start by giving my opinion:
We should be reducing the number of chemicals used in all aspects of life and wherever possible resorting to natural means of achieving satisfactory results. I want to provide evidence of bio farmers who testify on the results obtained with bio methods. Research needed.
Bio food is better for us and avoiding ingesting chemicals is a good thing, chemicals used in farming remain on the goods produced. Bio foods grow naturally, taking the proper time to develop.
Our dependency on chemicals and therefore pharmaceutical companies is a bad thing. While not justified here by any hard evidence or scientific data, my argument is; why be dependent on chemical companies when we can do just as well on our own. Remember the good old days before the chemicals? What were the levels of production?
The justification for chemistry in farming is to reduce cost and increase volume. But this is a post-war policy when we needed to feed the millions. Now we have moved to the other extreme and have such a wide choice of exotic and non-seasonal produce as part of the consumer society that there is a sense of the obscene.
Justification for the use of chemicals
We are dependent on chemicals for instance for packaging. But we are dependent here because packaging is required to enable goods to travel long distances and to keep products fresh longer. Avoiding these long distances would remove the need at least some of this packaging. The solution is to produce goods and consume them locally, with the added benefit of reducing transport costs and pollution. (I'm sure Prince Charles advocated this in his plans for ecovillages).
Other goods are dependent on the petrochemical industry. Let's look at those we could eliminate. As long as we have the motivation and are not "scared" of the backlash of the chemical companies we can move away from this lifestyle, and they can evolve and invest in bio methods.
Life was harder in the past and advances have been made; there was a much greater emphasis on repairing and recycling rather than replacing. If there is a high proportion of chemical goods in products today, then stepping back from the consumer society would reduce their consumption. And this in itself is a whole new concept!
What investment is there in products not based on petrochemicals, since petrochemicals are typically not biodegradable? Is there even any justification to do so, or should we go on filling rubbish dumps with unusable waste? Is it sufficient to say that there is already a high amount of recycled waste available? What are the economics of recycling? Regardless even of the economics, it just makes more sense to recycle. Our resources are limited, and as such, it is suicide to do otherwise than recycle.
Chemicals in medicine
Medicine is the hardest and most controversial area.
Chemicals are the central ingredient to "Traditional" medicine. However, there are alternatives: homoeopathy and Chinese medicine to name but two. And what is notably different about these approaches? It is the preventative and holistic side which means that instead of waiting to get ill and then treating with chemicals, there are things that we can do to prevent illness or disease. And that doesn't just mean taking other chemicals, but rather to take a step back and to look at our overall state rather than individual diseases in isolation.
Once ill, however, then the only way to treat a patient is through modern medicine, and we can probably be thankful that it exists in many cases. But let's not rely on it solely and let's move, over time, to a complete approach so that we can reduce our dependency.
Second, look at the evolution of the chemist in Europe. Was the chemist in Western Europe not far more like the apothecary of the middle ages and undoubtedly like the herbal doctors in China. What is the significant change here? It is the intervention and apparition of chemical companies. And the justification for this is to produce the right dose in the right quantities in the same controlled way. Cannot an apothecary or chemist do this given the correct information as he did up until the 1950's?
Why this revolution which has played into the hands of chemical companies? Or is the argument an economic one of those who seek to make a profit out of producing chemicals? Do we need a choice of 15 different paracetamols? Do we need to treat all and every ailment and do we need the huge selection and dependency on medication that it entails? And what role do doctors now have in preventative medicine? Very little; their primary purpose is to prescribe and are highly solicited by the very chemical companies that do nothing to promote holistic medicine because it is counterproductive for them.
While there may be justification for chemicals in some or even many circumstances, they cannot be justified in all cases. Government or economic policy must not favour exclusively curative medicine and the focus that it puts on medication and the attention that it takes away from looking at the whole being. There is a huge following now of eastern methods by people who are looking at the relationships between body, mind and spirit.
Synthesis is not necessarily the route. Analysis and the use of raw materials can be sufficient if the right information exists. Chemical companies are not motivated to produce biodegradable products and should be held accountable for the cost t the environment.
The challenges are not just economic. There are moral, social and ethical issues at stake. But most of all, we should be thinking of future generations. What kind of a world do we want to pass on? In 100 years, the population has increased, and our consumption rate has soared. This course is not sustainable and if not corrected; will correct itself.
If the planet cannot support us and if we chop off the branch we are sitting on, then nature will take its course. Is immune disease a symptom of our meddling with medication and failing to promote self-healing? Is cancer a result of a mental state as much as a physical one? All these questions are worth the research funding since it is our future at stake. When will we take a responsible and caring view of our planet and respect what it provides for us in reasonable quantities?
All these questions and more:
The film by Al Gore An Inconvenient Truth
The film "The World According To Monsanto about Ready Round-Up and the dependency of farmers on Monsanto contracts. It's a disgrace.
And the innumerable websites of all those concerned by these matters
My original post was lengthy and covered many issues in a quite empirical way. This article is not dissimilar in both respects. However, while the original post was set down with some thought, there may be holes in it. The response was unexpected and welcome from some people who are well placed to comment. This merits then as much effort and time, in my view, to come back to these issues in some detail and with attention.
I suggest that if the debate continues that there is some need to separate the issues out and while I think that there is a strong relationship between them all, form and readability may impose some separation.
Here, therefore, the comments to my original post are here marked in yellow.
First of all, I must congratulate you on setting out your views on what is a very wide range of issues. It should call for a lot of interesting debate. I agree with much of what you say although, in some cases, it can give the wrong impression when you over-generalise. Indeed, there is some generalisation here for the purpose of illustration.
However, let's get down to basics. Let's be specific, more specific and in the way of a research project, produce the required evidence.
I can't agree that we should be reducing the amount of chemicals used in all aspects of life. Chemicals have brought huge benefits to our quality of life and extended our life expectancy, e.g. through the development of new and improved medicines to combat various diseases which, years ago, caused many early and unnecessary deaths. Indeed, many industries, such as electronics, car and aeroplane manufacturing, fuel and energy, the music industry, etc, etc, would not be possible, as we know them today, without the advances made by new and more sophisticated products of the chemical industry.
This is true, of course. But I ask where we are going with all this development and this consumerism, which by definition is just consuming; the very term makes me rile. I refuse to be categorised as a consumer but prefer to be seen as a human being with certain requirements for subsistence. But certain needs are generated in circle of dependence because of the modern life that we lead. I need a computer and a telephone because I live in a world, a strut of society which turns around these things. While I open my eyes and I accept it, I can live with it, but if I tell myself that it is a necessity, I can try living without them for a while and see if I can stay alive.
While not a farmer, but an information worker, I know that if the chips were down I could give up this existence and till the earth and live off the land. Even if it didn't work out in "Manon des Sources", I could do it, but I'm just caught up in a much more complicated capitalist society which promotes not production of ones own wealth but of a bourgeoisie which lives of the fruit of other's labour. I site the collapse in the banking industry as a consequence of the world gone mad.
However, where viable and effective "natural" alternatives are available, they should be considered "" but only on a case-by-case basis. What does this mean on a case-by-case basis? Why is "Natural", the alternative? It is perhaps chemicals that has made the natural way the alternative, but in the beginning there were no alternatives. While life expectancy has increased, there are many areas where we apply chemicals needlessly. Do we need to eat perfectly formed apples? Why do we balk if our lettuces are not perfect and our carrots not straight?
Indeed, there are good examples (e.g., using ladybirds to control aphids) where such solutions appear very attractive "" but, often the economics doesn't make them profitable on a large scale.
Why do we need large scales? Think: local production, local consumption.
I should stress that a chemical is exactly the same whether it occurs naturally or is produced in a chemical factory. For me, the debate is not whether the chemical is the same in nature as it is when produced in the lab but the substance or plant that contains the chemical, the delivery mechanism is different. The failing is the difference of administering chemicals in isolation of the plant from which they came or from which they were copied. This is an intrinsically human interventionist policy which stems from the postulate that man can do it better, as you say later, "chemical companies improving on nature".
But this is indeed largely to exploit a market. What is the motivation apart from profit? Is Monsanto ethical in its approach to GM Maize and the dependency that it has built into its contracts by producing plants that are infertile? It is however of course great business!! Take for instance: horse manure, a good example. What is better; to build it using a horse or to synthesise it in a lab? Undoubtedly, we can and do isolate the fertilisers (nitrates) but if we used more horses, there would be more fertiliser. Why synthesis, which is energy consuming instead of growing the item concerned. Synthesis is energy consuming, whereas growing is beneficial and in harmony with nature.
In fact, there is no convincing evidence yet that it is in any way more nutritious than food grown by conventional means, i.e., using fertilisers and pesticides, etc.
The suggestion is not that there is more nutrition, but that it is nutrition without artificial assistance and without chemicals by principal, since synthesised chemicals are unpredictable in their behaviour. Take thalidomide. Instead of accepting that as an unfortunate statistic or an inevitable consequence of a world gone mad, perhaps we could refer to new testing requirements which will not only oblige chemical producers to prove that their products are safe when administered in isolation, but that they are safe when administered in the real life multi-dimensional real world of cocktails of different substances.
Second, as a principal, why ingest additional chemicals, when we can do without and when we are already inhaling car fumes, PVC fumes when we get into our car in summer, smoke from factories (much less than in 1920, but much more than in Roman times) and pouring detergents into water courses, destroying fish habitats, altering their fertility, over fishing the seas, throwing nitrates into the sea, landing heavy oil on the coasts of Brittany and altering human male fertility rates. Second, there is evidence to show that produce grown at the natural rate and not accelerated by chemical fertilisers is better tasting, has a more dense consistency (in the case of vegetables for instance), has a higher vitamin content and a higher fibre content.
For chickens, the 12 week battery chicken has a far higher proportion of water than a free range maize and corn fed chicken and is much smaller, less tasty and less nutritious. While much cheaper, is it not just eating for the sake of saying "I have a chicken and I feel rich" rather than eating the necessary good things needed. Take papayas and mangoes and bananas for instance. Produced where? Overseas and thus high transport cost, high energy cost. Why do we seek these things at any cost? Because it makes us feel powerful to know that we can bring goods to us from across the world, when we could be quite content with the thousands of varieties of locally grown apples "¦.
Government agencies have issued very stringent limits on such residual chemicals which are permitted in food offered for sale. Any such substances detected in foodstuffs are nearly always there at extremely low levels and present very low or negligible risks to people's health. I'm glad to hear it.
For the foreseeable future, organic food production can make vegetables so expensive that many of the poorer people in society will not be able to afford them so that their diet and health will suffer.
Which society are we talking about here, because the poorer people in Europe are very different from the poorer people in Africa? The health of Africans is already suffering today and not through lack of chemicals, but lack of management. The oil money in many African states that could be ploughed into irrigation projects tends to buy weapons instead. In Europe, the obscenity is in the contradiction of saying that we need high productivity to feed the poor but also massive choice to feed the whims of the wealthy. And the choice comes through high energy consuming imports in general, not employment-creating local farming.
Lowering productivity and improving quality, means producing fewer varieties of low meat high fat content sausages and a limited choice of high quality lean nutritious, slow-growing fruits and vegetables. It appears that bio food is more expensive. But privilege quality and not quantity and you may find that for the same cost, you need less food, since there is indeed more nutrition in it. I suggest some real work is needed here to determine whether bio food is better or not.
I have no doubts about that, but what is the battle here? To convince science that it is wrong? No! That is not the aim because, of course, each individual has the freedom to choose his way. But if it were true, we could exit from this consumerism, over -production, hell for leather life. (I believe that there is a parallel with our fear of death: we produce and cure because we do not accept that as there is life there is also death. We wish to play God. In any case God for me is a human construct as part of a megalomaniac alter-ego.
Look just at the way that God and religion has been used far more for domination than for peace!) But the generalisation of bio methods, through effective communication can reduce the costs, but when in competition with the food distribution system as it has evolved, with individual wrapping and costs going into, not the foodstuff, but the presentation, bio food may not be competitive. But the question is not just economics, it is: what is better? The contradiction between economies of scale and producing just what we need is not negligible. Bio methods and economies of scale are probably contradictions in terms.
Biodegradability I am not sure that it is fair to say that petrochemicals are not biodegradable; I don't think one should generalise.
How is it not fair to generalise here? The general case is that petrochemicals are not biodegradable and it is perfectly fair to say so. It is only now after years of nagging by environmental groups and that it is becoming trendy to be bio that work is being down on finding more biodegradable materials. And the chemical companies are not the instigators of this trend. The result of throw away consumerism has resulted in land fills as far as the lorry can carry.
The politics of economics has resulted in lorries carrying waste through villages and suburbs to bury them elsewhere: high energy production, high energy disposal and no return into the environment to be used for other things. No, we're talking here about land fills filled with 50 years worth of plastic bags which will take 2000 years to decompose and in the process pollute water courses and tie up land that today is poisonous and polluted which if it had been used in the context of bio organics could otherwise today have been used for farming.
Regardless even of the economics, it just makes more sense to recycle. Our resources are limited and as such it is suicide to do otherwise than recycle. In the last line, I wouldn't use the word, "suicide", since there are other means of disposable of waste and we are not all yet ready to die over the issue for some time. Interestingly, in the current economic climate in the UK, the bottom has just dropped out of the market for waste paper so that no-one wants to buy it!
Instead of suicide, perhaps the phrase "cutting off the branch on which you're sitting" is more appropriate. And when you happen to be sitting on a branch about 50 feet up, the two are fairly similar. One doesn't need to generalise to say that electronic goods are very poorly recycled today. We're not talking about the glut of recycled paper on the market which has forced down prices because it is a victim of its own success. But in economic terms are we saying here that no-one wants an enormous volume of low cost recycled wood and paper? I fear not. The same buyers who spend all there time driving down prices will find an outlet for that market.
Chemicals in Medicine I think it is extremely dangerous to suggest that people should avoid conventional medical treatments when the benefits of drugs have been scientifically proven; in fact, they have to be thoroughly tested before the drug companies can be given a licence to market them.
What I am suggesting is not eliminating medicine, just not relying on it in the sense of it being a holy grail. I'm saying that it is a question of measure and education and using far more preventative "medicine". Most government supported medicine in Europe is that which is linked to a curative only approach, since there is much less money is preventatives. This trend is changing now, and there are many, many people who for reasons of pure economics rather than conviction are getting onto this band wagon. But that's a better trend "¦ However, holistic medicine says: take a baseline of the person when they are well. How many people today would baulk at see a doctor when they are well!?
The disease is considered to be an energetic disequilibrium with respect to the normal state. The "treatment" is to bring the energetic state of the individual back in line with there own personal equilibrium. While there is nothing wrong with Paracetamol, explain to me again how the different brands of Paracetamol are individually tailored to the needs of the slim or the fat. One is enough is it not? The point here is not just in the chemicals but in the attitude; "I'm well all's well, I'm sick: I see a doctor". How about this: "I'm well; I go to see a doctor who explains to me how I can stay well" and not one who says, "come back and see me next time"
Of course, there are cases where some drugs have been found to have unfortunate side-effects and then have to be withdrawn. Why "of course"? Some drugs, e.g., those administered to cancer patients are extremely toxic but are very effective in killing cancer growths. OK. I don't know enough about this, but is it the principal as in French of "un mal pour un mal"?
Alternative health treatments have their place, of course, but, often, in my view, only when tried and tested drugs are not producing satisfactory results.
Why only as an alternative? Why could it not be that medication is the alternative to every day life? If eating well and living well aren't sufficient and something gets past your immune system, ask: what is it and why, rather than just delivering antibiotics and waiting for it to happen again.
The crucial point, here, is that the dose and the frequency of taking the medication are very important. Dose is not the only factor. It is also timing. Give certain chemicals to foetuses at the crucial moment and this will alter there development"
Whilst many naturally - occurring substances have valuable therapeutic properties "" and, indeed, many drug companies have sought to exploit such substances and isolate them or improve upon them "" Exploit indeed.
It is not my intention to destroy the chemical industry, or even to criticise it per say. My question is about motivation. Where are the ethics in post-disease treatment without taking on the responsibility of preventive measures? Where are the ethics in producing more and more, selling more and more and advertising only the advantages of choice through quantity, not health through quality? Where are the ethics in tying farmers into business contracts and not aiding them in self subsistence?
In the third paragraph, I don't think "apparition" is the appropriate word here. Why not? Do you prefer development? I prefer "the investment of huge capital sums and a cut-throat business-orientated, profit-hungry corporation?" but that's just my point of view. The business of chemicals is far from negligible and there is strong motivation there from many quarters to maintain the winnings from this industry. While there are positive sides to this, I wish them to be balanced, not just by responsible care, but by thinking outside the box, by thinking holistically, not specifically, by considering the whole person not the individual disease.
In the fourth paragraph, it is important to offer a choice of "different Paracetamols" because people don't come in standard packages and react to one drug in different ways. Also, some people may be allergic to certain medicines or are already taking other drugs which can restrict the medicines they can tolerate.
OK but again, what are the ethics of wanting to solve all human ailments. Is this an attempt at playing God? Is it our destiny to be all powerful? Of course, how can this be measured against individual suffering, pain, anxiety, distress and anguish through times of illness? It cannot. But where are we going? Are we moving towards awareness of the inter-relatedness of illness to the overall human state or are we intent on finding cures for everything without looking at the causes? And not just the chemical, physiological causes, but the psychological, emotional, historical causes from the human psyche "¦
Conclusion This is fine; I have no comments on this. Do you agree then with the statement "Chemical companies are not motivated to produce biodegradable products and should be held accountable for the cost to the environment."? Do you agree that medicine can be approached from a holistic point of view and that there is more to it than administering chemicals? Do you agree for instance that stress is a cause of disease? Have you considered that stress is a consequence of modern society and that reducing stress overall would reduce our consumption of medication?
References I wouldn't recommend Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth"; it is sensational, exaggerated and hugely unscientific. It is certainly well presented, but why do you say unscientific? It is based on studies which have value.
I hope these thoughts will give you something to think about.
Indeed, there are many thoughts here and I thank you for them, not because it is likely to make me a supporter of the chemical industry but because the debate is important. If I could feel confident that the planet were being respected, that what we produce is not tying up reusable resources for millennia and that the more time goes on, that we were not running towards more consumption, higher population, closer proximity and thus more exposure to disease (I note that in the middle ages, when towns started forming, the apparition of waste in the streets was the greatest motivation in inventing gutters, and in nineteenth century London, the sewers were invented by Queen Vic and co. to avoid Cholera), promoted by the same chemical companies who are out there preventing deaths and improving life expectancy. The long term affects of the petro-chemical industry has not been measured, because it has only been around for a very short time. However, the planet has survived pretty well without it for several billion years and will go on long after the petrol runs out. The only question is: will we?