Archive for September, 2011

Scientist Debate Food System

September 23, 2011



Ken Cassman- Department Head Agronomy and Soils University of Nebraska

Don Boesch- President of The University of Maryland’s Horns Point Environmental Lab.

Dean Hively- USDA ARS Research Scientist

Tom Fisher- Horn Point Scientist and 25 year monitor of the Choptank watershed

Francis Thicke- Author, Iowa organic pasture dairy farmer and soils scientist

Russell Brinsfield- President of the University of Maryland’s Wye Agro-Ecology Center

Walter Willett- Nutrition Dept. Head- leader of Harvard’s long-term epidemiology studies


DONALD KERSTETTER- Trappe Landing Farm & Native Sanctuary

CONCLUSIONS: Submitted by DRK for comments

It is important that we reach a consensus on the actions required to stop the nutrient contamination of rivers and estuaries and the excess production of food responsible for causing our epidemics of cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. This year 2011 we experienced near record oxygen dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay caused mostly by application of fertilizer particularly to corn and a glut of CAFO manure. We also experienced record sediment intrusion from unprotected farm fields into Chesapeake Bay. Also much has been written about the poor health of Americans and out of control health care cost. It is important that the scientific community including nutritionists and environmental scientists work together to find a strategy that works for all including the farmer who starts the food growing process in May of each year. The solution would be much simpler if we left out nutrition and the health of the American people. As Ken Cassman of the University of Nebraska points out improvement in nitrogen uptake efficiency of 20% has been achieved and with more research there is promise of further improvement. Cover crops will help uptake of excess nitrogen and will also help mitigate erosion and sediment intrusion. But as Walter Willett points out these environmental improvements will not solve the health issues which require a substantial reduction in corn based products including sugar and red meat and increases in fruits and vegetable consumption. A healthy American diet is outlined by Harvard’s “Healthy Plate” shown on their website This provides further definition of the USDA’s “My Plate” initiative. I hope we can all agree that healthy food produced in a way that protects the environment is the goal. Ken Cassman expressed concern that developing Countries will fill the void if the U.S. reduces its corn output and they will have less concern for world ecology, I believe many of these countries are equally concerned and will follow our lead. I base this opinion on the active involvement of China India and other developing Countries who our part of the World cancer study. This dialog points to the need for environmental and health scientists to work together to reach conclusions and recommendations. In my view the following mandatory actions implemented worldwide are required based on these discussions. May I have your comments please!

  1. Reduce nitrogen application rates to corn and beans by 50%.
  2. Require winter cover crops on all tilled farm fields
  3. Require the pyrolysis of all CAFO manure
  4. Ban the use of antibiotics and growth hormones in CAFO production
  5. *Require a representative of the Humane Society to monitor all CAFO and slaughterhouse operations to verify humane treatment of food animals.

*While we have not discussed #5, I believe that you would agree if you view a video of the horrible conditions in America’s CAFO’s and slaughterhouses. If you wish I will forward the video to you.

The primary objection to these Government actions will be corn yield loss. This will force farmers to seek revenues from higher value crops including a variety of vegetables, fruits and nuts. This will make these healthier products more available and help the USDA’s effort to increase consumption of these healthier foods as proposed by their “my plate “ initiative. Americans are suffering from an addiction to the very foods that are destroying their health. Demand for these unhealthy products will increase until the cost goes up which will happen as supply goes down and price goes up. The USDA must also implement an educational campaign to sell consumption of healthy food in addition to the 5 recommended actions. It has taken us decades to create this environmental and health disaster. It will likely take decades to correct.


I thank all who participated in this discussion.