From: Robina Suwol
Date: 16 May 2007
Remote Name: 126.96.36.199
Fresno Fog Casts A Cloud Over Conventional Farmers. Lock your doors. Bolt your windows. There's something in THE FOG!
That's a line from John Carpenter's classic 1980 horror film, but it's also the basis of a lawsuit on the coast of central California, where the fog stands accused of lifting legally applied pesticides from conventional farms and depositing them on organically grown herbs on a nearby farm, ruining $500,000 worth of dill.
Can organic and conventional farms butt borders without butting heads? A Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge has issued an injunction against Western Farm Services, a Fresno company that provides and applies pesticides to conventional farms, to stop spraying pesticides while it ponders the case of Jacobs Farms v. Western Farm Services.
Fog, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, has the power to "turn pesticides into liquid and carry them off days after they were sprayed." Call it "nurture" versus nature, a collision between man-made methods of trying to tweak our ecosystem and, well, the proverbial forces of nature.
How can you hold the law of unintended consequences accountable for breaking the law? Western Farm Services didn't commit any crimes. According to the Sentinel, which reported this story last week, "under state code, a pesticide sprayer's responsibility to stop chemicals from drifting into other fields ends after the pesticide is applied."
But the fog apparently carried the pesticides from fields of conventionally grown Brussels sprouts to the 120 acres of Wilder Ranch State Park that Larry Jacobs rents to grow organic herbs.
The chemicals in question are used to control cabbage moths, but their residues are not permitted on any kinds of herbs, conventional or organic.
When Larry Jacobs' dill crop tested positive for the pesticide residue in December, his $500,000 crop was a total loss.
Now, the same thing has happened with his spring crop. They're still tallying the numbers, but it surely adds up to another big loss for Jacobs.
Santa Cruz attorney Austin Comstock, who's representing Jacobs, told the Sentinel "There's a traditional concept in Anglo-Saxon law that you use your property in a way not to damage mine. If you damage mine there's some redress there."
Sounds reasonable. But we live in an era where Monsanto can plant genetically modified crops and then, when their patented seeds are carried by the bees or the breeze to nearby organic farms, take the hapless farmer to court for stealing their product--and win. By that logic, I could sue my next door neighbor for damages because my bamboo invaded her yard (which, of course, it did--talk about broken borders, oy.)
The livelihood of both organic and conventional farmers is at stake here.
Pesticides and GMOs routinely show up like uninvited agri-biz ambassadors crashing the organic garden gate, but a ban means putting the interests of organic farmers ahead of conventional crop growers.
Unlikely, yes, but there's a hopeful precedent for Jacobs Farms in a case where herbicides that were properly applied migrated to nearby orchards and killed the trees. The orchard growers sued, and the standards were tightened.
But it makes you wonder. Can something that causes that much harm be safe to use in the first place? And if the pesticide residues from the stuff they're using to protect Brussels sprouts from cabbage moths aren't considered safe enough for conventional herbs, why are they OK on Brussels sprouts?
Of course, in the end, it's really a case of the People v. the Pests. But some might argue that we are the pests.
If Jacobs Farms v. Western Farm Services were a Capra film, I'd bet on Jacobs Farms. How did The Fog end, anyway? My recollection is hazy. Was it a happy ending?