Organic agriculture guru Tom Manley claims BSE or Mad Cow Disease may not originate with contaminated meat-based feed but with "exposure to organo-phosphate pesticides and chemical pollutants."
Operator of Homestead Organics at Berwick, Manley says that competent research out of Great Britain that he has examined indicates that BSE is an environmental disease rather than one "spread by feeding cows to cows or to people."
The position taken by Manley, Green Party candidate in Stormont-Dundas-Charlottenburgh in the next provincial election, debunks the one commonly held by experts now attempting to discover the origins of one case of BSE documented in Western Canada.
According to Manley, the Canadian case and the prevalence of the disease in other beef-marketing countries "shows the faults in the industrial model of food production."
Likewise, the presence of BSE presents "opportunities for farmers who are considering organic management practices", says Manley who has also been named Green Party agricultural advocate.
As an example of the organic advantages highlighted by the current BSE scare, Manley cites the case of his own feedmill and grain elevator which was among Canadian exporters to receive notice May 16 that the U.S. border was closed to livestock feeds since many contain rendered animal products.
"We quickly turned around with our organic production certificate and extracts of Canadian and U.S. organic standards. We maintained our schedule and shipped bulk and bagged organic feeds to U.S. clients whereas several conventional feedmills couldn't get across the border."
Manley is chair of the 450-member Ottawa Chapter of the Canadian Organic Growers, a non-profit association which promotes production and consumption or organic food. Given the rate of international trade and industrial agricultural practices in North America, the occurrence of BSE in this country was predictable, he says. "It was only a matter of time."
No matter how the disease is spread, it demonstrates that "something in contemporary agriculture has gone wrong. A BSE crisis may contribute to a re-evaluation of our food choices and help stimulate demand for organically produced food."
That's what's happening in Britain and other countries, Manley maintains: "During Europe's various food crises, including Mad Cow, Hoof and Mouth, and dioxin contaminations, organically produced food became increasingly popular among farmers, consumers and governments."
Organic livestock production differs from industrial confinement methods in several regards, he says. Animals are managed in systems appropriate for their species, with prescriptions for space, sunlight, and fresh air. They feed largely on grass and hay, preferably on pasture when possible.
"The farmer adopts practices that prevent problems, reduce stress, and enhance the immune system. With such beneficial practices, the farmer does not need, and is forbidden from using, antibiotics, feeds with animal byproducts, hormones, synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms."
Should the discovery of BSE lead to sudden increased demand for organic beef in this country, Manley suggests it'll take some time to respond to the market. Not only does it take three years to fully convert a traditional farm to organic status, another two-three years are required for an organically-raised animal to be ready for processing.