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Nuances of Biology Not Communicated to DC Metro Passengers

January 13, 2009

An alert reader and alum of the YSFP recently sent me this ad that he saw while riding the DC Metro:untitled1

This ad is one of a few being put out by the Nutrients For Life foundation showing how today’s children are, in essence, grown from chemical fertilizer. They aren’t wrong on that point – the vast majority of food consumed by children and others in this country is completely reliant on chemical fertilizers, which are in turn reliant on fossil fuel consumption – but the saccharine sweet smiles on the faces of those children whose most likely inadequate nutrition depends on a tenuous global oil economy are perhaps a little optimistic.

For those that don’t know, Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium are the three primary ingredients in all chemical fertilizers, part of a now-obsolete perception of agriculture that unfortunately still dominates practical food production. If the kids in these ads are the ones to be concerned about here, then it’s worth pointing out that food grown with only these three fertilizing inputs are notably less nutritious than food grown organically and with attention to the complete biological system that includes a vast array of micronutrients in addition to N.P.K.

Growing a plant with only N.P.K would be relatively analogous to attempting to grow a human by shoveling in an appropriate mix of soy protein, sugar and fat. It seems to be that humans need that stuff to grow, so that should work, right? As it turns out, both plants and humans do best when grown with the same complex array of natural foods that they evolved to eat. The ad fails to mention that.

It’s unlikely that this ad is attempting to convince midwestern farmers that fertilizer is, surprise, involved in food production, so it would seem that these ads are a deliberate jab at sustainable food advocates who maintain that there is more to agriculture than the periodic application of powerful chemicals. More Ads after the jump.



Just look at the attention to ethnic diversity! A quick look at reminds us that among the donors for the benevolent Nutrients for Life Foundation include such illustrious corporate giants as Monsanto, Syngenta and ConAgra, as well as a number of fertilizer companies who as it turns out, are strong supporters of fertilizer. “Too long, our industry’s voice has gone unheard,” they say on their website. They seem to feel that corporations just don’t get a fair shake in this country.

The foundation attacks those who aren’t such big fans of chemical fertilizers: “They understand the flavor of the day, what they see on tv.” They aren’t too far off – “green” living is in some ways a fad not always understood by those who follow it, but the Nutrients for Life Foundation’s mission of education stops notably short of soil depletion, erosion, monoculture, micronutrient deficiency, nitrogen runoff and any other number of problems associated with total reliance on chemical fertilizers. I suppose, of course, that wouldn’t fit on an ad that size. And just look at those kids.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 13, 2009 5:58 am

    these ads are very reminscent of those used by the same industry players in promoting GM food to the public- women and children, often of Asian or African appearance, are shown ‘reaping’ the benefits. (of course, these are “American” children- they’re clothed, after all, compared to the half-naked African children in the GM ads) but it’s the same theme.

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