Here in the news biz, we rely on thumbnail descriptions, sparing you the details. We'll tell you, for instance, that organic farmers aren't allowed to use synthetic pesticides and factory-made fertilizer.
In general, that's true. But there's also a long list of pesky exceptions to the rule. And this week, a battle erupted over those exceptions: the synthetic or factory-made substances that organic farmers are still allowed to use because the farmers say they couldn't survive without them.
For instance, growers of organic apples and pears are allowed to use streptomycin, an antibiotic, to control a tree disease called fire blight. Egg producers are allowed to use limited amounts of a synthetically produced nutrient called methionine.
Both of these substances were on the agenda at a meeting of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Standards Board this week in San Antonio, an event that turned into an ill-tempered confrontation between two wings of the organic industry — purists versus Big Organic. One protester had to be carried out of the room by police, while her comrades chanted, "Don't change sunset."