The news about the release of the Human Biome Project data generated some related commentary in the media last week. My personal favorite was a piece in the New York Times by Dr. Jeff Leach that used the HBP as a reference point in calling on scientists and consumers to reevaluate our society’s general view towards bacteria as the enemy of health. Called “Let’s Add A little Dirt to our Diet”, the article focuses on the important role of beneficial bacteria in maintaining a healthy ecosystem inside our bodies and building our immune systems. It discusses the importance of the natural process by which babies and children are inoculated with bacteria and how this process is being disrupted by factors like Caesarian section births, a lack of time spent playing outside, consumption of overprocessed food, and a general overuse of antibiotics.
The Human Biome Project renders completely absurd the idea that bacteria are bad and must not be allowed to enter our bodies. Unfortunately, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries have had decades to cement the myth that “sterile is good” through everything from advertising to government advocacy. Over 50 million tons of chlorine, one most of the most toxic chemicals every discovered, are produced each year. Chlorine was one of the key components of older pesticides like DDT which are now widely banned, but in its use as a household cleanser and water sterilizer, it is arguably the most widely used biocide on the planet. With its focus on “disposable everything”, the sterility industry is arguably even less environmentally sustainable than its partner the petroleum industry. And it has cemented a relationship with elected officials at the federal and state levels, and government agencies from the Food and Drug Administration all the way down to your local Health Department.
Always searching for new business opportunities, the Sterility Industrial Complex has now targeted agriculture. So while research facilities and cutting edge medical centers across the country might now be focusing on identifying and using beneficial bacteria, Congress has pushed regulators to turned their focus onto the threat posed by microbes in dirt. Beginning this year, all farms growing fresh produce are now required to fill out an extensive plan documenting how they are going to prevent dirt from contaminating their crops. Despite the absurdity of this idea, it is a giant opportunity for chemical companies: At least one giant retailer is now requiring all farms that supply them with fresh produce to inject chlorine into their irrigation water. No one has any idea what the long term consequences to the soil will be.
As Dr. Leach states in his opinion piece, we humans are making ourselves sick by attempting to disconnect ourselves from nature. The road to health lies not in living in a bubble, but in reconnection. Unfortunately, for most people this will not mean spending more time outside, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, etc. It will eventually mean a daily pill or an immunization shot every few years, full of beneficial bacteria.
At Terra Firma, we have always believed that healthy soil = healthy customers. I’m glad that experts are finally figuring out exactly why, but despite what anyone says I still think vegetables taste best when you wash the dirt off them.