Animal Rights

Are Wild Fish Too Natural to Be Organic?


The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to figure out what makes fish organic. If you're thinking it's all the carbon molecules, clearly you haven't been paying attention to the debate over which products should qualify for an "organic" label, which attracts consumers who are willing to pay more for food so they can feel better about eating it. Organic in this sense is not a chemical description but a set of seemingly abitrary rules that, like Jewish dietary laws, set one group of people apart from others. As with kosher food, some consumers believe "organic" food is healthier than conventional food. Others say it is better for the environment, or (in the case of dairy, egg, and meat products) less cruel to animals. But since the U.S. government started regulating use of the term, it is whatever the USDA says it is. For produce, it means no artificial pesticides or fertilizer. For livestock, it means organic feed, no antibiotics, and relatively roomy accommodations. But what does it mean for fish?

Companies that sell wild fish say nothing could be more natural. But keepers of the organic faith worry about depletion of fish stocks, which is bad for the environment, and insist that the "organic" label, strictly speaking, applies only to agriculture, which catching fish is not. In that sense, wild fish are too natural to be organic. There also are problems with farm-raised fish: overcrowding, polluted water, and the difficulty of finding organic feed for fish that eat other fish. An expert tells The New York Times that distinguishing between organic and convenional (inorganic?) fish "is a strange concept" and that "the more you look at it, particularly for particular kinds of fish, it gets even stranger." Observant Jews have a much easier time: Anything with fins and scales will do.

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  1. They should just call them “All Natural.” That seems to have pretty much the same meaning.

  2. Along the same lines, I believe the Pope decided a couple hundred years ago that Capybara were “fish”, and could be eaten on Fridays for lent.

    I’m sure that this had nothing to do with political considerations for local famine or inconvenience, and was instead a perfectly valid conclusion that since the furry rodents spend a lot of time in the water, they were clearly a kind of fish.

  3. Gaia worship is just getting too complicated. It’s back to Norse mythology for me.

  4. Organic in this sense is not a chemical description but a set of seemingly abitrary rules that, like Jewish dietary laws, set one group of people apart from others. As with kosher food, some consumers believe “organic” food is healthier than conventional food.

    Bingo. What food is organic is a philosophical question, and as with Kosher, the government shouldn’t be meddling in what is basically a religious matter.

    Let environmental groups sort this out — have a Green Council of Nicea, if you will. It’s their orthodoxy, not mine.

  5. Ah, this explains why The New Republic called me a hybrid driver. Pure ignorance.

    The whole issue of ‘environmentalism’ is a bunch of word games played by literature majors and those who wished they were.

  6. Ah..the perils of mis-applying a scientific term to a marketing spin.

    Little did the hippy dippy granola set realize the wall they would smack into when they picked the word “organic” to describe their production methods.

    Reality is, at some point, they’re going to have to drop the pretense and stick to some more accurate descriptor of their products than “organic” anyway.

    It’s for their own good, as large production outfits are already adopting the “organic” label for products decidedly not traditionally thought of as “organic”. And they are being given a lot of leeway by the USDA.

    I suggest the same approach other parts of the fishing industry came up with…things like “dolphin safe”, “wild salmon” and the like. Using phrases like “pesticide free”, “picked by well-paid, legal immigrants” and “gently slaughtered” sound good to me.

  7. The whole “organic” thing came to a head for me when I was eating at Uno’s, and saw on the menu that one of their pizza types is made with “organic sea salt.” My friends took a moment to realize what I was raving about, that salt cannot, by definition, be “organic.”

    Even under the non-chemical definition, though: what the fuck does “organic” sea salt mean?

  8. Back in my day, we called them fish.

  9. Even under the non-chemical definition, though: what the fuck does “organic” sea salt mean?

    It’s salt that has been harvested, processed, and marketed in harmony with prevailing leftist pieties, allowing those who pay the extra 50% or so in price to feel as if they’re “helping” the environment.

    In other words, it’s Kosher for Gaia worshippers.

  10. Captain Holly,

    It is unconcionable that it costs 50% more, we need a government voucher program!

  11. I think you left off the biggest advantage of ‘organic’ (I hate the label, too–‘organic salt’ is hilarious): that it just fucking tastes goood. For serious. Maybe it’s just cause I’m from SE Alaska where it’s next to impossible to find a non-cardboard tomato or an orange with juice all the way through but really, guys, you should try this organic stuff, it’ll blow your damn mind wide open.

    My favorite organic product (and the hardest to give up–I’m currently not well-heeled enough to have my pick of nutritives) is probably milk. The difference is just night and day, to me. So much tastier, creamier, yummy-in-my-tummier… Also good bets: tomatoes, eggs, carrots, any fruit. Good organic food just blows the lid right off of megafarmed, refrigerated, artificially-“ripened” pieceofshit produce that is the bane of modern American life.

    As an Alaskan, I have strong emotions about the fish thing as well. I suspect that what the organic-heads ought to be promoting in fish sales is wild-caught fish, as opposed to “farmed” fish (fish not agriculture whaaaa?). Real, wild Alaskan salmon… well, see the comments above on my organic food opinions. It just kicks the goddamn pants off of the pasty, white, mercury-laden lard-assed sorry sonsabitches they raise at fish farms.

    I think it’s strange that libertarian-types get their panties all in a twist about organic food (I see the Volokhers rant about it every so often, too). Doesn’t make any sense to me. I think it’s an involuntary reaction to the presence of hippies (totally understandable). But if you can stand their stench for long enough, I heartily encourage you to amble down to Trader Joe’s or your local farmer’s market and get yourself some real food. (And look for wild Alaskan salmon and halibut, while you’re at it, it’s seriously good and you’ll be supporting independent Alaskan fishermen.) I see buying organic food/wild-caught fish as the perfect opportunity to show how capitalism and the market can actually work to promote quality and not just half-assed economies of scale. (And you’ll be happier/healthier to boot.) Let’s not doom the future to cheap schlocky chemical-ridden tomatoes and diseased inbred hemophiliac fish.

    Remember, just cause hippies like it, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad (cases in point: drugs, Jimi Hendrix, the Adam West Batman, Herman Hesse).

    Damn, now I’m hungry.

  12. Isn’t it pretty well established that fertilizer (and probably pesticide) run-off screws up bodies of water? As for health, I doubt it makes much difference, but if it doesn’t cost me much more to avoid the experiment, why not?

  13. dc,
    Where you at in the SE?

  14. I don’t have any problems with organic foods, or even with hippies (other than the smell). I’m perfectly willing to allow the market to sort this out. If there’s a demand for it, then there will be a supply. May a thousand Farmer’s Markets blossum!

    Heck, I even enjoy organic foods, too. One of my hobbies is gardening, and because I’m usually too lazy/cheap/busy every year to spray my fruit trees and garden I end up eating organic tomatoes, potatoes, apples, apricots, etc. by default. And yes, my organic produce tastes great, but that’s more of a function of it being fresh off the vine than a lack of pesticide residues.

    But I also recognize that roughly 50% of this years’ apple crop had worms in it, and if I were forced to make a living from growing apples I’d either have to spray to save my crop, or charge more money to break even on the unblemished portion. I can tolerate wormy apples because they are a nice byproduct of the tree, not my livelihood. I couldn’t tolerate them if I had to live off them.

    What I (and most libertarians) object to is the government mandating that farmers have to grow their food a certain way because a small portion of the population believes that their methods are environmentally-destructive, or cruel, or “unsustainable”.

    The only uniform characteristic that I’ve noticed about organic produce is it is uniformly much more expensive than regular produce, meaning that if we were forced to eat only organic food my family would go hungry.

  15. I recently had the misfortune of dining at a very upscale restaurant in my area that featured a salt “sommelier”. About 8 or 9 kinds, all “organic”. None were of the table variety. About $6.

  16. Regarding “More Organic than Organic” fish:
    I agree with madpad regarding the use of the term “organic”.

    Back in the days when “organic” applied only to agriculture, it was pretty clear cut; if your crop contained any synthesised or mined fertilizer or any, non-naturally occuring pesticide or herbicide then it was not “organic”. Some farmers stretched this to include “pesticidal soaps” on the basis that the soap didn’t actually poison the bugs but rather suffocated them and ingestion of the soaps posed no harm to humans. The term should have been better chosen but it was not. The base idea was pretty simple too, it was not about growing bigger, better veggies, it was about not producing copious amounts of pesticide, herbicide or fertilizer runoff and improving the soil tilth with compost. Good tasting veggies is a bonus but a tomato picked green is still a green tomato.

    When they moved to livestock it pretty much meant feeding cows “organically” raised grains and avoiding the use of “pesticides”, namely antibiotics and “fertilizers”, namely hormones.

    Fish, well, you can’t raise predatory fish in a penned environment without antibiotics (well, you can but it is not economically feasable) and the only way to obtain “organic” fish food is to process wild caught fish into meal. So, either you catch the apex predetor in the wild (salmon, halibut, tuna) or you catch the base food supply for many other fish, some not fit for the table.

    Note that the primary exceptions to this rule, Catfish and Tilapia, are freshwater fish and both are omniverous and show a preference to plants and detritus rather than being apex predators.

  17. Special Interests always linger like the smell of dead fish.

    Seems entirely appropriate in this case.

  18. Appeals to the flavor of organic food, while subjective, is perfectly okay in my book. It’s the claims by practitioners that they’re living healthier lives and improving the earth’s environment, in the absence of evidence, that bothers me.

  19. What I (and most libertarians) object to is the government mandating that farmers have to grow their food a certain way because a small portion of the population believes that their methods are environmentally-destructive, or cruel, or “unsustainable”.

    I am with you here, but where has the US government “demanded” that farmers do so? The FDA doesn’t demand that all produce be raised “organic”, it instead has appropriated the labeling administration of the “organic” farmers and has applied some rather arbitrary (and sometimes counterintuitive / counterproductive) rules regarding the use of the “organic” label. I could grow a perfectly “organic” tomato and opt not to label it as such and there is nothing stopping me from doing so (except market dynamics of course).

    Note, this does not mean I approve of the FDA taking over what should be an industry driven initiative. It has, like everything it touches, screwed up even something as simple as this.

  20. there are all sorts of ways to make food better (or not) and some are or aren’t organic.

    for example, free range chickens eating a natural chicken diet, tend to have MUCH higher levels of EFA’s in their yolks (much more healthy) and you can see the difference in the much richer color of the yolks.

    in general, deeper colors in most foods is representative of more concentrated nutrition. the darker parts of the lettuce plant have far more phyto’s vit’s etc. and really dark colored fruit like plums, cranberries, blueberries, etc. tend to be vitamin rich. paler plant foods tend to be much less nutrient (although not necessarily calorically) dense – sweet potatoes have way more good stuff in them than white potatoes for instance.

    many organics ARE much tastier, but imo the price is usually too absurd for me to deal with.

    one of the few govt. reg’s i like is mandatory labeling, since that just gives the consumer more power to choose – make an educated choice.

    in WA state, many companies were dying their salmon to give it that deep color that wild salmon gets. without a label, you might think you are getting the good stuff, when in fact you are getting a pale imitation.

    i have no probs with labeling (similarly, i love mcd’s but i also like the fact that they list all the stuff in their food), but i do have a problem with terms like “organic” being applied to FISH. that is absurd.

  21. I am with you here, but where has the US government “demanded” that farmers do so? The FDA doesn’t demand that all produce be raised “organic”, it instead has appropriated the labeling administration of the “organic” farmers and has applied some rather arbitrary (and sometimes counterintuitive / counterproductive) rules regarding the use of the “organic” label.

    You’re correct. I was addressing the general effort by environmentalists and animal-rights activists to get the government to force certain practices on farmers and processors (eg, the recent horse-meat ban) because they consider such practices to be morally unacceptable. Given the chance, I’m sure many in the environmental community would mandate that all foods be “organic”, regardless of cost.

  22. BP, I don’t have the time right now to do a full on search for the literature, but I do believe that there are some studies, complete with lovely colorful maps, that show that agricultural pollution (fertilizer runoff) is causing eutrophication of waterways and killing native fish populations, affecting the populations of animals that feed on the fish, and the predators that feed on those animals, etc. It is also causing problems in river deltas.

    A lot of modern large-scale agricultural practices lead to erosion of soil and its nutrients, essentially leaving the land either 1) barren and unfit to farm or 2) fit to farm only if mass quantities of fertilizers and pesticides are used to keep the plants going (which perpetuates eutrophication).

    Not to mention the dearth of plant and animal diseases, predatory insects, etc. that conventional agriculture can unknowingly release.

    I agree that a better label is needed – “organic” is a poor word to describe what you are really buying when you pay the extra money for organically grown produce and animal products – taste, environmentally sound and soil-conservative techniques, and pesticide-free. And usually there is an added bonus of supporting your local farmers, since most organically grown produce does not ship well (not sprayed with preservatives) and therefore must be bought withing a few hundred miles or less of where it was grown.

  23. explain to this ignoramus why salt can’t be “organic”?

  24. dhex:

    “Inorganic – Pertaining to material such as sand, salt, iron, calcium salts, and other mineral materials. Inorganic substances are of mineral origin, whereas organic substances are usually of animal or plant origin and contain carbon.”

  25. dhex,
    Qbryzan is correct. Basically, any carbon based life form is “organic”, anything else is a mineral and is “inorganic”. Therefore, the Crystalline Entity would be inorganic no matter how intelligent it was.

  26. “gently slaughtered”


  27. Wikipedia confirmed my guess: salts can be organic, but “sea salt” can’t be. For example, sodium acetate contains an organic compound, and is a salt. However, sea salt doesn’t have organic salts in large quantities, and isn’t produced by any kind of organic process, so it seems silly to me to call it “organic.” But that’s just me.

  28. Damn. Now just how do they expect me to make Organic Soylent Green?

  29. “What food is organic is a philosophical question, and as with Kosher, the government shouldn’t be meddling in what is basically a religious matter. Let environmental groups sort this out — have a Green Council of Nicea, if you will. It’s their orthodoxy, not mine.”

    Sorry, no can do. What happens when a court case comes up, in which the complainant seeks a refund for purchase of a product, saying it was incorrectly labeled “organic”?

    It’s the same issue as same-sex “marriage”. Law & enforcement (courts, police) cannot stay out of determining the fact of whether someone is married or whether a fish is organic. And that should depend on what understanding the parties had of the words, and that should depend on custom and should be determinable by some authority.

    There are basically 2 ways to settle such questions. One is by decree, wherein the authority is installed in advance. That may be a regulatory agency, a legislature, a king, or an activist judge (ruling on what should be rather than what is). The other way is by fact-finding, in which no particular authority is privileged, but is an authority on the basis of knowledge & reputation — like the dictionary. I usually prefer the latter method, although the former does have the advantage of greater certainty. I see nothing wrong with privileging an authority to make up & define a new term, such as when setting weights & measures using words with no history. (If there’d never before been such a thing as a “pound”, and Congress wanted to define one, that’s fine with me.)

    Therefore I’d like to see the meaning of such things as “organic” and “married” worked out via common law of contract, wherein the court would try to determine what was in the minds of the persons using the words, with an eye toward custom. That does mean that at first there’d be considerable uncertainty, and therefore some loss by the early users of the terms, to the benefit (via precedent) of those who would come later. Fortunately that problem was worked out long ago for the terms “married”, “spouse”, etc., and it will only harm the legal system to attempt to change those understandings by decree.

    It is always possible for private parties to gain certainty by themselves making reference to an authority when they use words like “organic”. “This product organic XYZ”, where XYZ is the name of an organization that defines the word a certain way, should provide sufficient factual basis to make any court determination easy. However, as long as there are courts, it will never be possible for them to avoid all fact finding regarding the meaning of words in contracts.
    * * * * * *

    Oh, and since the use of the word in the chemical sense derives from earlier usage referring to living things, I’d say it should be possible to come up with a plausible distinction between “organic” and “inorganic” for substances containing no reduced carbon. For example, we could consider NaCl to be “organic” if obtained from the juice of a living thing — from urine, for instance.

  30. MadBiker’s comment reminds me that many organic food supporters truly believe that only organic farmers use sensible farming techniques such as contour plowing, crop rotation, no-till or low-till planting, and natural fertilizers, and that non-organic farmers are lazy hayseeds who dump an ever-increasing amount of chemicals on their land just to keep up.

    My uncle still runs the family farm (although more as a hobby — he’s over 90) and almost all of his non-organic neighbors use those same techniques. Depending on the amount of weeds present, some will even skip using herbicides, since they’re pretty pricey. Most will also spread manure from their dairy farms or feedlots on their land in the fall or spring. Their pesticide use is determined more by the specific crop they’re trying to grow, than by an inability to adapt to new techniques.

    And organic farming isn’t free from impacts, either: Cow manure contains a fair amount of bacteria when compared to ammonium nitrate. As was illustrated in the recent spinach debacle, using “natural” fertilizers is not automatically safer or more environmentally-friendly, either.

  31. Juat an aside to grylliade & Qbrysan’s comments.

    The main objection that “Organic” and “natural” food advocates have against salt [NaCl] and sugar – specifically fructose – [C12H22O11] is that they are “white” foods – literally. This was the original grievance in the early days of the “organic” foods movement. [ca. 1920s] The language has been dressed up considerably since then and considerable effort has gone into finding evidence to support this position,* but that is the root of it.

    *Before joe can weigh in, I’ll add a few points:
    1) There do seem to be problems with both salt and table sugar. However, both of them are perfectly natural and, for some reason, humans naturally crave them.
    2) The research has started with the premise “Salt/sugar are bad for people, let’s find evidence to prove it” instead of “Why do humans naturally crave these substances and what are the benefits and detriments?”
    3) Some salt is essential for life & sugar is produced by living beings. Attempting to ban either of them is irrational.

  32. Sorry, no can do. What happens when a court case comes up, in which the complainant seeks a refund for purchase of a product, saying it was incorrectly labeled “organic”?

    It would be no different than any other defective product civil case: The court would determine if the producer followed the accepted industry guidelines. If he did, then the product is “organic”.

    Really, it isn’t that hard.

  33. Bill,

    You make it from people! It is already organic, silly 🙂

    BTW, I use organic fuel in my hybrids. Have considered other organic fuels. Thinking of switching them over to something more renewable and retro.

  34. Kevin,

    Yep, but the compounds that cause problems in runoff are the same ones that are the nutrients in the fertilizer, including organic fertilizers. The characteristic of the compounds used that primarily governs the extent of runoff is its solubility in water. The nitrogen compounds in organic fertilizers will generally be less soluble than those in simple nitrate or ammonia compounds, but there are also lower solubility synthetic compounds available. Higher solubility also allows the plants to access the nitrogen more quickly.

    Organic fertilizers may also be unsuitable in places where preexisting concentrations of certain nutrients are high compared to the others or you need a specific level of solubility, since you can make a synthetic fertilizer blend with whatever ratios of K, N, and P you want and a broad selection of solubilities, but you’re stuck with working with what was in the existing organic matter you use to make your organic fertilizer.

    So organic fertilizer will have less runoff than many commonly used synthetic fertilizers, but it’s no panacea. How soluble it is will matter more than where it came from.

    One of the things that rarely gets mentioned about the sustainability of organic agriculture is whether the fertilizers supplies could scale up to widespread use. Organic fertilzers tend to be composted waste streams from other agricultural processes, so the nutrients in them were extracted from the soil, produced by nitrogen-fixing bacteria, mined, or produced synthetically. Since the last two are verboten in organic agriculture and you can’t get something out in a waste stream that you didn’t put in in the first place, some non-biomass derived fertilizer usage seems necessary to sustain the soil nutrient levels.

  35. But Guy, most of the people have been using antibiotics and eating twinkies. Perhaps I should just use the “free range” moniker to differentiate my price point.

  36. …just how do they expect me to make Organic Soylent Green? – Bill Simonson

    Make this Step One of your recipe:

    First collect some aged hippies…

    When Milwaukee had its outbreak of cryptosporidia, contamination of the water supply by manure runoff from dairy operations located along rivers that flowed into Lake Michigan was a suspected source of the bug.

    It’s ironic that the local sewer district markets fertilizer extracted from the water treatment operation (Milorganite). They recommend against using it on your garden vegetables, though.


  37. What happens when a court case comes up, in which the complainant seeks a refund for purchase of a product, saying it was incorrectly labeled “organic”?

    The court dismisses it, on the grounds that the term “organic” is used purely as advertisement and “puffing”, has no generally accepted meaning, and thus no sane person would rely on it as meaning much of anything.

  38. Bill,

    Good point. Caution on the solient green from hippies, no telling what was sprayed on their pot before they smoked it. But if they didn’t know it was sprayed it is okay, I guess, just like “chemical free” farming.

  39. It’s ironic that the local sewer district markets fertilizer extracted from the water treatment operation (Milorganite). They recommend against using it on your garden vegetables, though.

    I think Milorganite comes from the sewage treatment operation. Nitpick, perhaps, but their is a difference. In other words it is primarily human manure.

    It has a parellel in the pre-sewer sytem practise of hauling “nightsoil” out of town and spreading it on the fields.

    I also understand that the reason it is not recommended for food crops is because of the amount of industrial waste, including heavy metals, that gets dumped into the system. I haven’t followed it but I got the impression that it was getting so bad it was threatening the whole operation.

    I might be wrong, but I always thought that Milorganite made a lot of sense. I was also under the impression that it came out of the “Sewer Socialist” era.

  40. I was wondering the same thing about labeling of seafood as organic and selling it for sky high prices. At Whole Foods market they had King Crab legs for $28 a pound now correct me if I am wrong but you can’t get these from anyplace other than the Ocean/Sea. They also had shrimp for $16 a pound, I can go get jumbo shrimp off the boat here for $2 a pound and nothing is fresher than that.

    Organic I can see for agriculture with regards to fertilizers/pesticides. But natural caught seafood is organic as it gets. We make an antibiotic for fish food at work that fish farms use. To farm some things it can be difficult to have success without the use of something to prevent disease and pests from killing everything. We sell thousands of gallons of cow wash every year to dairy farmers because happy cows not being driven crazy by bugs make more milk. These products would hardly be considered organic but they are only used externally on the animal, so then if it only eats organic food and doesn’t have steroids would it still be considered organic milk? Hell if I know.

    Outbreaks of bugs and viruses in small contained areas obviously can wipe everything out quick. These farms in many cases are seeking to raise in mass creatures that never naturally survive under the farms conditions.

  41. I think you left off the biggest advantage of ‘organic’ (I hate the label, too–‘organic salt’ is hilarious): that it just fucking tastes goood.

    Preferring to purchase better tasting food goes into the category of “D-Uh!!”

    If organic always meant “tastes better”, then you’d have an argument. But the term only means “encourages government-mandated agricultural quackery” which is a pretty stupid thing to support.

  42. “gently slaughtered”

    That’s the same as “lightly killed, and lovingly garnished with lark’s vomit.”

    /monty python

  43. Isaac:

    You are right about who produces Milorganite. The connection between the water and sewage systems in Metro Milwaukee is that the water utility takes its water from Lake Michigan, via intake pipes placed deep in the lake. The Sewer District dumps treated effluent back into the same lake. When everything works, it results in reasonably clean water. However, the “Sewer Socialists” cheaped out, back in the day, and the city has a unified sewer system for residential and industrial waste, and runoff. So Milorganite tends to contain heavy metals that you don’t want on your tomatoes. Out in the `burbs there are separated sewer systems.

    The sewer district built a monstrously expensive (in both money and lives) “deep tunnel” project to store excess storm water runoff, but it isn’t up to the task of handling consecutive big summer storms. As a result, the sewage plant frequently releases a “blend” of treated effluent and untreated storm runoff into the lake. Any private industry dropping a teaspoon of a toxic substance into L. Michigan would be shot at dawn. When a government agency flushes millions of impure gallons into the drinking supply, they get tsk-tsked at.


  44. Kevin,

    Actually back in the days when most of the sewer systems in the older cities were built it made sense to have a “combined system”. Stormwater got so contaminated with horse manure and urine (not to mention other animal waste) that it was every bit as septic as sanitary sewage. I have some of my grandfather’s engineering textbooks and they cover this exact subject in one section.

    As to dumping sewage into the lake, it was not until the 1970s that all the cities on the Great Lakes stopped dumping raw sewage as though they were a giant cesspool. Originally it was believed that dilution would take care of everything and as long as you separated outlet and intake pipes with enough distance it would all be fine.

    As time went by and growth changed the urban landscape and engineers and public health oficials learned more the systems got separated a little at a time, usually by building new storm sewer systems and blocking off the connections to the sanitary system. Amd, of course, building treatment plants.

    I don’t know if any of this applies to Milwaukee, but combined systems were quite common in Great Lakes cities. I think that the only thing that can be blamed on the “sewer socialists” is that they cheaped out in modernizing.

  45. Kevin,

    The Chicago River project was long before the 1970s.

    Old system was as you described, but Chicago started washing it’s sewage away from Lake Michigan long before the timepoint you are using.

  46. So, “free range fish” it is. Start the presses!

  47. Yeah, the decision on whether to separate MKE’s sewers or not was a 2nd-half of the 20 C thing. The wastewater treatment plant on Jones Island dates to 1925, though. When brewing is an important industry, you can’t risk a crummy water supply. Fishing the lake was big biz, too.

    Guy: Chicago’s solution – reversing the flow of the Chicago River into the Ship Canal – was probably state-of-the-art in its day. I don’t think we’d do that now, given current technology and attitudes about the environment, not to mention our treaties with Canada.


  48. Canada, sheesh! They are the source of so many problems.

    Speaking of products from the sea, could train oil be marketed as organic if fertility drugs were not used to increase herd population?

  49. The Chicago River project was long before the 1970s.

    Actually, Guy, that was me.

    I realize cities on the Great Lakes were building treatment plants before the 70s, Toronto’s first was in 1910.

    However it was not until the 70s that all communities on the lakes had some method to treat sewage before the effluent was discharged into the lake.

    Even at that the older cities are having a much harder time maintaining quality that many of the newer suburban communities that have sprung up since the 50s and 60s. That ties in with Kevin’s observation about the MKE suburbs. Newer infrastructure works better.

    A lot of the older cities’ problems go back to combined systems. They made sense into the forties as horse transport did not entirely disappear until then*. While separation is an work in progress it is not complete in many places.

    There is still an awful lot of untreated sewage finding its way into the Great Lakes. Milwaukee is not the only, or even the worst, offender.

    Fishing the lake was big biz, too.

    I understand that fishing is coming back. Lake Erie even has a revitalized commercial fishery if I am not mistaken.

    *Actually I suppose that horse transport was really pretty much gone by the late twenties but it did make a comeback in the war years as a fuel saving effort. Horse manure used to be a major source of pollution and created a need to treat stormwater in the same way as sanitary sewage.

  50. Here

    Is a nice way to think about seafood that makes more sense than trying to come up with a way to label it as organic…

  51. Marital status, like kashrut, has its religious aspects too, and eligibility for marriage is a current condition in controversy. So should the courts declare the terms “married”, “spouse” etc. to be devoid of legal meaning?

    If that is the case, then should anyone who claims either the status of being married or the status of being not married have that claim denied? That is, that the truth value in legal proceedings of “person X is married” and of “person X is unmarried” both be “false”, whichever one appears?

  52. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, an article about which Great Lakes cities dump what in the lakes. i was surprised to see that MKE was in the middle of the pack, and doing the best of the big towns. One must be careful reading any study, as the figures are subject to the GIGO effect. Reporter Dan Egan points out:

    Noticeably absent in the rankings is Chicago.

    Roberts said that is because Chicago sewage spills flow away from Lake Michigan and into the Mississippi River basin, thanks to the city’s reversing of the Chicago River more than a century ago.

    Still, when big rains hit, sewage overflows can cause the river to back up and flow into Lake Michigan.

    In 2001, Chicago spilled nearly 1.3 billion gallons of contaminated river water into Lake Michigan. In 2002, 1.7 billion gallons spilled.

    That was news to Roberts.

    “We’ll have to ask them the right questions next time,” he said.


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