Organic foods must, by law (WSDA) (USDA), be produced without use of pesticides and other synthetic chemicals such as those which are easily detected on conventionally grown fruits, vegetables and grains. “Conventional produce” is the type available in most supermarket produce sections. While it cannot be said that organic produce is free of any pesticide residues (as, unfortunately, pesticide residues are ubiquitous in the environment), it can be said that pesticide residues are far less likely to be present on organically produced foods (for more on the pesticide residue issue, follow these links: Link1 Link2). While far from over, there are signs that chemical abuse in American farming is declining and some of the most hazardous chemicals are no longer available to American farmers. Unfortunately, under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the General Agreement on Tarrifs and Trade (GATT) rules and others, there are very few barriers to trade with respect to imported food which has a higher likelihood of contamination. Chemicals which have been banned for use in the United States (but which are still manufactured by U.S. companies) are still routinely used agriculturally in other parts of the world. Due to a poor testing program for imported foods, these banned chemicals come back to our dinner plates and into our bodies via the deadly “Circle of Poison” unless we shift to an organic diet. USDA estimates some 20% of our fruits and vegetables are imported. Only 1-2% of these are inspected for pesticide residues. FDA’s tests of imported produce can detect only about half of the chemicals available worldwide. US-EPA gets more than 2,000 notices of the export of unregistered pesticides yearly. Recipient countries don’t have to report whether these pesticides are applied to produce which is later exported to the U.S., and FDA does not test for them. Importers are rarely penalized for violations. Critics contend that inspections do not adequately protect the public. It is ironic, however, that recent testing shows the highest levels of the most toxic residues is on domestic (U.S. grown) produce. Many of the chemicals now in use were approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. long before extensive research had been done linking them to cancer. It is now estimated that 60% of all herbicides, 90% of all fungicides and 30% of all pesticides are carcinogenic. Now, for the first time, because of a new federal law, every chemical in use and proposed will be tested to determine whether organ damage, birth defects, miscarriages, sterility, endocrine system problems and other risks are associated with each chemical. The latest studies show unequivocally that it’s safer to eat organic foods than ones produced using chemical pesticides. You can start eating clean, good, organic food right now!
Children are, as a rule, more vulnerable to toxins than are adults. This is why children especially should be fed an organic diet and taught how to resist junk-food culture. It may take years before many ailments associated with chronic or even episodic contact with toxins become apparent. Children, we hope, do have many healthy years ahead of them. In the aftermath of the Alar scare of the 1980’s, a study concluded that the average child is exposed to four times as many cancer causing pesticides in food than are adults, based on the types of foods children are most likely to eat. Food choice can have a substantial effect on a child’s future health.
3)Preserve Water Quality and Air Quality
Water and air are our most important resources. Infiltration of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and other soluable chemicals into surface and groundwater is a major source of concern all across North America. These dangerous synthetic chemicals are found in many cases in significant concentrations even in water supplies now being consumed by millions of people. Some herbicides actually evaporate into the air after application and drift for miles (still having bad effects on plant life!) and some agricultural chemicals bind to dust particles which you breath in during dust storms. In the United States, massive testing of municipal water systems has shown that the principal sources of drinking water for more than half the population have been contaminated. Right next door to Spokane, WA in Airway Heights (near where I live), the city water supply has been declared undrinkable due to elevated nitrates, a sign of fertilizer pollution. Organic farmers do not contribute to water pollution. Organic livestock farms are prohibited from being point sources of nitrate.
Across North America, soil is eroding seven times faster than it can be replaced. Organic farmers are bound by law and oath to have a soil building program in place for maintaining or improving the tilth of this precious resource. According to Cornell University, soil erosion costs us about $44 billion a year. Conventional farming has been guilty of extracting wealth from the land at the expense of our topsoil. Poor cultivation and cultural practices have created a worldwide topsoil crisis. Tillage, the breaking and turning of soil with implements to control weeds, mix in green manures and cover crops or combat soil compaction is a major cause of soil erosion in both conventional and organic cropping systems. There has been worldwide adoption of “no-till” cropping methods in conventional farming. With no-till, crops are planted directly into the un-tilled crop residues from the prior crop. These residues act as a mulch that protects the soil below from water and wind erosion and protects delicate populations of vital soil microbes (that tillage often destroy). Tillage also quickly breaks down soil organic matter that is needed to maintain a healthy soil structure and slowly release plant nutrients, so no-till is good for maintaining good soil structure and fertility since organic matter decays more slowly. However, when no-till is practiced conventionally, large quantities of hazardous herbicides are sprayed on fields to kill surviving crops and weeds at planting time. Also, there is little change in the quantities of chemical pesticides applied in conventional no-till systems. Finally, conventional no-till cropping systems are highly dependent on genetically modified crops that are prohibited in organic agriculture and should be banned altogether. Some research has been done to develop a way to practice no-till farming using organic methods. Much more research in this regard is essential.
5)Protect Farm Worker Health
Farm workers in this country and abroad are exposed to the highest concentrations of agricultural poisons of any segment of the population and the devastation to them and their families is well documented. These are the people who tend and harvest our food, they deserve better. Help in their struggle for a safe work environment and vote with your pocketbook by buying organic foods.
Most organic farms are small, independently owned and operated or family farms of less than 100 acres (some are pretty big and there is a troubling trend towards the industrialization and corporatization of organic agriculture that is threatening the integrity of the organic label. Here are a couple of links to explore this issue further: Link1 Link2). By buying locally produced foods, you are keeping local farms viable; you are not contributing to the environmental and social costs of the worldwide transport of foods or supporting a system based on the exploitation of third world labor. You are helping your community attain food security. It is a myth that huge, corporate agribusiness is more efficient than the small farmer.
Organic farming is accomplished with less energy consumption. Inputs like fertilizer are naturally occurring and require less processing than substances manufactured by huge chemical companies. Organic food generally travels less miles from farm to market saving energy in transport. Many organic farmers incorporate alternative and renewable energy sources into their farming/homesteading systems.
Many large scale agri-businesses operate by the method of mono-cropping– the practice of planting large plots of land with the same crop, year after year. This depletes the soil of nutrients causing farmers to become more and more dependent on fertilizers. Also, this upsets natures pest controls by reducing species variety. Different plants attract different bugs and the more bugs around a farm, the higher the percentage of beneficial insects in the population. Solid blocks of one crop actually attracts pests who like to eat that crop. Increased genetic resistance to pesticides has caused crop losses to double in the last 50 years. Organic growers practice methods and techniques like crop rotation , cover cropping and composting which directly address these problems of modern agriculture by re-learning how to work with nature, not wage combat against her. Recently (Dec. 2006), the FDA proposed to approve meat and milk from cloned animals for human consumption. Meat and milk from cloned animals is prohibited by the provisions of the National Organic Program. Clones are genetically identical organisms and the lack of diversity of livestock populations if clones become widely distributed presents a clear vulnerability to mass disease infection. A higher degree of genetic diversity is the best defense against catastrophic events such as the Irish Potato famine– also caused by lack of genetic diversity. There is no shortage of highly productive breeds and lines of livestock, therefore, there is no real need for cloning livestock for any farm. Clearly more bio-diversity is necessary in farming and buying organic supports this movement.
9)Organics Aren’t Really More Expensive
Many hidden costs are involved with the buying of conventionally produced food products. These hidden costs include billions of dollars in federal agriculture and energy subsides favoring big business. Chemical regulation and testing, hazardous waste disposal, environmental damage and cleanup, illnesses and hospitalizations are other hidden costs. Low prices of conventional foods are also a signal that the farm workers did not receive a fair wage.
10)Organic Foods Taste Better. Taste is hard to quantify, but science does tell us that organic foods do have higher levels of vitamins, minerals and beneficial nutrients than conventional foods. It only makes sense that food grown in soil that has been nourished and cared for is more nutritious and will end up tasting better. Why not find out?
11) Organic Foods are Required to be Free From Genetically Engineered or Modified Ingredients (GMOs). Science is now suggesting GMOs pose significant health risks to people and animals that eat them and it is certain that GMOs pose unacceptable risks to bio-diversity and natural ecosystems. Organic dairy products must be free from recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH or rBST), antibiotics and the arsenal of chemical medications routinely administered to conventional dairy animals.
12) Organic producers are leaders in innovative research (Thanks to Organic School Lunches dot Com for bringing up this important reason).
Organic farmers have led the way, largely at their own expense, with innovative on-farm research aimed at reducing pesticide use and minimizing agriculture’s impact on the environment. Research into organic agriculture has become a major focus of many national and international universities (notably, Washington State University) although work continues to be needed to bring the research dollars up to par with the dollars spent on chemical ag research. More often than not, the findings of this research is as applicable to conventional farmers as it is to organic farmers since conventional farmers are increasingly desperate to find solutions to the myriad of problems their growing style has created for them (a growing style foisted upon them by chemical company sales representatives and the historical unbridled corporate influence in university research funding).