10 Reasons To Eat Organic - the short and the long versions
keep reading for longer explanations
Higher levels of nutrients
Free of neurotoxins such as organophosphates that causes numerous physical problems
Lowers cancer risk
Safer for farm workers
Free of GMO’s
Helps family farmers and the local economy
Reduces water pollution
Supports biodiversity and wildlife habitat
10 Reasons to Eat Organic (long version)
Organic - The Original
Organic agriculture has a long history. It was of course the “original” and “traditional” way to farm and many of its primary practices are historically documented.
The Bible addresses crop rotation and letting fields rest. Chinese engineer Sunshu Ao developed water conservation techniques and irrigation systems during the 6th century. Native American farmers used companion planting and natural fertilizers such as fish in Pre-Colombian America.
During the Industrial Age modern countries moved towards greater efficiency, utilizing technology and science. Nitrogen fertilizers were first synthesized in the 1850’s. The invention of the internal combustion engine led to tractors and their various implements. And more people moving to cities gave rise to farmers needing to produce greater amounts of food.
We now experience a role reversal in agriculture. Traditional methods are conventional methods. Modern farmers often use synthesized chemical fertilizers, petroleum products, and genetically modified crops (GMO’s). This dependence has caused damaging effects on our health and our environment.
What Is Organic?
By its very definition organic farming seeks to work with nature, to be sustainable and to positively impact the environment. Organic farmers do use fertilizers and pesticides. But it is the origin that makes the difference.
Organic inputs come from naturally occurring sources and are not synthetic. For example, my favorite organic input is Fish Emulsion fertilizer which is made of waste products from the fish industry. The organic pesticide Spinosad is made from fermenting an actinomycete bacteria that occurs on tropical beaches.
Some of my must haves for my organic garden
Higher Levels of Nutrients
These methods translate into better quality food. Organic foods contain higher levels of nutrients. This often relates to the fact that organic farmers are concerned with soil fertility and use inputs such as compost and green manures to build nutrients in their soil. In a study on tomatoes , organically grown tomatoes had higher levels of vitamin C, carotenoids (antioxidants) including lycopene and potassium. A study on peppers also found them to have less vitamin C when fertilized with conventional ammonia nitrates.
Yummy! In taste tests comparing organic and conventional foods, organic is often the winner. Some scientists attribute this to higher soil fertility and higher antioxidants. Chefs often site that organic growers use heirloom varieties. These older varieties are known for their flavor versus hybrids which were developed for their picking and shipping qualities. Anyone who has had a store tomato knows this is true!
Free of Neurotoxins Such as Organophosphates That Causes Numerous Physical Problems
Organic foods do not contain organophosphates. Organophosphates are a common pesticide widely used in conventional farming. Some of the more common names you may see listed as ingredients are parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate.
Organophosphates were first developed as a nerve gas and used during WWII. They block nerve function causing disorientation, speech impediments, nausea, muscle weakness, and damage brain development in fetuses and young children.
Organophosphates have been linked to learning disabilities especially ADHD. They are also a factor in poor neurological development which effect cognitive, behavioral and motor outcomes.
The Environmental Protection Agency lists organophosphates as “highly” toxic to bees, wildlife and humans and states it is carcinogenic. They show up and are prevalent in human urine specimens and have adverse health effects even in low doses. The consumption of a largely organic diet resulted in a statistically significant reduction in organophosphate pesticide exposure.
Lowers Cancer Risk
Pesticides have been linked to certain types of cancer. Imazethapyr is a weed killer in a class of chemicals known as aromatic amines. The International Journal of Cancer reported in 2012 that people who used the weed killer Imazethapyr have “increased risks of bladder cancer and colon cancer”. It was first used in the United States in 1989, and, since then, has been one of “the most commonly used herbicides for killing weeds in soybean, dry bean, alfalfa, and other crop fields”.
Organic agriculture is safer for farm workers. Conventional farmers and their employees are often exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals as they work. The EPA estimates over 20,000 workers are hospitalized each year from severe pesticide exposure. The EPA regulations (Worker Protection Standards) that cover pesticide safety have not been updated in twenty years and do not cover many of the new chemicals on the market. Workers are often unaware of exposure, do not receive protective gear, and may not be able to make educated decisions about their risk.
Organic Agriculture Safer For Farm Workers
Pesticides strewn from sprayers permeate the air, soil, and crops. On site worker housing and break areas are affected. Public areas adjacent to farm land such as schools and parks have tested positive for pesticide residue. Farm Worker Justice states that “Rural and agricultural communities have been found to experience higher rates of leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma, as well as cancers of the skin, lip, stomach, brain, and prostate. Workers who reported farm work as their primary occupation suffered elevated risks for prostate cancer, esophagus cancer, and oral cavity cancers”
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) have become prevalent in food crops especially corn, soy, zucchini, yellow squash, pineapple, and papaya. Tomatoes and potatoes are currently being developed and patented. GMO’s are man-made by combining DNA of different species, deleting genes, and/or causing mutations.
The purpose of developing GMO’s is to make the crops hardier and more disease resistant. In some cases they become resistant to herbicides so they can out preform the weeds.
One example is Bt-toxin GMO corn. The corn is developed to kill nematodes and corn borers but also kills related species of butterfly larvae and bees. GMO crops are also developed to resist herbicides so that the crop can be sprayed with glyphosate herbicides such as Round Up.
However, best laid plans of Mice and Men don’t always work. In a classic rendition of survival of the fittest, weeds such as rye grass and horse weed have developed resistance to herbicides. This has resulted in chemical companies creating stronger chemicals that are more toxic and farmers spraying more frequently.
Family Farms and the Local Economy
Many organic farmers are small local farmers. Buying organic foods supports small family farms and regional economies. In this country, large industrial farmers often receive a payment in the form of agricultural subsidies. This payment is given to farmers to supplement their income and control the commodity market. The USDA reports that tax payer monies currently pay 30 billion dollars per year to support crops such as corn, wheat, cotton, dairy, tobacco, pork, and beef.
Buying organic supports the small farmer who often has expensive startup costs. In addition the USDA requires organic farmers to go through a costly and paperwork intensive process to become “organic”. Several independent certification agencies have emerged but they too are costly to the farmer.
Organic farmers use products that are regulated and inspected by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) Producers of organic inputs, seeds and soils all have to go through a rigorous process making organic supplies cost more.
Reduces Water Pollution
Water pollution happens with all types of farming and is caused by fertilizer and pesticide run off. Runoff of nitrates is a major problem in the Ohio Valley watershed as it contributes to the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone. The Gulf of Mexico may seem far away from my hometown of Falmouth, Kentucky. But pollutants travel via the Licking, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers all the way to the ocean.
Concentrated amounts of fertilizer causes an abundance of decomposers who use large amounts of oxygen making the water inhabitable to other life forms. Overgrazing and animal waste also lead to water pollution. Organic farmers use more biodegradable products and farming techniques such as tilling with natural contours of the land, no till and buffer zones to reduce run off and protect streams and ponds.
Soils depletion happens when crops are raised in the same location annually without improvements in the soil. In some parts of the country this can be exacerbated by sun, wind, water… Think Dust Bowl of the Great Plains and the flooding Mississippi River!
Organic farmers add compost to enrich the soil. They also grow cover crops and green manure. Cover crops are grown in between food crops to cover the soil and prevent erosion. Green manures are crops that are grown to be tilled back into the soil to nourish the land.
Supports Biodiversity and Wildlife
A good organic farmer supports biodiversity and wildlife habitat. Because many heirloom vegetables are open -pollinated an organic farmer encourages beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies. Many species of birds and amphibians eat insect pests.
Having natural wildlife areas supports such a symbiotic relationship. Organic farmers see working with wildlife as a benefit. We often view wildlife such as opossums as pests. However, the opossum is an asset to any garden. Check out my article Kentucky’s Only Marsupial: The Virginia Opossum.
Author, Ame Vanorio, is a freelance writer and director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center. She teaches classes locally and online about organic gardening, green building and wildlife conservation. Ame is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. She lives off grid on her Kentucky farm with a myriad of domestic and wild animals.
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