Argument for Organic Food

Quick excerpt:   My son’s college paper about his take on Organic Foods. What is now accepted as the “conventional” agricultural system really only began about sixty years ago in the aftermath of World War II. As the war ended these corporations needed to find other alternative methods of distribution. DDT helped start the “Pesticide Era”. Pesticides are known to cause nerve damage, water pollution, soil contamination. Is this really the cheaper method,(effect on society)? Tell me your feelings about Organic Food.

My son wrote this paper for a college class. I want to mention one movie we saw  the screening to and had the privilege of meeting the directors. WOAO, short for What’s Organic About Organic. If you want to take action and become a Food Citizen then click here.

Here is Juma’s paper.

In the United States organic products account for a mere 2.6% of our total food sales; however, the organic food industry is growing by an estimated 20% a year, making it the fastest growing sector of the American food marketplace. While the organic food industry reached $24.6 billion in food sales by the end of 2008, the conventional food industry still dwarfed the organic sector with earnings of $550 billion.  When seeing these statistics, it is astonishing to realize how much of a minority the organic food industry is in comparison to the conventional food industry. It is even more disheartening to grasp that society as a whole is willing to put their health and environment in jeopardy for the sake of consuming “cheaper” food. But not to be a cynic, I have to believe that if people really understood the direr importance of supporting organic food, and that our society can not afford not to go organic, then we would no longer accept the destructive practices of the conventional food industry.

What is now accepted as the “conventional” agricultural system really only began about sixty years ago in the aftermath of World War II. American synthetic pesticide companies developed many powerful and lethal solutions for the wartime era’s threats, such as rats carrying killing diseases near troops; however, as the war ended these corporations needed to find other alternative methods of distribution. They turned to the agriculture industry as their recipient, implementing the use of their “diluted” synthetic pesticides such as pyrethrum and the infamous DDT. Dichloro-Diphenyl- Trichloroethane (DDT) was discovered to be extremely effective and rapidly became the most widely used insecticide in the world, helping to name the 1950s the “pesticide era.”  Synthetic fertilizers soon came into the picture as well, combining nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other lesser nutrient concentrations. Farmers were persuaded to believe that by using these new technologies that they would be able to produce crops at an unprecedented rate. This assumption is correct, the use of synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers has increased crop yield by a considerable percent. In a relatively short amount of time nearly the entire agricultural industry converted to this new “fast food” practice of production.

Today, over 1 billion tons of pesticides are used in the US every year 3, with more than 20,000 pesticides registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), resulting in a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States alone 4. Pesticides are a public health concern and have been linked to a range of diseases and disorders. Many chemical pesticides are known to cause poisoning, infertility and birth defects, as well as damage the nervous system and potentially cause cancer 5. Although it is widely understood that exposure to pesticides is dangerous to humans, research has shown that many people in the US carry high levels of pesticides in their bodies 6. According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American child between the ages of six and eleven carries four times the acceptable level of pesticides called organophosphates (which are known to cause nerve damage) 5. Scientists studying the effects of chemical pesticides have found that exposure to small doses of these toxins during the fetal stage and childhood can cause long-term damage 5. Surely the public must know about these immediate health concerns, and if not the general public then the government must have some call to action, right? Pesticides are tested and approved for use by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which establishes “tolerances,” or maximum residue levels, that limit the amount of a given pesticide that can safely remain in or on a food. 7” The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is then responsible for monitoring pesticide levels on fruits and vegetables, while the Department of Agriculture (USDA) is charged with the task of surveying pesticide residues in meat, eggs and dairy products. With all these protective precautions set in place for the safety of the consumer we must be in safe hands, right? Wrong–the problem is that the EPA’s methods for testing pesticides are insufficient because they only examine the effects of exposure to pesticides at high doses. Without conducting research concerning long-term exposure to low doses of pesticides, these studies neglect to base safety levels on real-life situations. Moreover, the tests examine the effects of a single chemical, whereas people are typically contaminated with small amounts of hundreds of pesticides at any one time 8. The FDA is also criticized for its inadequate monitoring of pesticide levels on fruits and vegetables. The Environmental Working Group reports that the FDA fails to test the majority of produce consumed in the US, and as a result Americans regularly consume food-bearing residues of illegal pesticides that are not approved for use in the US 7. To further bring home the point of the failure of these supposedly regulatory sectors, A 2004 analysis of Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data revealed that 100% of blood and urine tests from subjects they monitored showed pesticide residues. Two insecticides — chlorpyrifos and methyl parathion — were found at levels up to 4.6 times greater than what the US government deems acceptable 7.

The harmful, and obviously uncontrollable, effects of synthetic pesticides do not only have negative effects on human health, but also these practices have severe effects on the environment. According to Cornell entomologist David Pimentel, “It has been estimated that only 0.1% of applied pesticides reach the target pests, leaving the bulk of the pesticides (99.9%) to impact the environment. 9” Pesticides are one of the causes of water pollution, and some pesticides are persistent organic pollutants and contribute to soil contamination. In addition, pesticide use may also reduce biodiversity, reduce nitrogen fixation,[28] contribute to pollinator decline,[29][30][31][32] can reduce habitat, especially for birds,[33] and can threaten endangered species.[7] In the US, 40% of rivers, lakes, and coastal waters are so contaminated that they are unfit for humans to fish in, swim in, or drink. If all this seems shocking, it should not. Synthetic pesticides are poisonous chemicals that were designed to kill, whether it be Agent Orange or DDT, the intent is clear. It seems that the majority of the human race finds itself superior to other living organisms, but we have to stop and wonder the relationship between a chemicals designed to eradicate “lesser” organisms and the possiablity that such chemicals may have negative effects on ourselves. As more consumers become aware of the dangers associated with our current trend of agricultural production, a movement towards a “new” agricultural practice gains momentum–the organic agricultural movement.

Organic agriculture is not a new practice of farming; in fact, organic agricultural is the oldest practice of farming known to man. Organic agriculture, fundamentally, is the practice of land stewardship in order to keep the land productive for generations. The philosophy of organic food production maintains certain principles: biodiversity, ecological balance, sustainability, natural plant fertilization, natural pest management, and soil integrity.

Organic food production follows certain characteristics, including:

  • Are grown or raised by a producer who uses practices in balance with the natural environment, using methods and materials that minimize negative impact on the environment. The organic farmer is committed to replicating the ecology of the natural environment by maintaining biodiversity and fostering healthy soil and growing conditions.
  • Are produced on land that has been free of known and perceived toxic and persistent chemical pesticides and fertilizers for at least three years prior to certification, and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are not used in production.
  • Are planted on a rotating basis within the farm system. Crops are rotated from field to field, rather than growing the same crop in the same place year after year. Cover crops such as clover are planted to add nutrients to the soil and prevent weeds.
  • Organic meat, poultry and egg products come from farms that use organic feed, do not administer added hormones to promote growth or any antibiotics and they allow animals the space and freedom to behave naturally 12.

Unlike conventional farms, organic farms do not consume or release synthetic pesticides into the environment, creating better diverse ecosystems, i.e., populations of plants and insects, as well as animals. Organic farming creates a better, humane system of food production for both the farmers and animals. Farmers are not exposed to hazardous chemical pesticides. The World Health Organization and the UN Environment Programme estimate that each year, 3 million workers in agriculture in the developing world experience severe poisoning from pesticides, about 18,000 of whom die. Livestock are allowed to roam–within reason–about, and are not confided to grossly overcrowded confinements. And obviously consumers of organic food benefit by the absent of chemical pesticides that have potential lethal outcomes. In a joint study conducted by scientists from the CDC, the University of Washington and Emory University, researchers found that pesticide levels in test subjects dropped to undetectable levels upon switching to an organic diet. When the subjects switched back to a non-organic diet, pesticide residues almost immediately became detectable 6. Organic farming also has numerous environmental advantages over conventional farming in that it does not release toxic containments into our water supply.

It is quite simple to realize why organic food consumption is both better for the environment and society’s health; but is organic agriculture a practical solution for the demands of society’s food requirements? A 22-year study conducted by the Rodale Institute determined that organic farming operations use 30% less energy than conventional farms 13. So organic agriculture is more energy efficient than conventional practices; however, as mentioned earlier, organic agriculture does yield less product than conventional agriculture. The next question is if that difference in product yield is a difference between a nourished society and a starved society? The answer is debatable–less supply and more demand would force society to better allocate resources, eventually finding more sustainable solutions. Organic food production is a renewable cycle that continuously replenishes, where as conventional food production is a short-term, destructive cycle that is clearly detrimental, and unsustainable.

Conventional methods of agriculture is commonly credited with producing food at a incredible rate, while also providing a inexpensive solution to society’s demand of consumption. However, how inexpensive really is this poisonous food? Respiratory problems, memory disorders, dermatologic conditions, cancer, depression, neurological deficits, miscarriages, and birth defects are all serious health related problems that have been linked to the careless practices of the conventional food industry 15. How creditable is the claim of unprecedented crop yield when it is not sustainable?

The conventional food industry is best compared to fast food; it is accessible, inexpensive, and it satisfies our immediate dilemma–hunger. And like fast food, it is an unhealthy and unpractical source of food in the long run. Organic food on the other hand is a perfectly replenishing system of safe and healthy food for not only our generation, but also for future generations to come. Organic agriculture is the world’s past, and future supply of sustainable food.

Juma has a paper that list his sites of reference. I will add this soon or contact me for it.
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