In the local supermarket or health food store, organic broccoli, carrots, and spinach lay nestled alongside their conventionally grown cousins -- both types looking amazingly similar, but is there truly a better choice? There is, and that is organics. The only problem with organics is that people don't know how great they really are, and all of the great benefits that they offer. For classification, the term organics can be defined as provisions that are produced without the use of pesticides or herbicides, synthetic fertilizers or hormones, genetically engineered seeds or sewage sludge, and without irradiation. (Newman 2000) These principals have brought organics to be the process which is the better choice for food-buyers. Organic farming is the method that most optimizes the health and productivity of the interdependent communities of animals and people, and which best preserves the environment.
First off, all organic foods start off at organic farms, which must be certified. This includes inspection of farm fields and processing facilities, and of the farm's areas of long term soil management, buffering between organic farms and any neighboring conventional farms, product labeling, cleaning and pest control methods, and ingredient transportation and storage. This insures that these farms are following all of the strict rules set forth by the USDA on organic farming (About Organic 2001). Recent guidelines handed down from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have made these rules regarding organic growing techniques known to all, and through these practices, have made organic food the best choice for consumers.
Organic foods are more beneficial to people than regular provisions, containing numerous advantages not normally found in food. Since the 1920s when chemical fertilizers were first used commercially on a large scale, there have been claims that agricultural chemicals produce less healthful and less nutritious food crops than those produced without the aid of chemicals. These harmful fertilizers are not used with organic farming, bringing organic food to therefore yield more nourishing harvests than those products grown with agricultural pesticides and herbicides. Compared to crops grown with chemicals, organically grown crops generally have a higher vitamin C content, a lower content of carcinogenic nitrates and better protein quality. This has been proved through over 30 studies comparing the nutrient content of organic crops and those produced conventionally with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In these studies, various individual nutrients in individual crops, organically and conventionally grown, were compared, such as zinc in carrots, or vitamin C in broccoli. In the more than 300 comparisons performed, organic crops had an equal or higher nutrient content about 85% of the time, therefore proving that organic crops have a higher nutrient content. (Worthington, 2001)
Eating organic foods can offer many health benefits to the human body. One advantage associated with organic food relates to the way in which the produce ripens: typically, on the vine. With more conventionally grown produce, it is more common for the food to be picked green and shipped long distances, ripening along the way. The USDA says that vine-ripening may maximize the phytochemical content of produce, plant derivatives that may help protect against disease. Some phytochemicals are antioxidants; others detoxify carcinogens or inactivate enzymes that promote cancerous growths. Fruits, nuts, vegetables, legumes and seeds, particularly those organically grown, are loaded with them. (Organic Foods: Why Go Organic? 2001)
Considering it's a chemical-free approach to farming, organic produce is "more healthy" and wholly free of disease-causing pesticides and herbicides. Organic foods are minimally processed to maintain the integrity of the food without artificial ingredients, preservatives, or irradiation, which can not be said for regularly grown fruits and vegetables. (About Organic 2001) In addition, eating conventionally grown foods may put some members of the population extremely at risk from pesticide residues. Bioengineered produce for example, is genetically bred to have a "pesticide factory" in every cell. Every cell in those crops is producing a pesticidal toxin, harmful to the body. (Davis 2001) According to the National Academy of Sciences, infants and young people are especially vulnerable to these pesticides. Children are growing rapidly and developing, so their nervous systems may be particularly at risk.. Also, kids are often finicky eaters, sometimes eating one or two foods exclusively for a week or two. The less varied the diet, the greater the chances of getting overexposed to one particular pesticide, especially if the chosen food is typically high in residues. Pregnant women may need an extra margin of safety as well, to protect their fetuses. (Why Go Organic? 2001) Finally, organic produce does not contain the sulfur-containing pesticides found in other fruits and vegetables, which have caused health problems in the farm workers who pick the crops, who stand in them all day long. (Davis 2001)
Fatal outbreaks of e-coli bacteria, contamination of dairy and farms products as a result of the Chernobyl accident, the ban on British beef for fear of Mad Cow Disease, food fertilizers that contain toxic and radioactive waste and other recent incidents have made Americans start to suspect that something has gone dangerously wrong with our food supply. (Why Organic?) NBC News has reported that 9000 people die each year in the U.S. due to food related illness. The exposure to man-made chemicals in food eaten is suspected of being a major factor in today's increased risk to cancer. Non-organically grown spinach, for example, contains more pesticide residue than almost any other fruit or vegetable. In fact, the Environmental Working Group found that more than half of the total dietary risk from pesticides is concentrated in just 12 crops. The pesticides that were found in these foods are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as probable human carcinogens, nervous system poisons and endocrine system disrupters. These include strawberries, cherries and peaches topping off the long list. (Why Organic? 2001) In addition, the rates of dermatitis in the agricultural industry are the highest in any industrial sector. The FQPA has also shown that people can have concurrent exposure to different chemicals, known as "aggregate exposure." In this case, if someone is exposed to a shifting mix of pesticides, most of which have similar effects on the body, may affect the central nervous system, especially if they fall in the category of organophosphates. (Why Go Organic 2001) Organic foods do not offer these risks, they are much safer for the human body.
Various studies have shown that organically produced crops are not just beneficial for humans, but for animals as well. One example is the peregrine falcon. Years ago, DDT was claimed as the wonderful new pesticide that would kill dangerous insects like mosquitoes, but it ended up having a tremendous effect on the environment. DDT accumulated in the song birds that ate the insects and then in the peregrine falcons that ate the songbirds. And the concentrations of DDT caused various reproductive problems for the peregrine falcons, like thin-shelled eggs that wouldn't hatch. This almost caused the extinction of the peregrine falcon in the U.S. (Newman 2000) Early chemicals such as DDT killed things directly. Not only were mosquitoes killed, but one would often see dying birds flapping in the fields. (Wavell 2001)
Organic farming does not use any harmful pesticides such as DDT, and therefore does not contribute to any harm in animals. Not only is organically grown food helpful to animals, but feeding them organic provisions can have numerous other positive effects. In the past 70 years, there have been 14 such animal studies performed, and in ten of these, the organically fed animals fared better. The positive effects are most striking in sick or otherwise vulnerable animals such as newborns and in sensitive areas of reproduction such as sperm motility. It is particularly interesting to see that the fertility of animals fed fodder grown with chemical fertilizers and pesticides declined over several generations. In summary, from the research that has been done, organically grown crops have, on average, a higher nutrient content than crops grown with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, animal evidence supports the thesis that organically produced foodstuff can produce a better health outcome over the long term. One of the areas most helped by organic food was reproduction. There was a higher ovum production in female rabbits, with 6 versus 3 eggs per dam, and in female chickens, with 192 versus 150 eggs per hen. In addition, the testes were in better condition in male mice, and the sperm motility in male bulls was much greater. In the area of births, there were fewer perinatal deaths and other deaths prior to weaning in rabbits, with a mortality rate of 27% versus 51%, and the same in mice, with a mortality rate of 9% versus 17%. Also, the fertility rate of rabbits remained constant over 3 generations in organically fed rabbits and declined in rabbits fed conventionally produced feed. Moreover, organic food led to many positive effects in the matter of weight. There was a lower percentage weight loss, 22.4% versus 37.4%, and longer survival, 50 days versus 33, in birds with polyneuritis. There was also better weight maintenance in lactating female rats, and a higher percentage weight gain in young rats, 77% versus 51.4%, as well as in chickens. Lastly, there was a better weight gain after coccidial illness and fewer incidents of illness in chickens. (Worthington 2001).
Flat out, the pesticides used in conventional farming kill animals. These organisms are a large part of our food chain, and should not be worn out. Organic farming prevents these tragedies and leads our world to be a happier and safer place.
Conventionally grown foods are not just harmful to people, but they are also extremely harmful to the environment. Organic food on the other hand, is much safer for our precious ecosystem, being very beneficial for our water supply and soil. It does not pose the threat of pesticide and chemical run-off and the resulting contamination of watersheds and drinking water, often found with chemically grown produce. According to the EPA, agricultural runoff (which includes pesticides, herbicides and insecticides) is one of the largest sources of groundwater contamination, and groundwater accounts for about 50 percent of all drinking water in the U.S. (Why Go Organic? 2001) Buying organic will help maintain water and soil resources that are going to sustain life on the whole planet. Organic farmers don't use nitrogen-based fertilizers, one of the chief causes of water-quality problems like algae growth in the 'dead zone' in the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, and other parts of the country. Instead, they're using farming techniques that conserve water and maintain soil quality.(Davis 2001) Overall, organic farming helps to preserve water resources and prevent the kinds of agriculture-related problems that have started to pop up. (Cosgrove 2000)
Not only does organic farming greatly preserve our water system, but organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole. Its policies are based on the development of biological diversity and the maintenance and replenishment of soil fertility. This produces healthy plants which are better able to resist disease and insect predation. Organic farmers also rely on a diverse population of soil organisms, insects, birds, and other organisms to keep pest problems in check. When pest populations get out of balance, growers will implement a variety of strategies such as the use of insect predators, mating disruption, traps, and barriers, instead of using pesticides. Weeds are controlled through increased cultivation, as well as through cover crops, mulches, flame weeding, crop rotation and similar management methods as a replacement for pesky herbicides. Organic farmers build healthy soils--fertilizing and building soil organic matter through the use of cover crops, compost, and biologically based soil amendments. (About Organic 2001) They create a richer, more sustainable soil through the use of cover crops, diverse crop rotations and organic composts. In order to infuse their soil with essential nutrients, organic farmers might first plant a "cover" crop such as clover, which naturally puts nitrogen in the soil, and can also attract beneficial insects that help control pests. In addition, instead of growing the same crop in the same field year after year, organic farmers use crop rotation, varying the types of crops that are grown in any particular field each year. Crop rotation helps to deter pests from returning regularly. It can be beneficial in slowing soil erosion, and it also varies the nutrient demands placed on the soil. The composted manure used, after passing USDA temperature guidelines to kill any human pathogens that could be present, is also used to keep the soil rich in nutrients. In addition, compost helps the soil retain moisture, thereby protecting plants in times of drought and reducing their need for irrigation. (Organic Foods: Why Go Organic? 2001)
For the past 40 years, Great Britain has relied on a conventional farming system, which has devastated their farmland and wildlife greatly. Britain has lost thousands of miles of hedges, 95% of chalk grasslands and half of their ancient woodlands. Their whole industrial agriculture system has become more vulnerable to catastrophic breakdowns. They have seen it slowly demolish after mad cow disease and foot and mouth. Until recently, the amount of public subsidies assisting the use of conventional farming has deterred the start of organic farming, but recently the amount or organic farms in Great Britain has been increasing. (Wavell 2001) This is just one example of how standard farms are ruining the environment, and without an increase in organic farming and it's conservationist practices, our beautiful country may be in big trouble.
Go on, eat up your organic greens. Claims that organic food isn't good for you are nonsense, they are just a sign of the increasing desperation of the chemical agriculture industry. Organically grown food is the smarter choice for all grocery shoppers. Organics are more conducive to good health and hence more nutritious, are more beneficial to the environment, and can bring many positive effects to animals. These days, organically grown foods are the last bastion of the natural foods industry where you are truly getting what you expect-a totally unadulterated, natural product.
National Agricultural Chemical Association, fact sheets addressing food safety concerns such as manure in soil fertilization, pesticides and cost differences are posted on the OTA Web site
The organic industry has grown about 20% every year since 1990, resulting in an estimated $7.76 billion in retail sales during 2000, says Holly Givens, spokeswoman for the Organic Trade Association. (Davis 2001) With the passage of this, the USDA began the process of developing federal standards for organic foods. This will cover all organic crops and processed foods, including produce, grains, meat, dairy, eggs, and fiber. The Final Rule became effective February 20, 2001. (About Organic 2001)
Organic producers are required to use organic seeds Raw and uncomposted manure must not be applied to soil within 90 days of harvest for crops not in contact with the soil and 120 days of harvest for crops in contact with the soil.
Processed organic foods must contain at least 70% organic ingredients in order to label the product as "made with organic ingredients" on the principal display panel.
To help growers adapt to the changing rules, a series of training workshops are being planned (Davis 2001)
Organic farmers' primary strategy in controlling pests and diseases is prevention. Organic meat, dairy products, and eggs are produced from animals which are fed organic feed and allowed free range and outdoor access. Organic livestock and poultry are not given antibiotics, hormones, or medications. They are given wormers and similar products that have been derived from natural sources. Livestock diseases and parasites are controlled through preventative measures such as rotational grazing.
Organically produced foods must meet stricter regulations governing all these steps so the process is often more labor and management intensive. Many restaurant chefs across the country are using organic produce because they desire its superior quality and taste. (About Organic 2001)
"About Organic" http://ofrf.org/general/about_organic/index.html 10.18/2001
Cosgrove, Christine. "Do You Know What's Organic?" March 23, 2000
Davis, Jeanie. Should You Buy Organic Produce?" WebMD Medical News Feb. 16, 2001
"Omega Nutrition - Reasons for Buying Organic." http://www.omeganutrition .com/articles/buyorganic.htm. Mar/Apr 1997
"Organic Food: What Is It?" http://thriveonline.oxygen.com/nutrition/ organic_food/what_is_it/
"Organic Foods: Why Go Organic?" http://thriveonline.oxygen.com/nutrition/ organic_food/why_go_organic 2001
Newman, Neil http://thriveonline.oxygen.com/chat/transcripts/nutrition/ nell_newman /101000/2.html October 1, 2000
Wavell, Stuart. http://www.purefood.org/Organic/melchett082101.cfm
The London Times-Is Organic Better? Sunday Times (London) August 19, 2001
Worthington, Virginia http://www.purefood.org/Organic/healthier101101.cfm Is Organic Food Healthier? October 1, 2001