My Argument for Organic Foods
My Argument for Organic Foods – Many recent articles have been discussing a study that claims organic food is not healthier for you. The study states organic foods do not necessarily have more vitamins and nutrients in their foods than conventional foods.My Argument for Organic Foods
But the study also says eating organic foods may decrease your exposure to pesticides. These two findings seem to be arguing both sides of the healthier or not battle. Now there is a new report showing genetically modified (GM) foods can cause tumors. So it seems the study that said organic foods were not healthier, apparently was looking with a narrow perspective of healthy.
To me the vitamin content in organic food is not the main reason I choose to buy organic food. I think pesticide residue is a bigger issue. While organic foods also use pesticides, they also try other options for pest control. The pesticide issue is not just an issue for the consumer but also for the farm workers.
Organic foods are not allowed to be GM, so I would argue they are healthier since this means organic foods are not genetically modified (and not possibly tumor causing). This is true for conventional foods too, but sometimes it is hard to decipher between conventional and GM since GM companies like to hide the fact that their products are GM.
The fact that GM foods can cause tumors in rats does not surprise me at all. This is why so many people have been fighting for labeling on GM foods, not because they knew there was something wrong but because there was a big unknown with these foods. Many of them have not been tested long term to know the health impacts they might have, but now we are starting to better understand these foods with some long term studies. Hopefully this gets a push toward better GM labeling on foods and to have the press stop bashing organic foods.
Genetically Engineered Crops and Organically Grown Crops: Friends or Enemies?
** This question and answer session comes courtesy of an intellectual property expert in the private sector. The first post dealt with intellectual property in the clean technology sector.Genetically Engineered Crops and Organically Grown Crops: Friends or Enemies?
Can genetically engineered crops and organically grown crops survive side by side? The following quote from a recent Washington Post piece seems to think they can.
“The two sides are not clashing over the ethics or safety of genetic engineering, in which plants are modified in the laboratory with genes from another organism to make them more pest-resistant or to produce other traits. Instead, the argument is over the potential for contamination: pollen and seeds from GE crops can drift across fields to nearby organic plants.
That has triggered fears that organic crops could be overtaken by modified crops. Contamination can cost organic growers – some overseas markets, for example, have rejected organic products when tests showed they carried even trace amounts of GE material.”
The simple answer is that organic-certified crops and plants modified by use of recombinant DNA technology must coexist, and there’s no scientific reason they can’t. The market demand for commodities grown using both methods is increasing and farmers need to continue to produce more food, this means that both methods are here to stay, so they may as well find ways to reduce negative interactions.
Let’s clarify the debate mentioned in the article by briefly understanding exactly what is being debated. First, organic is a marketing certification for a method of farming, not a guarantee of safety, health, etc. In fact, organic growers are expressly forbidden from making claims that their products have any health benefits due to their production methods.
The USDA certification process has specific requirements regarding the prohibition of GM seeds and if a farmer uses GM seed, he/she could lose their certification. To date no farmer has lost USDA organic certification due to the presence of GM pollen, despite 64 million hectares of GM crops planted in 2010. The concern about overseas markets reflects some farmers choosing to apply higher standards to their crops in order to meet foreign organic requirements for pollen detection which are set impossibly high (zero-percent, for example).
These limits are set not by a scientific body concerned about health, but by foreign agricultural agency worried about competition from American goods. Farmers using both production methods have taken special care to grow in a manner which successfully meets USDA standards for organic licensing; that should continue to be the goal, and we should address the foreign limits as what they really are: non-tariff barriers to trade from U.S. farmers.
Fixing Food and Farming with a True-Cost Economy
Farm legislation in Congress could eliminate food stamps ($80 billion worth of support per year) for families in need, while increasing subsidies for very large farm operations. Programs to promote stewardship of the land through soil and water conservation could also face dramatic cuts.
You might have hoped that subsidies to super-sized farms would instead have been on the chopping block. You might also have hoped that stewardship of the land through soil conservation programs would have been boosted on food security grounds. Well, your hopes are in the process of being shredded in the halls of Congress.
But maybe there’s still room for hope. A paradigm shift is underway in our nation’s approach to food and agriculture. Movements are gaining steam that support organic food, local food, farmers markets, local food security, and food safety. On the food safety front, outrage is growing over the inability to inspect more than two percent of imported food, especially in the wake of food scandals abroad (e.g., melamine in pet food, pork treated with chemicals to taste like beef, deaths of children from school lunches prepared in used pesticide containers).
For these movements to work, they’ve got to influence policies at home and abroad. Economic and agricultural policies that favor financial profits over healthy food systems won’t work. U.S. farm programs are failing to address serious food supply issues. At the same time, many nations are ceding control over their best farmland to outside interests, as if the notion of local food security had no meaning. Such maneuvers could increase the risk of famine and starvation in the event of droughts, floods, or other disruptions in food supply.
Millions of acres of prime farmland around the world have already been bought up by countries such as Saudi Arabia and China, as well as by corporations. A large Chinese agribusiness pork producer has just put up over $4 billion to buy the Smithfield company located in Virginia. Tens of millions of acres of prime farmland in Africa are now owned by countries and corporations that have little interest in local people, many of whom are evicted from their ancestral lands.
Along with these land grabs, population growth is putting pressure on farms to produce even more, especially as the gains in yield from the Green Revolution wind down. At dinner tonight there will be 219,000 new mouths to feed. How is civilization going to meet the challenges posed by a growing global population when the planet’s productive soil is being lost and contaminated?
Authors like Lester Brown have called attention to the deterioration of productive farmland throughout the world. Although there are examples of land restoration efforts such as in part of China’s Loess Plateau, these do not offset ongoing declines. In the United States the annual erosion loss is 1.7 billion tons of topsoil.
Managing these weighty issues in the food system requires a complete economic overhaul. In a global, true-cost, steady state economy, the agriculture and food goals for each nation would be to rebuild foodsheds with greater local sustainability and secure resilient food systems.
Each nation would maintain an agricultural base sufficient to feed its people, including backup plans in case of crop failure or natural disasters. Such resilience is needed because climate destabilization has dramatically increased the number of weather disasters. From 1900 until 1970 the number of global disasters remained below 100 per year.
Now the average is over 300 with several years spiking to over 500. These disasters pose serious threats to food production and stress the emergency response resources of governments. In addition, the increased frequency of these disasters is making rescue operations and aid from other nations less common.
A pioneering farm bill for a true-cost economy would begin redesigning the food system, based on principles of ecology, justice, and health. Such a system would be fair sustainable, and humane. The federal government would be encouraging, not impeding, local and community agriculture that would employ many more people on ecologically sound farms.
Abusive soil practices would become a thing of the past as the connections between soil fertility and food security become more obvious. Degradation of soil would be seen as a direct threat to long-term national security and well-being.
Interest in genetically engineered food and organisms would wane as attempts by Monsanto and other food/chemical giants to control the world’s food supply are beaten back by the power of expanding local and community food organizations.
For more information on how U.S. farm legislation could be changed, check out the great work being done by the National Farm Family Coalition. For descriptions of many exciting and challenging food initiatives, read Philip Ackerman-Leist’s book Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems.
Organic, Locavore or Seasonavore?
If you are trying to be conscious about your food choices, then there are many options to choose from.
- Do you choose to buy all of your food certified organic? Often these foods are miles from your house, generally produced in California or on the west coast.
- Do you choose to buy all your food within 100 miles, or less, and be a locavore? If you choose this your food will not necessary be organic (unless you live in California where most of our produce comes from).
- Or do you choose to eat foods within season? Only eating asparagus in the spring, apples in the fall and berries in the summer.
But what is the best option? That is a tough choice to make with each option having their pros and cons.
- Organic foods have a lesser impact on the environment in production since they use less or no pesticides. But is that offset when it has to travel at least a thousand miles to the consumer? Also, organic foods are generally more expensive for the consumer to buy over conventional foods.
- The opposite is true for locavores, while you can get organic foods local, sometimes not everything is available organic within 100 miles or less. Unless you live in the Midwest, generally wheat and corn are not grown.
- When eating in season you should be able to find local foods and organic (but not always local) foods, but it means you cannot eat whatever you want when you want.
I feel that in order to be sustainable in our food choices we need to incorporate all of these options in our food buying. When you are able to buy organic or when you can afford it you should buy it since it it is better for environmental sustainability and your health.
When foods are available from a local source you should always get it because it generally will be fresher (meaning taste better) and will be better for the environment because of less transportation. I separate locavore and eating in season because some items you can eat in season even if they are not grown in your area, such as berries, pomegranates, asparagus, and citrus fruits.
There also needs to be a change in the way we think and shop as consumers. This means we should not eat a banana a day since they are shipped from Mexico and Central America. Or expecting apples, oranges, grapes and berries in the supermarket every day.
It is not sustainable to be producing these foods every season. Most seasonal foods end up coming from Mexico, Central America and South America in the fall and winter months because they are not able to grow in the U.S. at this time but consumers are still demanding these items.
The sad thing is we are willing to pay for these items that often are poor in quality. Tomatoes grown in winter months and then refrigerated and shipped thousands of miles are generally tasteless and mealy, so why are we demanding this? The best tomatoes come from your backyard in the summer.
In order to have a sustainable food system we need to change our way of eating and what we are demanding. But it will have to start on an individual level with us changing the system by changing our demands with our food purchases.
So the next time you go to the grocery store, consider what you are buying. Is it local? Seasonal? Or organic? Are your choices sustainable? Sadly, this is just one step in making a sustainable food system, but it is the most important step and the hardest to make.
Apples Top List of Worst Fruits and Vegetables for Pesticides; Onions Best
U.S. Department of Agriculture released its yearly report on pesticides in foods. The short of it? Apples, celery, and strawberries lead on a list of 12 foods that contain “lots” of pesticides. The “Clean 15″, on the other hand, are led by onions, sweet corn, and pineapples. I say “lots” in parentheses because even the Environmental Working Group (EWG) states that eating conventionally grown fruits and vegetables is still better for you than not eating any produce at all.
It does recommend, however, that organically grown produce would be good to purchase when and where possible for the foods ranking highest in pesticide concentrations. It should also be noted that the USDA report says that some organic lettuce tested contained pesticides, too. Theses were mostly residues that the USDA allows in organic agriculture.
The bottom line: don’t sweat eating eating fruits and vegetables on account of the fact that they may contain pesticides. Less than one-third of 1 percent of the food samples it tested contained pesticide residues that exceeded safety tolerances established by the Environmental Protection Agency. So grab an apple a day to keep the doctor away; just wash it off a bit before eating. As Michael Pollan says, “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.”