From the September 2002 Idaho Observer:
Organic -- What's the real difference?
compiled by Ingri Cassel
Although many factors affect our wellness and well-being,
many people have noticed a marked improvement in their
health after switching to organic products. After all...
You are what you eat! Exactly what are you
eating when you eat something that is not organic? The
answer might surprise you, prompting you to join the
growing outcry against conventional farming practices and
manufacturing processes that lace your food with toxic
poisons. Organic farming protects the water supply,
enriches the soil, encourages biodiversity and helps reduce
the toxic burden on our bodies. And by buying organic, we
are supporting organic farmers, giving them the lifeline
they need. The four big reasons to switch to organic:
Reason #1: Your Health
Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports magazine) published a study entitled Do You Know What You're Eating? which analyzed pesticide residue data collected from different (non-organic) food samples. They computed a Toxicity Index (T.I.) for 27,000 food samples tested in 1994-1997.
Some foods have residues of many more pesticides than others. An apple grown in the U.S. typically contains four pesticides and some have as many as 10 different residues.
Peaches, Winter squash, spinach, carrots and grapes are more likely than not to have two or more residues in a sample. One sample of spinach had residues of 14 different pesticides on it.
By organic certification standards, organic foods are not required to have more nutritional value than conventionally grown foods. But naturally, by farming without chemical fertilizers and pesticides, organic farmers must improve their soil and farming methods in order to produce healthy plants. And when the soil is better, the food is too. Plants cannot contain minerals that do not exist in the soil within which they grow.
To produce quality food without chemical fertilizers and pesticides, organic farmers have turned to different methods of farming. For example, the Bio-Dynamic farming method concentrates specifically on the chemical make-up of the soil.
Chemists have studied exactly what ratio of minerals and elements are perfect in the soil. Chemists have studied exactly what ratio of minerals and elements are perfect in the soil for assuring healthy plants. Following these chemists' recipe for success is not an organic practice alone.
For instance: Bio-Dynamic also shows how to use conventional fertilizers to their greatest benefit, while keeping the chemical make-up of the soil in proper balance. But when used in conjunction with organic certification requirements, these farming methods can help grow good food in healthy, mineral-rich soil.
Reason #2: The Environment
The January article by Consumer Reports, Greener Greens? -- the Truth About Organic Foods reviews the state of organic farming in the U.S. including the environmental impact of pesticide use, the rise of pesticide-resistant strains of bugs and weeds, the infiltration of pesticides into drinking water, and the secondary pest problems caused by pesticide use.
Since 1945, total U.S. crop losses from insect damage have nearly doubled. During the same time, insecticide use has increased tenfold. Today, seventy-one known carcinogenic pesticides are sprayed on food crops. (in Harmony's report, Pesticides: Losing Their Effectiveness)
According to the Environmental Protection Agency's Report on Conventional Pesticides Applied to Agricultural Crops in 1994-1995, each year an estimated 911 million pounds of synthetic pesticides are applied to conventional agricultural crops throughout the United States.
But organic farmers must take a different approach to controlling pests. They must enrich the soil with bio-available nutrients to make their crop healthy and more naturally resistant to pests. Many organic farmers also introduce pest consuming bugs and birds, and apply natural, botanical pesticides. As an added bonus, the majority of organic farmers and their customers are very sensitive to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and Monsanto's terminator gene technology, and have been the driving force behind the opposition to these genocidal technologies.
Reason #3: Support for Small Farmers
Even when organic farming operations are large by organic standards, their scale relative to conventional agriculture is small. Agribusiness farms can be hundreds of thousands of acres, while the largest organic operations are under 5,000 acres (the average size of an organic farm being much smaller.)
Organic by its very nature is such a different production system that it lends itself to small and hands-on management, and would be difficult for an absentee corporate landowner to manage, says Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation.
Beyond the business sensibility and the bottom line, a grassroots, people-connection is what organic is all about, says David Masumoto, a California farmer. Bryce Lundberg, a third-generation rice farmer with Lundberg Family Farms agrees. A family tradition of land stewardship led the Lundbergs to develop and refine their organic and sustainable growing methods. Organic farming is long-term farming, says Lundberg. You start with solutions that will work for the farmer and the environment, now and in the future.
With government and industry staked in a 50-year-old drive toward factory farming with synthetic chemicals, it's safe to say that organic farmers didn't emerge from taxpayer-funded agriculture programs or research/education institutions. Most have had to learn by trial and error. Often they turn to other farmers for information in the absence of support from agricultural institutions. Lundberg says his family's always evolving techniques for organic rice didn't come from an ag university -- they came from farmers working together in their region.
There are those who passionately believe that a renewed connection to small farms is key to our renewal and survival as a society. When food, in the minds of eaters, is no longer associated with farming and the land, writes Wendell Berry in his book What Are People For? then the eaters are suffering a kind of culture amnesia that is misleading and dangerous.
Organic foods are no longer the stunted, blemished produce we saw in the 70s. Today organic foods are as attractive and much more tasty then their conventional counterparts.
Organic farmers tend to be much more conscious of the needs of the soil and are concerned for their own health as well as the health quality of their final products. However, because organic foods often require special equipment, and are farmed on a smaller scale, organic farmers do not and cannot invest in the large equipment used on conventional farms. For example, organic farmers may not invest in machines that can sort beans and grains by their color. This sorting gives a consistent color throughout the package but does not necessarily affect the nutritional benefits of the final product.
Reason #4: The Future
The government along with other organizations are attempting to sway the decisions you make regarding your food purchases. It is especially important to be informed and share this information with others. A brochure entitled Right to Know and put out by the EPA is available in many supermarkets. This brochure was a requirement of the Food Quality Protection Act that was passed by Congress in 1996. The law requires the EPA to print a brochure to provide consumers with information about both risks and benefits of pesticides, but the brochure has been designed to pacify consumers, not to inform them, said Jeanine Kenny, Policy Analyst for Pesticides at Consumers Union.
Furthermore, the textbooks currently being used in high school nutrition classes teach students that there is no nutritional difference between organic and commercially produced food products, despite that fact that laboratory analyses of vegetables and fruits produced organically show significantly higher amounts of various nutrients and trace minerals.
When we begin to purchase more organic foods and less conventional, chemically-laden foods, the marketplace will be forced to accommodate the demand. Only by making more conscious decisions at our local grocery store will conventional farming practices change.
The above article was excerpted from Azure Standard's Extra Info Booklet. Azure Standard has been a distributor of organic foods and other quality products since 1987. Monthly deliveries by truck are made throughout the Northwest, reaching into southern California and North Dakota. To contact them:
Azure Standard, 79709 Dufur Valley Road, Dufur, Oregon 97021 or call 541-467-2230 or visit the website www.azurefarm.com
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