More on organics

For me there are three points to be made in favor of organic produce. 1. It might taste better. 2. It might be healthier. 3. It's certainly better for the planet.

Mitch argues that unless one leaves the city and its pollutants and ingests only organic food, why bother?

I argue that the "why bother" part is not so much about my own-little-body-as-temple, but about the greater good.

According to a study by the Rodale Institute (admittedly not the most unbiased source) if "10,000 medium sized farms in the U.S. converted to organic production, they would store so much carbon in the soil that it would be equivalent to taking 1,174,400 cars off the road, or reducing car miles driven by 14.62 billion miles."

Agrichemicals have been linked to deaths in shrimp, fish and shellfish in the Gulf of Mexico, problems in oceanic phytoplankton populations and myriad other concerns. In a study two years ago by the U.S. Geological Survey, pesticides were found in every stream and more than 90% of the wells sampled.

OK, so the question becomes, is this stuff harmful?

The Environmental Protection Agency clearly states, "Some (pesticides), such as the organophosphates and carbamates, affect the nervous system. Others may irritate the skin or eyes. Some pesticides may be carcinogens. Others may affect the hormone or endocrine system in the body."

To further confuse matters, critics of the organic movement/industry suggest that manure-laden fields pose food safety threats in the form of e coli or other microbes. Others claim that organic farming is less efficient; on a global scale, not only does this mean that "we" can feed less people, we might also have to clear land of our best carbon collectors to do it.

The poor middleman in this equation is the independent farmer, who ends up demonized for maximizing production or hamstrung by market forces if she doesn't.

If this were the best of all possible worlds, we'd fund research into safe, highly productive, organic farm practices, subsidize "ecologically benign" practices and foster the development of non-profits to help increase access to healthy food sources for those who lack it.

So there.


Comments (3) -

July 14. 2009 12:26


Hello!  I generally prefer buying organic and local.  But sometimes, pesticides actually do get rid of pests that produce bad things.  Ammoniation, for example, kills a fungus that grows on untreated peanuts that produces aflatoxin, which is a known carcinogen (do a search of "aflatoxin, peanuts" on PubMed).  Now, living and working in a large city, I know I'm exposed to lots of carcinogens just by breathing and walking around.  However, I will still steer clear of anything with organic peanuts in it.  It's all a delicate balance, and people draw their boundaries differently.

Susan |

July 14. 2009 15:05


Wonderful point. There is so much data and information on both sides as to what is the greener option or the healthiest--in some cases not the same thing--that's it's impossible to sort through.

leslie |

July 14. 2009 18:22


As a farmer's daughter, I can add another confusing fact: organic farming works great for some crops and pretty badly for others. Also, while organic farming wouldn't necessarily require more land to be used for food production, it would require an awful lot of soil remediation for much of our current farmland to produce well with organic methods. A hard sell to factory farmers, and financially hard for small family farms to implement.  

I don't know about the pesticides and other chemicals used on fruit and vegetables, but the chemicals currently used on grains and soybeans in the U.S. are considerably less harmful than the ones used just 15 years ago. I've really enjoyed being able to show my daughter egrets, herons, frogs, and even snakes that my father remembers seeing as a child but were scarce on our farm when I was a child. Not saying that conventional farming is always the best choice, but that it isn't necessarily as bad as it's cracked up to be.

Kara |

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