Organic Thinking (10)
There’s good reason why many chefs use organic foods in their recipes. They taste better. Organic farming starts with the nutrients of the soil which eventually leads to the nourishment of the plant and ultimately our palates.
Mono cropping is the practice of planting large plots of land with the same crop year after year. While this approach tripled farm production between 1950 and 1970, the lack of natural diversity of plant life has left the soil lacking in natural minerals and nutrients. To replace the nutrients, chemical fertilizers are used, often in increasing amounts.
Although organic foods might seem more expensive than conventional foods, conventional food prices do not reflect hidden costs borne by taxpayers, including nearly $74 billion in federal subsidies in 1988. Other hidden costs include pesticide regulation and testing, hazardous waste disposal and clean up, and environmental damage.
Although more and more large scale farms are making the conversion to organic practices, most organic farms are small independently operated and owned family farms of less than 100 acres. It’s estimated that the U.S has lost more than 650,000 family farms in the last decade. And with the U.S department of Agriculture predicting that half of this country’s farm production will come from 1 % of farms by the year 2000, organic farming could become one of the few hopes left for the family farm.
A Natural Cancer Institute study found that farmers exposed to herbicides had a greater risk, by a factor of six, than non-farmers of contracting cancer. In California, reported pesticide poisonings among farm workers have risen an average of 14% a year since 1973, and doubled between 1975 and 1985. Field workers suffer the highest rates of occupational illness in the state. Farm worker health also is a serious problem in developing nations, where pesticide use can be poorly regulated. An estimated 1 million people are poisoned annually by pesticides. Several of the pesticides banned from use in the U.S. are still manufactured for export to other countries.
Many pesticides approved for use by the EPA were registered before extensive research linking these chemicals to cancer and other diseases had been established. Now the EPA considers that 60% of all herbicides, 90% of all fungicides, and 30% of all insecticides are carcinogenic. A 1987 National Academy of Sciences report estimated that pesticides might cause an extra 1.4 million cancer cases among Americans over their lifetimes. The bottom line is that pesticides are poisons designed to kill living organisms, and can also be harmful to humans. In addition to cancer, pesticides are implicated in birth defects, nerve damage and genetic mutation.
American farms have changed drastically in the last three generations, from the family based small businesses dependent on human energy to large scale factory farms highly dependent on fossil fuels. Modern farming uses more petroleum than any other single industry, consuming 12 percent of the country’s total energy supply. More energy is now used to produce synthetic fertilizers than to till, cultivate, and harvest all the crops in the U.S. Organic farming is still based on labor-intensive harvesting, mechanical weeding, and using green manures and crop covers rather than synthetic inputs. Organic produce also tends to travel a shorter distance from the farm to your plate.
Water makes up two-thirds of our body mass and covers three-fourths of the planet. Despite its importance, the EPA estimates pesticides (some cancer causing) contaminate the ground water in 38 states, polluting the primary source of drinking water for more than half the country’s population.
The Soil Conservation Service estimates that more than three billion tons of topsoil are eroded from the United States croplands each year. That means soil is eroding seven times faster than it is built up naturally. Soil is the foundation of the food chain in organic farming. But in conventional farming the soil is used more as a medium for holding plants in a vertical position so they can be chemically fertilized. As a result, American farms are suffering from the worst soil erosion in history.
Children receive four times the exposure than an adult to at least eight widely used cancer-causing pesticides in food. The food choices you make now will impact your child’s health in the future.