There are some definite upsides that come with organic farming. But, is it really superior to conventional farming methods?
here I explore what organic farming represents for consumers, growers, humanity, and the planet.
Organic Farming and Global Food Demand
The global population has quadrupled in the last century to reach 7.3 billion people. According to the most recent estimate by UN, we may reach 9.7 billion people by 2050.
Subsequently, the demand for food is expected to increase by 59 – 98% at that time.
This will no doubt shape the fresh produce market and add fuel to the continuing debate of which production system is better.
Remember this quote?
“Before we go back to organic agriculture in this country, somebody must decide which 50 million Americans we are going to let starve or go hungry.”
That were utterances by the then US Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz.
Since then, people all over the world continue to argue whether organic farming is superior to conventional farming and whether it offers a solution to food security.
Some argue that organic farming is inefficient due to its low yield per unit area.
Some praise organic for being more productive, economically profitable, environmentally sound, and socially just.
Sadly, there is a lot of propaganda supporting methods that are rarely understood.
It’s even freaking crazy that some of the propaganda is surrounded by myths, cheap lies, and outright lies.
Let’s check them out.
Organic Farming: Facts, Myths, Lies, and Outright Lies
Use of pesticides
Outright lie: Organic farming involves no pesticide use.
Fact: organic farming like conventional farming uses pesticides to deter critters from destroying the crops.
Furthermore, there are over 18 chemicals used in the growing of organic crops that are approved by the United States Organic Standards.
According to the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, The two top organic fungicides are copper and sulfur.
Most of these pesticides are even used more than their synthetic counterparts due to their lack of ineffectiveness.
What’s worse, some organic farms are such by certification not by practice.
Some don’t spray and some spray at least twice a week.
So, what makes organic farms different?
It’s not that they don’t spray pesticides. It’s the origin of their pesticides.
Most approved organic pesticides are derived from natural sources.
But natural is not always better, safe and non-toxic. Many bacteria, fungi, and plants which are all natural produce poisons, toxins, and chemicals that you definitely wouldn’t want to spray on your food.
Deterring critters from your crops is not the only menace you have to deal with to guarantee that your food is free from harmful organisms.
Organic foods tend to be more contaminated with higher levels of harmful pathogens, for example, E. coli and Salmonella. This is so probably, due to the use of more manure instead of artificial manure.
Remember, most pathogens are spread through fecal contamination.
Studies actually prove this.
One of the studies, for instance, found E.coli in produce from close to 10% of organic farm samples as opposed to only 2% of conventional ones.
Conventional uses manure too but, a balance is struck because of the availability of other non-organic components.
Next time you buy organic, you’ll know what you’re up against.
But pesticide-free is not realistic and don’t be deceived.
In fact, some organic farms spray as frequently as conventional ones.
The only difference is, organic farms are certified and their food is labeled organic!
Lie: Organic farming is ecologically friendly and better for the environment.
Fact: It’s not.
Let me admit, organic farming discourages the use of synthetic chemicals that are damaging to the environment.
But wait, Rotenone is considered an effective organic pesticide because it’s natural in origin. It occurs in the roots and stems of a small number of subtropical plants.
Research, however, proves rotenone is a dangerous substance that kills by attacking the mitochondria of any living cells.
This pesticide isn’t only effective in controlling the target pests but non-target pest species as well which is ecologically damaging.
What could be worse?
Besides, proponents of organic farming seek to boost crop yields, improve farming practices while reducing synthetic chemical use, and increase nutritional value.
Which is a really good point in endeavoring to protect the environment.
But yet, the same organic proponents refuse to give Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) a chance. That is despite the fact that GMOs seeks to address the same concerns.
For example, organic farmers apply Bacillus thuringiesis (Bt) toxin unsparingly across their crops. It’s one of the most widely used organic pesticides by organic farmers.
Yet, when genetic engineering is used to place the gene encoding the Bt toxin into a plant’s genome, the resulting GM plants are vilified by the very people willing to unsparingly spray the exact same toxin that the gene encodes for over the exact same species of plant.
Ecologically, the GMO is a far better solution, as it reduces the amount of toxin being used and thus leeching into the surrounding landscape and waterways.
GMOs further seeks to produce resistant plant varieties. Which means fewer pesticides, less pollution.
In short, organic farming is not the best for the environment, GMOs are – at least in this context.
Nutritious, healthy, Poison-free Foods
Myth: Organic foods are the most nutritious and healthy foods.
Fact: There’s some truth, but science is yet to find any evidence to support the myth.
It’s even estimated that scientists have been comparing whether organic foods are more nutritious than conventional for over 50 years.
I wonder how much time they still need to finally burst this bubble.
However, some studies have been able to demonstrate that there’s actually a difference in elementary composition of organic foods.
Here’s the catch,
Conventionally produced foods have more nitrogen levels, while organic ones have higher phosphorus and acidity.
To my understanding, none of this stuff denotes superiority in nutrition.
This statement below by Joseph D. Rosen, Emeritus Professor of food toxicology at Rutgers summarizes the whole point.
“Any consumers who buy organic food because they believe that it contains more healthful nutrients than conventional food are wasting their money,”
Furthermore, in the same survey where 95% of UK organic consumers said they buy organic to avoid pesticides, 2/3 of the same responded said organic also tastes better.
But when given food to taste while blindfolded, they couldn’t tell the difference between the two!
To cut the long story short,
Organic farming has so many benefits. Such as conserving biodiversity on farms to move away from monocultures, minimizing energy use, and definitely, profitable but producing foods that are tastier and healthier simply isn’t one of them.
It’s either organic farming or nothing
Lie: You have to buy into one side, organic or conventional
Fact: You don’t
Proponents and fanatics of organic farming might want to shoot me dead right now.
But let me make one thing clear, I’m not against organic farming whatsoever. Far from it.
All I’m saying is that there’s an old adage that goes, ‘to solve a big problem, you’ll be required to attack it from both sides.’
Therefore, it’s important to approach the issue of production from all angles whether organic or not.
My point is not to underrate the immense benefits of organic farming.
It’s merely to point out that it’s not as black and white as it looks.
According to Christie Wilcox of Mythbusting 101, until organic farming can produce crops on par in terms of volume with conventional methods, it cannot be considered a viable option for the majority of the world.
And especially in Africa, where cheap, quality food of any kind, is still an issue.
Where, WHO estimates that close to 7 million children die before their fifth birthday every year, and a third of these deaths are associated with undernutrition.
And that, One in three developing country children under the age of five (160 million children) are stunted due to chronic undernutrition, while another 99 million children are underweight.
Nutritionally speaking, organic food is more like a brand name or luxury item. It’s great if you can afford the higher price and want to have it, but it’s not a panacea.
You would improve your nutritional intake far more by eating a larger volume of fruits and vegetables than by eating organic ones instead of conventionally produced ones.
What worries me, is that people take sides.
You are either pro-organic or not and as such, we perceive the other production systems as villainous.
You, the wise and intelligent consumer, don’t have to buy into either side’s propaganda and polarize to one end or another.
You can, instead, be somewhere along the spectrum, and encourage both ends to listen up and work together to improve our global food resources and act sustainably.
Choose, to appreciate the advantages of rotating crops and how GMOs might improve output and nutrition.
Because let’s face it, the more we choose sides and spread propaganda, a child somewhere dies before his/her fifth birthday.
It doesn’t matter whether organic farming is superior to conventional farming, we can borrow the best practices from each method.
What are your views?