Organic Farming: The Key to A Sustainable Future

There are a variety of common concerns in modern society regarding daily consumed items. It is assumed that what we consume can always be modified in order to improve it, whether it be for health or environmental reasons. Plastic water bottles will be modified to contain fewer harsh chemicals, fluoride will be added to public water supplies while lead is removed, yet the most prominent example of this phenomenon would be the meteoric rise in popularity of organic food. Organic food is often thought of as trendy at best, and pretentious at worst, leading to many being wary of purchasing the pricey produce. The inherent health benefits of consuming organic versus traditional produce can oftentimes be misleading or unscientific. However, the rate at which we are currently conventionally farming is causing irreparable harm to the environment, and is unsustainable in the long run. The environmental benefit of switching from conventional to organic farming is unprecedented, and would be a huge leap toward a more sustainable agriculture industry.

Organic is often a term that is thrown around without much understanding of the proper application of the word. Many people automatically assume that there are secret health benefits to anything organic, or that these food items are inherently better and healthier than anything not labelled organic. In fact, many people refuse to purchase or consume food items that are nonorganic. However, the science behind organic foods is often somewhat questionable. Though people buy organic food to avoid unnecessary food pesticides and preservatives, there are actually quite few standards for what can and cannot be labelled as organic. In fact, multiple natural pesticides are still permitted on food that is labelled organic, with the classification specifically limiting synthetic pesticides. Although this may seem counterproductive, in the fact that pesticides are still being permitted within organic food, natural pesticides are significantly less toxic than synthetic pesticides. ”’Pesticide’ is a broad term used to refer to a range of substances from the very, very limited low-toxic ones allowed in organic farming to the highly toxic chemicals that can be used in conventional farming,” stated Michael Sligh, founding chair of the National Organic Standards Board (https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/health/natural-health/pesticides/index.htm

Consumer Reports). There is always residual controversy surrounding the topic of organic food, and much of this stems from the somewhat mysterious nature of the products. Due to there being a less black-and-white categorization system involving pesticides and what constitutes something as officially organic, there tends to be many questions and suspicions. Organic foods can typically be up to 50% more expensive than their conventionally-farmed counterparts. However, the lack of empirical classification does not mean that the term “organic” should have a negative connotation. Organic food still provides a natural alternative to food that is laced with many synthetic, and therefore, significantly more toxic, preservatives. The process of conventionally growing produce leads to food that retains many remnants of the pesticides used while farming; these pesticides can be quite harmful to the human body. Excessive agricultural chemicals that must be used in conventional farming have been found to result in a number of carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties. They can result in the blocking or the mimicking of many hormone-producing bodily functions that are necessary to survival. These effects might seem extremely harmful, and it is shocking that they can still be found in mass-produced and sold food today. However, these products remain on the market because these “endocrine effects aren’t sufficiently factored into the EPA pesticide-tolerance levels,” and therefore aren’t factored into their health factor upon being sold (https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/health/natural-health/pesticides/index.htm Consumer Reports).

A major consideration when deciding whether or not to purchase organic produce is its environmental impact. Although the individual health benefits and risks, there remains a larger, overarching concern that involves the specific way in which moth organic and traditional produce is grown. The pesticides, particularly the synthetic ones, that are used in conventional farming not only lead to possible health risks, but also have a hugely negative impact on the environment. The runoff, whether because of rain or its accidental flowing into rivers and streams, can unintentionally spark an exponential growth of algae and other potentially harmful impacts to these delicate ecosystems. Additionally, the runoff can cause extreme harm to fish and aquatic birds. A current situation in Florida that accurately represents the frightening scope and consequences of using synthetic preservatives excessively is the tomato fields within the Florida Everglades. Here, pesticides are used to preserve and protect the tomatoes, but the runoff is harmfully impacting many local streams and rivers. The runoff of Endosulfan and endosulfan sulfate, both insecticides, is extremely harmful to local fish, storks, egrets, among other wildlife, leading to a disruption of many of these fragile ecosystems (http://www.panna.org/resources/environmental-impacts Pesticide Action Network). The main problem plaguing the agriculture industry is the lack of regulation when it comes to use and implementation of these pesticides and preservatives. The United States is by far the largest consumer of organic products in the world, though this isn’t to say that other countries are not following suit; Switzerland recently banned atrazine, a hugely harmful chemical. The chemical is being reviewed in a number of other countries for its effect, hopefully leading to its being banned in many other nations in the future. Atrazine is a chemical that can be found in many weed killers, and is surprisingly common for its negative impact. This chemical has frequently found its way into waterways and streams, and leaves a wildly contaminated water supply. It is hugely harmful to amphibians, specifically causing male tadpoles to turn female. Regardless of these effects, over 75 million lbs. of the chemical are used every year on U.S. farms (http://www.panna.org/resources/environmental-impacts Pesticide Action Network).

These effects may seem less than pressing in the face of many political and societal issues, but scientists have deemed that our current age is the sixth great cataclysmic extinction in history. Seven out of ten scientists believe that “…mass extinction poses an even greater threat to humanity than the global warming which contributes to it,” essentially meaning that the extinction that is currently happening is as, if not more, harmful to the Earth’s ecosystems than the global warming that is exacerbating it (http://www.panna.org/resources/environmental-impacts Pesticide Action Network). Not only are habitats and ecosystems being irreparably damaged, but species are quickly dwindling, leading them on the path toward extinction. Bees, bats, and frogs are all experiencing a rapid decline in population, and much of this can be directly traced back to the improper disposal, or the unintentional runoff, of pesticides used while conventionally farming. Bees in particular have been the unfortunate recipient of some of the harshest repercussions of using these chemicals, with honeybee populations decreasing roughly 30% each year since 2006 (Pesticide Action Network). The bees are unable to properly function given their exposure to pesticides that can be found within conventionally farmed produce; insecticides that are used on produce are inherently harmful to bees, and a “cocktail of toxic pesticides” was discovered in commercial honey, hives, and wax during a recent study (http://www.panna.org/resources/environmental-impacts PAN). Though the amount of pesticides found on a single piece of produce may see insignificant in the scheme of the whole world’s food consumption and agricultural industry, there is actually twenty times the amount of synthetic pesticides on a conventionally grown apple than an organically grown one. Additionally, apple farmers are continuously switching to organic farming due to a multitude of monetary benefits.

 

This chart shows a variety of the benefits seen by organic farmers upon switching, as well as their reasoning (https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2011/september/organic-apple/). An organically grown domestic apple, though still containing traces of DCPA, an herbicide, contains only .01 micrograms. A sample of conventionally-grown domestic apples were found to have .20 micrograms of DCPA residue, which is quite worrisome (http://www.whatsonmyfood.org/level.jsp?food=AP&pesticide=134 What’s On My Food). Conventionally farming exponentially increases the amount of pesticides and herbicides that are required to produce food. As I’ve discussed, the pesticides that could be avoided by organically farming would be extremely environmentally beneficial, and could slow some of the harm that has been kick-started previously by traditional agricultural methods. I personally eat at least one apple every day. If I were to switch solely to organic apples, the amount of DCPA residue that would be found on my apples for a year would only be 3.65 micrograms. If I still fastidiously only consumed conventionally farmed apples, the amount would be hugely more disruptive, at 73 micrograms. If we broadly assume that half of the country’s population consumes at least one apple a day, then that leads us to 10,950 grams of just residue from one very particular kind of herbicide, solely on apples every year.

 \[ .2 \text {micrograms} \times 365 \text {days} \times  \frac {1 \text {gram}}{1000000 \text {micrograms}} \times 150,000,000 \text {people} = 10,950 \text {grams}\]

These calculations show just how harmful conventional farming can be; one single apple may not have a huge effect on the environment as a whole, but when looked at on a larger, and more practical scale, the numbers become frightening, and help to put the negative effect of synthetic pesticides into perspective.

The impact of using conventional farming as opposed to organic methods is unsustainable, and is rapidly leading toward the diminishment of our world as we know it. Although the health benefits and risks of consuming organic food remains scientifically vague, the environmental impact is unprecedented. Organic farming cannot be connoted as something that is particularly trendy, or even emphasized for its health benefits; not only is organic farming the logical substitute to conventional farming, but it is absolutely necessary. The amount of harm done by conventional farming is unequivocal; replacing conventional farming with organic farming would be hugely beneficial to the environment, as well as avoiding further disruption of ecosystems and species growth.

 

Works Cited

 

https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/health/natural-health/pesticides/index.htm

 

I used this source to find details regarding health risks when the body is exposed to/consumes trace amounts of pesticides. Additionally, I will use it to define the differences between organic and synthetic pesticides, how they differ, and the different ways in which they are used.

 

http://www.whatsonmyfood.org/level.jsp?food=AP&pesticide=134

 

This is the article from which I will formulate the bulk of my calculations. It contains exact information regarding a sample of domestically grown organic and traditionally farmed apples, particularly pertaining to DCPA residue found.

 

http://www.panna.org/resources/environmental-impacts

 

This website will provide the bulk of my supporting information. It is here that I will find information regarding the actual environmental impacts of conventional farming. I will use the information regarding the effects on bees, bats, and amphibians to supplement my argument.

 

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10646-010-0469-0

 

I used this article to further understand the chemical endosulfan, and its metabolite, endosulfan sulfate and how it is currently plaguing much of Florida’s waterways from runoff.

 

https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~lhom/organictext.html

 

This was a helpful article in understanding the argument for the opposing side, generally in favor of supporting conventional farming. It also illuminated certain negative aspects of organic farming, helping in formulate a well-rounded argument.

 

https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2011/september/organic-apple/

 

This is from where I got the pie chart regarding monetary benefits of organic farming.

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3 Responses to Organic Farming: The Key to A Sustainable Future

  1. Dave VanLandingham says:

    I enjoyed reading this blog post and thought it was well written. The issue of making our farming practices more sustainable is rarely talked about within mainstream media, yet incredibly important as our planet continues to increase in population. Many environmental changes, such as the demise of the honey bee, are seen as unfortunate occurrences but little is talked about when it comes to ways in which humans are impacting this demise and what can be done to change our ways. Farming, organic or not, is a land intensive operation with serious environmental impacts- it’s time we start practicing more responsible methods of sustainable farming. This piece did a good job of bringing that to light and made a good argument for the need sustainable farming practices.

  2. Erin Kraeher says:

    This post was very informative, it also reiterated why I buy organic. In essence, it is better for our environment and more directly for our bodies. Yes, it is more expensive than buying non-organic food but that price is heavily outweighed by having to go to the doctors because of health issues from overly processed foods, especially foods that contain 20% more pesticides. That might be an interesting long-term research idea, the effects, and costs of people who eat organic versus those who do not and visits to the doctor’s office. The process of farming non-organic, GMO filled foods have serious effects on our land’s soil which is the source of our nutrients. If our lands are stripped of our essentials then what do we have left?

  3. ktn5078 says:

    Hello! After reading about your Write and Respond, it actually made me open my eyes to the world around me about agriculture and the current trend of eating “Organic” foods and produce. I live in a small-town in western Pennsylvania that is known for the football, but also the farming done. I also worked on a farm for a few summers for some extra cash! My boss and all the other workers would show me how to do the things they do, and that includes the spraying of the crops with the pesticides that you’re pointing at, and never before have I thought them to be dangerous! Your Mathjax calculations give a clear example of what you’re trying to convey with how much the pesticides are impacting us nationally. Even though some of the pesticides may slip through the system and make it to your “organic” foods, it is still such a huge step in making agriculture a safer and cleaner process as a whole! Your concern for this topic and the stance you take is very intriguing and insightful.

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