Is buying organic food a mere fad designed to charge more for fresh produce, or does it counter the toxicity and effects of poor soil on food production? We look at the evidence in support of organic farming and what the effects of intensive farming practices, pesticides and chemical fertilizers are having on the food chain.
What's the Problem with Mono Cropping and Intensive Farming?
Evidence is growing to show that mass-produced mono cropping and genetically modified (GM) practices that tamper with the genetics of plants do have a price to pay. Modern farming methods that are designed to intensify crop production are producing plants that are weaker and consequently have less nutritional content.
Modern intensive farming methods exclude crop rotation or leaving land to lay fallow and are having pronounced negative effects of poor soil on food production, according to David Pimental of Cornell University. There is a steady decline in the micronutrients and minerals found in fruits and vegetables compared to 50 years ago.
Do Fertilizers Improve the Effects of Poor Soil on Food Production?
In order to keep crop production high, by 1960 almost 97% of our food crops were being grown on soil treated with chemical fertilizers based on nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. This was to replenish the nutrients in the ground and counter the effects of poor soil on food production.
The fertilizers solved one problem but inevitably unbalanced nature and created other problems. While the fertilizer boosted yield, the plants produced were weaker and prone to pests. Also, synthetic fertilizer inevitably pollutes the run-off from farmland and is the main cause of the 22,000 square kilometer (8.5 square mile) "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, according to Science Magazine, August 2002.
Are Pesticides a Real Danger?
Crop spraying of toxic pesticides was the immediate response to maintaining crop yields and countering the indirect effects of poor soil on food production. Scientists are now warning that the long-term exposure to agricultural and industrial chemicals can adversely affect the nervous system, harm unborn infants, decrease fertility and increase the risk of cancer. According to the National Academy of Science, “neurologic and behavioral effects may result from low-level exposure to pesticides.”
Even if we wash or peel fruit and vegetables before consuming them, researchers have found that chemicals are actually in the flesh of fruit and vegetables.
Although just 0.5% of farmland is organically managed (i.e. without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides) it seems that organic produce may be well worth the extra price in terms of our health. According to the Organic Center State of Science Review "Feeding the soil with organic matter instead of ammonia and other synthetic fertilizers has proven to increase nutrients in produce, with higher levels of vitamins and minerals found in organic food".
Continuing reports show that modern farming methods and the resulting effects of poor soil on food production have led to well-founded cause for alarm concerning our health. Organic produce may be the only way to get our five-a-day nutrients and antioxidants without toxic implications.