‘The recent syndicated column attacking the value of organics has two big problems. First, it is suspiciously similar to a national effort by chemical companies to discredit organic. Second, and more important, organic food is better for your health, and organic agriculture is better for the environment. Which isn’t to say that local isn’t important, too.
But back to organic. “Organic” is two fairly different things: a system of agriculture based on soil health and natural systems and a marketing label controlled (not always well) by the government.
The labeling of food as organic is controlled by a federal regulation that provides significant checks and balances. When working properly, the organic food you get has been carefully produced largely without the use of chemicals. Yet sometimes, thanks to profit motives, that label you see in the grocery store, while regulated, is not foolproof.
With the organic agriculture system, “There’s no fooling Mother Nature.” The proven values of organic agriculture — increased nutrients, higher yields, better ability to withstand drought and floods and less pollution — happen when organic is done correctly, not solely with a label slapped on.
What are some values of organic?
Also, recent USDA data shows that more than 90 percent of the samples of conventionally grown apples, peaches, pears, strawberries and celery had pesticide residues, and conventionally grown crops were six times as likely as organic to contain multiple pesticide residues.
“By growing U.S. organic food consumption to 10 percent by 2010, we will eliminate 2.9 billion barrels of imported oil annually.”
Recent long-term studies at the Rodale Institute have shown that organic soils are more resistant to both drought and floods, and yields in most products are equal or better in organic. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that worldwide average yield of all organic products are 130 percent that of conventional.
A recent UNFAO symposium suggests that organic agriculture may indeed help feed the world, through efficient energy use, lower inputs, and greater diversity.
And just as important — buying locally produced food supports our communities and supports those farmers who provide us with good food and open space. That speaks to health and environmental protection too.
If we want more local organic farms, we need to provide our farmers the tools. Research into organic systems could help conventional as well as organic farmers to use less pesticides. Yet the USDA spends less than 1 percent of all research dollars on organic research.
It should be the goal of our government policies to move all agriculture to be safer, environmentally sound, as well as more profitable. Organic and family farm agriculture both deserve our support with our purchasing dollars, and from our federal government.