Why Green Divas & Dudes Prefer Organic Food

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chemical company propaganda circa 1945

This green diva has to weigh in on all the buzz and banter about the latest study from Stanford about the lack of nutritional benefit from eating organic food. There is a lot of evidence that I wasn’t the only one irritated and quite surprised to see how this study was spun into a pro-chemical pesticide and fertilizer piece. Clearly an anti-organic slant, the article about the study on Stamford’s website states, “organic foods are not necessarily 100 percent free of pesticides. What’s more, as the researchers noted, the pesticide levels of all foods generally fell within the allowable safety limits.”

Here’s where I see the fly in their ointment and question the premise of their spin. Do I really trust the FDA or whoever is setting “safe limits” for pesticide residue in my food? My answer is a quick and resounding NO. There are a thousand reasons for my feelings on this, not the least of which is my conspiracy theory that chemical and biochemical lobbies have a strong foothold in the FDA and can manipulate standards to suit their needs rather than the true safety of the people they are designed to protect. For those who have an unlimited amount of time and energy and the inclination to root them out, here’s a list of lobbyists that are lobbying the FDA.

Further muddying the waters of this study is evidence that Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute, which conducted the study has accepted funding from companies like . . . wait for it . . . Monsanto! Not really shocking and it pretty much makes sense that a company looking to thwart Proposition 37, which is all about GMO labeling in California, might find it helpful to have this study come out right about now. NOTE: Monsanto is the single largest financial donor in the fight AGAINST labeling food with GMOs in CA under Prop 37. The Cornucopia Institute did a great article about the biotech funding that may have tainted this Stanford study.

If I’m going to put any emphasis on a study regarding organic food, I’m going with the University of Barcelona’s study published in June of this year, that proves how and why organic tomatoes have higher antioxidant levels.

Two Good Reasons Why Green Divas & Dudes Prefer Organic Food 

1. Sustainable Agriculture Rocks

 . . . and I mean REAL sustainable agriculture, not biotech companies like Monsanto that say they are (their tagline is, A Sustainable Agriculture Company) (?) . . . In my humble opinion, sustainable agriculture is all about creating smaller regional farming systems and communities that grow food responsibly without harming farm workers, soil, water, food or the people who eat it. I know people will argue that we can’t feed the world on small farms, and perhaps that would be true today, but I dream of a world where we are nourished by local farms and regional farming systems, which do a lot less damage to the environment (and perhaps people) than giant factory farms. The more we support our local farmers, the closer we come to this reality.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization on why organic agriculture is more sustainable:

Sustainability over the long-term. Many changes observed in the environment are long-term, occurring slowly over time. Organic agriculture considers the medium and long-term effect of agricultural interventions on the agro-ecosystem. 

Soil. Soil building practices such as crop rotations, inter-cropping, symbiotic associations, cover crops, organic fertilizers and minimum tillage are central to organic practices. These encourage soil fauna and flora, improving soil formation and structure and creating more stable systems. In turn, nutrient and energy cycling is increased and the retentive abilities of the soil for nutrients and water are enhanced, compensating for the non-use of mineral fertilizers. Such management techniques also play an important role in soil erosion control.

Water. In many agriculture areas, pollution of groundwater courses with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is a major problem. As the use of these is prohibited in organic agriculture, they are replaced by organic fertilizers (e.g. compost, animal manure, green manure) and through the use of greater biodiversity (in terms of species cultivated and permanent vegetation), enhancing soil structure and water infiltration.

Air and climate change. Organic agriculture reduces non-renewable energy use by decreasing agrochemical needs (these require high quantities of fossil fuel to be produced). Organic agriculture contributes to mitigating the greenhouse effect and global warming through its ability to sequester carbon in the soil.

Biodiversity. Organic farmers are both custodians and users of biodiversity at all levels. At the gene level, traditional and adapted seeds and breeds are preferred for their greater resistance to diseases and their resilience to climatic stress. At the species level, diverse combinations of plants and animals optimize nutrient and energy cycling for agricultural production. At the ecosystem level, the maintenance of natural areas within and around organic fields and absence of chemical inputs create suitable habitats for wildlife.

Genetically modified organisms. The use of GMOs within organic systems is not permitted during any stage of organic food production, processing or handling. As the potential impact of GMOs to both the environment and health is not entirely understood, organic agriculture is taking the precautionary approach and choosing to encourage natural biodiversity.

Ecological services. The impact of organic agriculture on natural resources favours interactions within the agro-ecosystem that are vital for both agricultural production and nature conservation. Ecological services derived include soil forming and conditioning, soil stabilization, waste recycling, carbon sequestration, nutrients cycling, predation, pollination and habitats.

For the full details on each of these categories, go to the UN FAO page on organic agriculture.

2. Pesticides Suck 

No matter what this Stanford or any other study says about acceptable amounts of pesticides and chemical fertilizers or GMOs in my food, I just don’t want to eat them. Our awesome new intern, Jamie Bachar, did a bunch of research this week on pesticides and their effects on humans and the environment – ahhhhhhhhhh. I feel fully justified in wanting to minimize these in my diet even more now!
In response to this Stanford organic food study, Charlotte Vallaeys, Director of Farm and Food Policy with the The Cornucopia Institute said, “Consumers should not lose sight of the important impacts of organic agriculture, which produces foods without the use of toxic pesticides that have been linked to an array of health problems, including cancer and ADHD in children. This study confirmed once again that organic foods contain significantly lower levels of pesticide residues, and that alone should be enough reason for every family to consider exclusively purchasing organic foods.” Yea, what she said!
What are pesticides?

Pesticides consist of a large group of chemicals that are used in agriculture and residential settings to control plant and animal infestation. There are several different types of pesticides:

Herbicides – kills and suppresses weeds

Insecticides – kills and controls insects

Fungicides – kills and controls mold, mildew, and rust

Nematocides – destroy certain types of worms (ick)

A few fun facts about pesticides

  • Approximately 75% of pesticide usage in the United States occurs in agriculture (800 million pounds of pesticides annually)
  • Most babies are born pre-polluted now, with persistent pesticides and other chemicals already in their bodies
  • About 110,000 pesticide poisoningsare reported by poison control centers annually in the US
  • The World Health Organization estimates that there are 3 million cases of pesticide poisoning each year and up to 220,000 deaths, primarily in developing countries.
How pesticides can affect human health

Fertility Health: Pesticides found in conventionally grown foods have been shown to reduce fertility

Immune System: The chemicals in non-organic foods may also harm your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to illness and some forms of cancer

Hormones & Weight Gain: New research has shown that some agricultural chemicals could actually be making you fat by interfering with your hormone levels (for this reason alone, I need to avoid pesticides!)

Pesticides in the water
The USDA Pesticide Data Program found the residue of 59 pesticides in ground water. Yikes! Out of those 59, 50 were categorized as follows:

9 known or probable carcinogens

20 suspected hormone disruptors

7 neurotoxins

14 developmental or reproductive toxins

So, what’s on conventionally grown food this Fall?
According to Whats On My Food, a pesticide action network website, here’s a sample of what we can find on non-organically grown foods this season:
Apples: 42 pesticide residues found by the USDA, 7 known or probable carcinogens

Cauliflower: 16 pesticide residues found by the USDA, 4 known or probable carcinogens

Sweet Potatoes: 8 pesticide residues found by the USDA, 2 known or probable carcinogens

Winter Squash:  28 pesticide residues found by the USDA, 9 known or probable carcinogens

I support sustainable agriculture practices and believe responsibly grown organic food IS sustainable agriculture, and I think pesticides suck, I’m going to stick with organic food. How about you?

photo credit: Crossett Library Bennington College via photo pin cc

About the author / 

Megan McWilliams (Green Diva Meg)
megan@thegreendivas.com'

(aka Megan McWilliams) is a green living expert and media personality as the producer and host of the Green Divas Radio Show. She has been sharing low-stress ways of living a deeper shade of green for over 20 years. She is also produces podcasts and videos for the Green Divas and other clients through the Green Diva Studio.

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2 Comments

  1. Penelope@toxicbaby.com'
    Penelope September 18, 2012 at 10:51 pm -  Reply

    Wow – superb post! I had no idea that the Freeman Institute accepted funding from Monsanto! Now it all fits into place… thanks for clarifying that.

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