10 Reasons to Choose Organic
Farmers have it rough. Our society is no longer largely agrarian, and yet our population continues to grow, and as a result so do food needs. It is very difficult for small farming operations to keep afloat in difficult economic times, and often the only way to stay ahead is to have astounding production rates, or to sell land for its real estate value. It is difficult to produce both quantity and quality, and often some slightly dicey production techniques are used to protect the farming corporation's investment. With the rise of food borne illness scares coupled with our nation's health crisis, it would appear that our demand for low-cost produce, grains, dairy products, and meat products could be in fact making us sick. We can't blame the farmers and producers for the techniques they employ, as it is simply an issue of economics (they sell us what we want at the price the market will bear), but as consumers we are in a place of power to implement change, and can demand eco-friendly techniques of food production by sending our consumer dollars in a different direction which will ultimately lower the cost associated with buying organic.
- When you purchase organic produce you can limit your exposure to pesticides.
Organic farming techniques utilize natural predators to keep pests at bay and use naturally occurring plants to repel damaging insects. Chemical pesticides work by disrupting the nervous systems of insects so that their nerves continue to fire continuously, eventually resulting in paralysis, weakness, and death. Unfortunately these pesticides do not kill all insects of a generation and those which survive, pass on an adaptive response to pesticides in future generations. Pesticide exposure has been known to cause birth defects, nerve cell damage, hormonal imbalances (many pesticides can mimic estrogen in humans), and is associated with increased risks of developing Parkinson's disease and lower IQs. Conflicting information about the effectiveness of pesticides is prevalent. Some studies indicate that farmers who utilize pesticides receive a four-fold return on their crops, while others show that decreasing pesticide use can in fact increase production (Kellogg, 2000). No studies have been done to see if there is a cumulative or synergistic effect of exposure to a variety of pesticides over time, although families in rural areas show increased rates of ocular birth defects. Pesticides can remain on the rinds, peels, and flesh of produce long after it leaves the field, and simply washing produce may not remove the chemical residue. It is scary to think about, and choosing organic may be the safer way to go in terms of limiting pesticide exposure and can help protect our rural neighbors from contact with air born chemicals.
Kellogg RL, Nehring R, Grube A, Goss DW, and Plotkin S (February 2000), Environmental indicators of pesticide leaching and runoff from farm fields. United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.
2. Antibiotics are a big deal and a source of major concern.
In traditional farming operations farmers use antibiotics to keep livestock in close quarters from becoming sick and from spreading illness to one another. Sounds great right? The downside is that antibiotics are given before any illness is present, and they are used to prevent illness rather than to treat illness. This proactive approach is short-sighted as it contributes to antibiotic resistant bacteria and super-bugs. MRSA is totally scary and illnesses like it result from the widespread and inappropriate use of antibiotics. Animals are packed in to maximize profits and any animals that die before slaughter are an economic loss, so traditional farming techniques attempt to sidestep infections by treating every animal. Animals who are ill should be given medical attention to minimize suffering, but a blanket approach is no good for animals or for consumers. Organic farming techniques minimize the use of antibiotics and are a more realistic approach to keeping animals healthy.
3. Growth hormone use is widespread in traditional farming operations and is effecting us in huge ways.
Traditional farming techniques maximize profits by increasing production. Say you have a young steer and every day it costs you $50 to feed him. If you can cut the amount of days you need to feed him, while increasing the amount of weight and muscle he gains each day, it would seem logical to use hormones to push him to grow better, faster, stronger, right? Or if you run a dairy operation and you can get your cows to produce gallons more of milk each day you'll get ahead a lot faster with minimal cost to you. The danger associated with growth hormone use and other hormones is that their presence remains in the milk and tissue of animals and is definitely effecting us. Girls are entering puberty early and at increasingly alarming rates. Our bodies have a delicate balance of hormones and consuming extra hormones is absolutely going to effect us. A Harvard study in 2006 published in the Annals of Medicine found a link between red meat consumption and breast cancer. Women who consumed roughly 5 oz of red meat a day doubled their risk of developing pre-menopausal breast cancer. This increased risk was attributed to the presence of hormones in the meat the ladies had consumed. This kind of stuff is not something to play around with, especially if there are alternative options. Low-fat and reduced fat dairy products are healthy components to a well-rounded diet, and are by far a safer option. Choose organic, these cows and beef cattle are not given growth hormones to push their production rates unnaturally.
4. Cattle and other farm animals are not eating food which is natural to them.
More than half of the corn grown in the United States each year goes to feed livestock including chickens, pigs, and cattle (www.cornfarmerscoalition.org). Cows did not evolve eating corn. They are natural grazers, eating a variety of grasses in the wild by utilizing their impossibly long and agile tongues. The Mad Cow scare resulted from cows being fed feed that was tainted with the flesh of other infected cows. Cows are herbivores by nature and would not intentionally seek out animal sources of food, and their forced corn-based diet is nutritionally more dense, forcing them to grow at unnatural rates. Grass fed beef tastes different and is better for us. It is lower in dangerous saturated fats and leaner in general. Many beef cows in traditional farming operations never set foot on a pasture, they live indoors in incredibly crammed quarters, eating an unnatural diet. The less exercise they get from moving around, the more weight they put on in a short period of time, and the less expensive it is for farmers to feed them and house them long-term. This arrangement causes tremendous stress to the animals. It just sounds mean, right? If you've ever been close to a cow you know they have beautiful, big, sweet eyes and are very gentle, and even a little noble looking, it's simply the right thing to do to honor a creature by giving it as natural of a life as possible and the most humane treatment before it becomes a food source. We are in a position to choose where our food comes from and with our nation's obesity rates climbing exponentially, leaner protein sources are crucial to getting our health back on track. Happy animals may just taste better too.
5. Traditional farming practices produce continually stressed out animals.
Stressed out animals are caught in a constant "flight or fight" response with elevated levels of cortisol and epinephrine raging through their systems. We are inundated with information about how bad stress is for humans long-term and how me must develop coping strategies to deal with our environmental stressors. It would seem logical that consuming stressed out animals and animal products may not be so great for us. Research has shown that stress hormones remain in animal tissue after slaughter and may or may not effect us negatively. Free range chickens who are permitted access to more room and outdoor habitats are able to scratch and forage for foods naturally and as a result produce eggs which are healthier for us to consume. Organic poultry eats a diet free of antibiotics and growth hormones, and many of the birds lead much more natural lives. Traditional chicken houses are pretty disgusting and kind of scary. The birds are packed into impossibly small spaces and are raised in largely filthy conditions. High levels of stress hormones also contribute to poor meat quality. We have access to options which are better for us and better for animals.
6. Green production techniques aim to minimize the effect of farming operations on surrounding areas.
Farm run-off from animal waste spreads Listeria and other dangerous germs to nearby eco-systems. The spraying of pesticides and the use of aggressive fertilizers negatively impact surrounding areas causing long-term problems long after the farm is no longer in use. Organic farm production techniques attempt to minimize the impact on the soil and surrounding environment. Heavy metal based pesticides remain in the environment indefinitely and dangerously accumulate in our bodies. Soil erosion is a major concern and organic techniques attempt to minimize this occurrence. Organic farming is kinder to the earth, and kinder to our bodies.
7. Organic foods have a shorter shelf-life because they do not contain unnatural preservatives.
Preservatives extend shelf-lives tremendously, but chemical additives often negatively impact our metabolisms and often our bodies have no idea what to do with them. Organic produce is often fresher as it can not travel as far to reach us since it is not treated with preservatives to extend its shelf-life. In some plants healthy vitamins and minerals begin to degrade after the plant is harvested, so it's always good to eat fresh and right away. Food should not last indefinitely and eating organically is a fantastic way to reap the health benefits associated with a minimally processed diet.
8. Herbicides are used to eliminate unwanted plants in traditional farming techniques and can have dangerous side effects in humans.
Long-term effects of exposure to herbicides include (but are not limited to) equilibrium problems, increased risk of cancer, birth defects, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, blurred vision, headaches, paralysis, neurological problems, and nerve system problems. Organic farming techniques shy away from chemical solutions to invasive or problematic plants and opt for more gentle techniques to remove pesky plants. Arsenic based defoliants are used in the pulp wood harvesting process, often with little warning or explanation to nearby land owners. That's just not okay, and when consumers purchase organic products it takes profits from companies and organization who do not value more gentle and less detrimental techniques. These guys and gals are driven by profit and the only way to get their attention is to effect their bottom line.
9. Fertilizers chemically enrich soil so that crops can flourish.
Natural fertilizers do not negatively impact surrounding ecosystems through the drastically increased nitrogen levels which are a common result from chemical fertilizers. These chemical fertilizers run off and taint nearby water systems increasing algae blooms which detrimentally impact fish populations and water ecosystems. Responsible fertilization is a crucial part of successful farming. When plants have what they need nutritionally to grow they flourish. Chemical fertilizers can often provide way more nutrients than plants could ever use and are an example of overkill in the commercial farming industry. It's hard to fault the farmers for wanting to maximize their profits, but organic fertilizing practices balance what plants need with out negatively impacting the environment.
10. Organic produce can not travel as far as other items and as a result its consumption supports local farming efforts and reduces carbon footprints.
In terms of organic produce and products you have a good idea of what you're getting, where it comes from, and how it was produced. Local farmers are supported because their products are consumed locally, and food is fresher and of a better quality overall. Everyone wins when you purchase locally. Food does not have to travel across the country to reach you, and your cost is decreased. Fuel to ship goods across the nation isn't needed and cuts down on pollution. When you purchase your produce locally you can fully enjoy seasonal options at the peak of their freshness. Berries and tomatoes are the best during the summer, apples in the fall, etc.
Buying organic may be a little more expensive, but the environment and our health is worth far more than saving a dollar here or there and the long term savings of remaining healthy are priceless. Consumers are in control. Ultimately the more we purchase organic produce and products as the movement gains momentum, the stronger our voice becomes. Commercial farming operations will be unable to ignore the changes in their bottom line. It's all about supply and demand. Organic farming practices are more humane for food animals, they are safer for us in terms of exposure to dangerous pesticides, antibiotics, herbicides, and fertilizers, and they help protect the environment for future generations. Everyone wins when you choose organic except for the revenue-driven mass production-minded corporations who risk the health of their farmers and our population to get ahead.