Guest Post: 5 MORE Ways Choosing Organic Benefits the Environment
As part of Australian Organic Awareness Month 2016, we’ve partnered with wellness expert Kris Abbey and asked her for her top 10 reasons to go organic. However, because she gave us so much information, we decided that it would be easier to split it into two! This is part 2, with 5 MORE reasons why you should choose to go Organic.
1. To protect future generations
‘We have not inherited the earth from our fathers. We are borrowing it from our children.’ – Lester Brown
If you only need one reason to convert to organic, this is it. For various physiological reasons, children receive four times more exposure than adults to at least eight cancer-causing pesticides widely used in food production. The incidence of childhood brain cancer has increased 30% in the last 20 years.
These children with brain cancer are twice as likely as healthy children to have been exposed to pesticides at home. Numerous human epidemiological studies have found associations between pesticide exposure and childhood leukemia, brain tumours, Wilms’ tumours, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, sarcomas and other cancers, with the evidence continually growing. Add to this the fact that the health of our environment is also failing and the future is not so bright for the generations to follow us.
2. To keep chemicals off your plate
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” – Virginia Woolf
Many toxic pesticides and herbicides were registered long before extensive research had linked them to cancers and other diseases. The simple fact is that these poisons are designed to kill living organisms, so their toxicity also has the potential to harm humans. Common sense dictates that these chemicals can’t be good for us.
Over 170 pesticides are sprayed on the food we eat or on our gardens and these have been linked to major diseases such as cancer, allergies, infertility and birth defects. According to the World Health Organisation, three million people per year suffer acute pesticide poisoning and about 300,000 die every year as a result of accidental pesticide poisoning. And these are only the reported cases!
The cocktail effect of eating food that contains a number of chemicals has never been fully investigated, so no one really knows how bad it is. Yet it is almost universally agreed that pesticide exposure heightens the risk of cancer. However, since there are so many factors involved—such as the effect of other chemicals in the environment, behavioural or physiological differences and cumulative exposure over time—it is virtually impossible to pinpoint a cause-and-effect link.
3. To prevent soil erosion
‘We don’t sit down and treat this as an ecosystem. We break it up into little places.’ – Ted Danson
The smell of freshly turned soil is intoxicating. Running my hands through rich, vital earth is a pleasure I will never outgrow, especially as it brings with it a flood of happy childhood memories of life on the farm. If you ever escape to a farm, indulge yourself by picking up a handful of soil and enjoy the lifeforce right in the palm of your hand.
In one handful of healthy soil, there are over 10,000 species of living organisms, or microbes. These microbes (mostly bacteria and fungi) break down nutrients in the soil so they can be readily available to plants, thus improving crop vitality, soil structure and resistance to disease and pests. Beneficial micro-organisms and worms are the main ingredients for healthy, vital soil.
The soil, its microbes and the plants make up a unique ecosystem. This ecosystem is easily damaged by the use of artificial pesticides and fertilisers. The more the ecosystem is damaged by these chemicals, the more chemicals our farmers must use to compensate for the depleted soil quality – a very vicious and costly cycle.
Worldwide, 75 billion tonnes of soil are lost each year due to soil erosion. This rate of loss is unsustainable in the long term as it takes nearly 500 years to develop just 2.5cm² of topsoil.
4. To save energy
‘A bit of hard work never killed anyone.’ – Barry Toole, farmer (my dad)
On organic farms, it is either People Power or Mother Nature that gets the job done. Animals are mustered on horseback. Machinery and chemicals are hard to find, if at all. The first thing I noticed when I visited an organic farm was the number of people employed, and all of them so busy!
Nearly all chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers are manufactured from fossil fuels or consume large amounts of fossil fuels during their manufacturing, and this rapid consumption of oil is growing beyond our capacity to produce it. More energy is used in making synthetic fertilisers than in cultivating and harvesting crops. Organic farming prefers labour intensive practices such as hand-weeding to chemicals.
5. To support a true economy
‘For any change and movement in the human community, the initiative must come from individuals.’ – The Dalai Lama
Organic produce is generally more expensive than conventionally grown food. But it’s about time we opened our eyes to look at the real cost of food production and, as they say, compare apples with apples.
When you buy an organic apple, the price tag reflects the true cost of growing that apple. When you buy a non-organic apple, the price tag does not include the health cost or the environmental cost (including taxes spent cleaning up water and land pollution). If those costs were to be included, you may find you are really paying close to double that of an organic apple. Cheap food often comes at a very high price!
If more of us supported the organic industry, more farmers would convert to organic farming, the supply of organic produce would increase and ultimately the price of good quality, sustainable food would come down.
But Kris, how can I be sure it’s organic?
‘Just pick up a single apple. It may bear a proud label of its country of origin, but if it’s been commercially grown it will have been treated with at least two out of 23 possible herbicides and 34 pesticides and fungicides currently available. In the case of pesticides, the tree could have suffered some 40 applications during a single growing season. There’s no label to tell you that!’ – Lance Reynaud, chef and co-author of The Organic Kitchen.
Food labels are often confusing and open to misinterpretation. There is an element of trust when you buy any product, including when you buy an organic product. Food manufacturers tend to use fancy codes and long words to confuse you and stop you from knowing exactly what you are putting into your body. If a product is certified organic, it is your guarantee that it is the closest thing to what nature intended.
Organic certification is a rigorous process that is conducted by a third-party agency at every stage of the production process, from paddock to plate. Organically certified produce has been grown without the use of synthetic chemicals or genetically modified organisms. It is the ‘real deal’, the real McCoy, 100% authentic. The certification logo on the label of an organic product speaks volumes about the efforts and enthusiasm gone into the production process and how the producer, processor and distributor have conquered the chemical challenge to support our environment and maintain our health.
The law is pretty flimsy when it comes to using words like ‘natural’, ‘free-range’ and ‘spray-free’. Marketers try to appeal to your conscience by using these words on packaging, but don’t be fooled. The only way to ensure a product is all these things (and more) is if it is certified organic by an accredited organisation and their logo is displayed on the label. This is what the Australian label looks like.
Do you eat organic food? Why do you think it’s important to choose organic? Share your thoughts with us.