Opinions

Does Organic Matter?

In recent years there has been a huge trend toward organic products. Hipsters everywhere are flocking to Whole Foods to fill their carts with organic produce and other goods. This movement raises several questions: what exactly does organic mean, and does it actually make any difference?

First and foremost, one must understand what is meant by the word “organic.” The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines organic as “products using methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics.” There is some leeway in regards to which foods receive the “USDA Organic” seal, and this can create needless confusion. In its purest sense, the term “organic” denotes food grown or produced without the use of any synthetic materials, including pesticides and antibiotics.

How does this differ from conventional food production methods? Large-scale “factory farms” commonly use artificial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Such substances cause several problems. First, they contribute to environmental degradation. Because synthetic materials allow farmers to grow monocultures without crop rotation, nutrients are removed from the soil and not replaced. As the soil quality decreases, fungi, bacteria, insects, and other harmful organisms are attracted to the fields, contributing to soil erosion. Currently, the average rate of erosion on cropland in the United States is about four tons per acre per year. In addition to eroding soil, conventional methods pollute the environment. Constantly spraying chemicals over fields has grave consequences, one of which is the unintended death of helpful insects. Pesticides are a double-edged sword that not only eliminate insects that harm crop growth but also eliminate insects that aid crop growth, like bees. This is reflected by the recent phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), in which entire colonies of bees mysteriously disappear in large quantities. Bees are necessary to a properly functioning environment, yet the number of bee colonies in the United States has decreased from five million in the 1940s to less than three million today. It is commonly believed that the modern farming systems of monocultures and pesticides are the leading contributor of CCD.

Beyond environmental concerns, conventional farming has negative impacts on human health as well. The aforementioned lack of nutrients in soil has caused many to believe that crops grown through conventional methods lack the nutritional density of organically grown crops. This topic is still debated, yet the mere flavor difference between a conventionally grown tomato and an organic tomato reveals a great disparity in the quality of the produce. Furthermore, the toxic chemical residue that remains on produce from pesticides, antibiotics, herbicides, etc. are dangerous to human health. If such synthetic materials are used to kill living organisms, it doesn’t make much sense for humans to consume them.

Overall, eating organic matters a great deal! It is the sustainable choice for one’s health and the health of the planet.

Sources: “Finding Ultra” by Rich Roll, Fair Food by Oran Hesterman, USDA: “Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder” (http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572#public)

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