Simone Gabbay, RNCP
"Pesticides on food? That's horrible!" My six-year-old, Benjamin, looked at me in disbelief. I had just explained that many of our fruits and vegetables were sprayed with toxic chemicals.
"Pesticides on food? That's horrible!" My six-year-old, Benjamin, looked at me in disbelief. I had just explained that many of our fruits and vegetables were sprayed with toxic chemicals. The horror in my child's eyes made me feel the full weight of society's collective responsibility toward our children bearing down on my shoulders.
How relieved I was to be able to tell him about organic alternatives to show him the aisles in the natural food market filled with fruits and vegetables that were grown without these toxins! I felt a deep gratitude toward the organic farming pioneers who had the courage to switch to natural farming methods and put human health and the future of our planet ahead of short-term financial gains.
What Is Organic?
Organic fruits and vegetables are grown without the use of pesticides, fungicides or synthetic fertilizers. Organic produce is naturally healthy. Why? Think of a person who has built up a strong immunity to viruses and bacteria using good nutrition, exercise and a healthy lifestyle. Such a person does not need pharmaceutical drugs, antibiotics or immunization. This is the natural state of good health in humans! Similarly, crops grown in fertile, mineral-rich soil are strong and pest-resistant. This is the natural state of good health in organic fruits and vegetables!
One of the methods used by organic farmers to achieve soil health is continuous crop rotation. By moving crops to different soil patches each growing season, the organic farmer encourages soil regeneration and prevents the depletion of specific nutrients. Conventional farming methods often compromise soil health by relying on monoculture farming, which means that the same crops are planted in the same soil year after year. This seriously reduces the levels of vital nutrients in the soil and ultimately causes erosion.
Synthetic fertilizers, too, disrupt soil balance and upset the delicate ecosystem. Nitrogen fertilizers, for instance, stimulate heavy weed growth, which in turn prompts greater pesticide use. Nitrogen fertilizers also contaminate the groundwater with nitrates. In addition, they distort the crops' nutrient profile by encouraging excessive water uptake. While this causes the crops to grow quite large, the higher water content dilutes the nutrients in the plants. The consumer pays for the greater weight but gets fewer nutrients per unit of weight.
Soil fertilization on organic farms is accomplished with composted organic materials, including manure and nutrient-rich sea kelp. Most or all of the organic manure is produced on the farm itself rather than purchased elsewhere. This encourages a self-sufficient, ecologically responsible farming system that reduces waste and keeps resources on the farm.
Organic farmers also rely on other natural methods such as companion planting, mulching and weeding to maintain soil and plant health. Any pest problems that do arise are controlled with organic remedies such as biodegradable botanical soaps, sprays and other ecological methods that work with nature rather than against it. Organic farmers do not use irrigation with sewage sludge, irradiation of plants or seeds to kill bacteria, or genetically engineered plants, seeds or fertilizer compounds.
Organically farmed livestock is raised in a humane manner in natural surroundings. Herd sizes are kept small to facilitate healthy interactions between farm workers and animals. All feed must be organic, and the animals are allowed ample access to pasture, weather permitting. The routine administration of growth hormones and antibiotic drugs is not permitted on organic farms.
Is Organic Food More Nutritious?
Common sense tells us that fruits and vegetables grown without synthetic chemicals in naturally cultivated soil are better for our health than those dowsed with pesticides and other toxins. Even a child knows that!
A number of recent studies have also demonstrated the nutritional superiority of organically grown produce. Studies conducted in 2001 in France and the UK concluded that organic produce averaged higher levels of vitamins A, B, C and E, and the minerals zinc and calcium, along with other beneficial phytonutrients. Research reported by the American Chemical Society in June 2002 found that organic oranges, for instance, contained 30 per cent more vitamin C than their conventional counterparts.
Benefits To Human And Environmental Health
The absence of pesticide residues and higher nutrient content are convincing arguments for switching to organic foods. But there is a larger picture: conventional agricultural practices jeopardize everyone's health because they undermine the well-being and ecology of the planet that sustains us. It is estimated that, worldwide, several billion kilograms of pesticides are applied every year. Direct and indirect exposure to pesticides (farm workers and their families, for example) has been linked to hormone disruption, cancer and neurological disease.
Topsoil erosion has reached pandemic proportions. And many of the synthetic fertilizers used in intensive farming are highly soluble and readily enter ground and surface water. In Canada alone, 32,000 tonnes of nitrogen fertilizer are applied on conventional crops each year. Some of which leaches into our water supplies.
Rising Consumer Demand
Public response to the benefits of organics is clear: sales of organic foods are increasing by an average of 10 to 15 per cent a year worldwide. In Canada, organic retail sales now amount to $1 billion annually, although production of organic horticultural crops comprises only one per cent of the total farming area devoted to all fruits and vegetables. The growing organic wave has also hit mainstream grocers, who are setting up special organic sections in produce departments nationwide.
In Europe, a recent opinion poll revealed that 72 percent of Europeans support organic food production. Britain is the world leader in organic food sales, with sales climbing 25 percent annually.
As consumers, we have the power to vote in favour of organic farming each time we shop for groceries. As parents, we must nurture our children with the healthiest food possible. As stewards of Planet Earth, we must support the natural ways of food production that will not only put food on our table, but also on the tables of future generations.
Organic Versus Conventional