9 September 2019

Why Choose Organic?



I never really valued the organic label until I learnt what it meant. I still find that while people might know organic is 'better', they don't necessarily know why. And it's not surprising, given how little the average person knows about agriculture. I want to shed light on this topic in the hope that more people will have the same realisations I did, and be empowered to make better choices.

NON-ORGANIC FARMING

Non-organic or so-called 'traditional' farming takes a top-down approach to agriculture. By 'dominating' the natural world, it aims to achieve predictable and maximal results. In the twentieth century, during and after the World Wars, powerful agro-chemicals were developed, and with the help of industrial machinery, allowed for unprecedented access to food at a cheaper cost. Yes, the yields increased, but an ugly reality lay beneath: environmental degradation, soil erosion, and wildlife loss.

Here are the basic principles of non-organic farming:

Crops are grown in large monocultures, i.e. a huge field of the same crop.

In the natural world, ecosystems are made up of different plants and organisms that complement each other and form symbiotic relationships. This variety also enriches the soil which is further protected by a covering of leaves and organic matter on its surface. The more diversity, the healthier an ecosystem. Traditional agriculture breaks this law by planting the same crop in repetitive straight lines over a very large area. Without other plants and organisms to support it, the lonely crop is highly susceptible to disease, weather conditions and pests. The exposed and under-nourished soil becomes more degraded, more "dead", each year. Under these conditions - which do not support life but rather impair it - chemical fertilisers need to be applied for the crop to grow successfully.

Chemical fertilisers are heavily relied upon to boost plant productivity and yield. Harsh pesticides, fungicides and herbicides are also used intensively.

These chemical "quick fixes" continue to undermine the soil, and plant and animal life, at a time when we should be doing everything we can to protect and encourage biodiversity. Pesticides and herbicides eliminate insects, bacteria and other micro-organisms, damaging the very foundations of all life on earth. The widespread use of pesticides is the main driving force behind the loss of over 75% of our insect biomass. Year on year, the soil becomes more degraded and less productive. It's a vicious cycle which reinforces the reliance on chemicals - and it threatens our very ability to grow food as we know it in the future.

This heavy load of chemicals ultimately makes its way into our food. The longterm health implications of eating chemical-filled food every day are known and warned of, but under-researched. There is also a growing body of studies showing that food grown under these conditions is actually less nutritionally complex than food grown in healthy, living soil. Personally, I don't need scientific validation to believe this claim - it seems obvious to me.

Animals are farmed inhumanely and routinely given antibiotics and growth hormones.

The harsh and inhumane conditions of mainstream animal agriculture are well-known. These intense conditions mean that like the crops, the animals are highly vulnerable to disease and growth difficulties. So they are regularly administered antibiotics and growth hormones which eventually make their way onto meat-eating plates. Potential effects on human health are far-reaching, including hormonal imbalances, and the problem of antibiotics resistance which is a global phenomenon.

Within the context of climate change, conventional agriculture produces roughly one third of global carbon emissions.

THE ALTERNATIVE - ORGANIC FARMING

Rather than a top-down approach to farming that aims to dominate nature and violently stamp out problems when they arise, organic farming is a slower, more considered process that listens to nature and prioritises the health and longevity of all living things. Instead of relying on chemicals, organic farmers use clever natural solutions to overcome pests and other issues, and natural fertilisation methods to boost soil health and fertility. This mode of farming is infinitely better for people and the planet, encouraging biodiversity and safeguarding soil health - and with it, our ability to grow food - in years to come.

From The Soil Association:

Organic means working with nature. It means higher levels of animal welfare, lower levels of pesticides, no manufactured herbicides or artificial fertilisers and more environmentally sustainable management of the land and natural environment, which means more wildlife.

Whatever you’re buying – from cotton buds to carrots – when you choose organic food, drink or beauty and textiles, you choose products that promote a better world.

All organic farms and food companies are inspected at least once a year and the standards for organic food are laid down in European law.  

In order for produce to be labelled organic, it must pass a certification process to ensure it meets the required standards. The EU has its own regulations indicated by a green leaf logo. In the UK, the Soil Association maintains even stricter standards for food, farming as well as beauty products. You can be sure any product associated with this logo is championing best practice.

It takes years for a conventional farm to transition to organic; a long process of nourishing the soil and waiting for all chemical traces to fade away. This is one of the reasons that conventional agriculture still prevails - without sufficient subsidies, farmers cannot risk this tough transition. Ultimately, the more people who buy organic wherever possible, the stronger the incentive will be for governments to endorse more responsible farming.

Conventional agriculture is totally unsustainable on every level and simply cannot carry on if we want a habitable earth. Buying organic is one of the strongest actions anyone can take to make tangible, positive change. It might cost a little more initially, but it's an investment in our future and our planet. There are brilliant veg box schemes available that take this a step further by connecting communities, and ensuring local farmers are getting regular business and being paid fairly.

Further Reading

Read more about organic via the link below to #OrganicSeptember.
University of Sussex research on bees & pesticides

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