On the importance to eat organic

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

“In our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, but nobody thinks of changing himself.” Leo Tolstoy.

Today many people eat from the so-called conventional agriculture without realizing what is at stake behind such behaviour.

Willing to make a positive change in this world is understanding the importance of eating organic. If a growing number of people begins to realize that, it doesn’t seem so for a majority of us. In four points, I will try to summarize why it is important to eat organic.

1. It is better for your health

If you never eat organic and you go to a medical laboratory to make a blood analysis, you will probably find that you have from 30 to 60 different toxic chemical product traces in your blood.

The US Center for Disease Control 4th national report on human exposure to environmental chemicals shows that:

“In the majority of individuals (US citizens) tested, acrylamides, cotinine, trihalomethanes, bisphenol A, phthalates, chlorinated pesticides, triclosan, organophosphate pesticides, pyrethroids, heavy metals, aromatic hydrocarbons, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, benzophenone from sunblock, perfluorocarbons from non-stick coatings, and a host of polychlorinated biphenyls and solvents were found”.

In a massive call to warn the French government about pesticides, 1 200 doctors say:

“Nobody contests the general contamination of the population by pesticides in small quantities, which is not reassuring as a lot of pesticides are endocrine disruptors which consequences don’t depend on the amount absorbed but on the period of exposure.”

Not to mention the famous cocktail effect (the combination of different subtances), which strongly increase the toxicity in the body but remains unfortunately too under documented. European agencies don’t take in account cumulated effects of chemical substances in risk assessment, evaluating the toxicity of substances separately.

It is interesting that the media often broadcast the results of studies about pesticide contamination, and at the same time, but separately, tell us that the cancer rates among populations have increased. Cancer is said to be the “disease of the century“. I have never seen any news linking these two facts: massive use of chemicals in agriculture & increase in the number of cancers. However, the carcinogenic characteritic of many chemical pesticides are well-known.

And strangely, the number of cancers started to increase precisely when we started to use chemicals in agriculture. For example, in Europe, from 1950 to 2000, the testicles cancers have increased fivefold.

A Californian study (pdf) using the state birth defects monitoring program found that infants with limb reduction defects along with other anomalies were 60% more likely to have parents involved in agricultural work and 2.4 times more likely to live in an agricultural county compared with unafflicted infants.

If agriculture is not the only responsible for the general increase of all types of cancers among populations (pollutions, food packaging…), it’s time to realize the extent to which we are being contaminated by the very goods that are supposed to keep us healthy.

2. It’s better for the environment and society

Chemical agriculture, with the practice of monoculture that often goes with it, kills the soils. The soils are house for 90% of the terrestrial biomass: it is source of life on Earth. Chemicals kill the soils because they kill life living in it.

Look at this dynamic informative video, it explains very well the importance of soils for Life:

The independant French microbiologist Claude Bourguignon, owner of the biggest database of soils analysis (more than 6 000 in Europe), says:

“In Europe we do not do agriculture anymore: we do plant pathology management. This is very different. We try to maintain plants alive that only ask for dying because of being so much ill”.

Another consequence of chemical agriculture is that the soils become extremely compacted: the fauna (worms…) is killed and does not do its work of lightening the soils anymore. When it rains, water don’t infiltrate the soils so groundwaters are not renewed, and all the exceeding water flows around the fields, carrying big amounts of fertile soil with it.

As a result, more and more soil is lost, and with the combining action of urbanisation, we experience more and more disastrous floods. With less soil and less clean water, it is the very essence that sustains our livelihood that we are depleting.

But things are actually worse. The water that can make its way in the water cycle becomes polluted by the chemicals. In France 90% of the rivers and 61% of groundwaters contain biocides according to the French Institute for the Envronnement (in French). As a result, the whole ecosystem is severely damaged (see this study from the FAO).

I know other issues arise from monoculture and the industrialisation of our food system, and growing organic doesn’t necessarily mean being outside of these logics. This is why knowing your farmer and her/his practices is also very important.

3. Eating organic is also about freedom

Since the soils are biologically dead, plants need artificial subtances to grow. It’s a vicious cycle: the more you use them, the more you deteriorate your soil and the more dependent on chemicals you become. This vicious cycle is extremely profitable for chemical fertilizers and biocides multinational companies: Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF…

And the decision to go organic becomes more and more difficult: soils need 3 to 5 years to be healthy again.

Forced to buy chemicals every year, the consequences (along with the use of hybrids or GM seeds) can become extreme: According to recent figures, 17,638 Indian farmers committed suicide in 2009 — about one death every 30 minutes.

4. About crop yields

If it’s true chemicals have permitted to increase a lot the yields when these products were first used, it is important to notice that at that time the soils were still healthy and fertile.

We now see that in comparison, conventional doesn’t produce so much more than organic, because on one side soils are so intensely degraded that yields stagnate, and on the other side better natural and/or traditional agriculture techniques allow to increase yields on living and healthy soils (see page 16-18 of Coordination Sud’s analysis on agroecology, pdf, in French).

What’s more, we hear everywhere that we must increase global crop yields in order to feed the 9 billion humans in 2050. Often times, the only solution brought up is the use of GM miracle seeds able to adapt to extreme environments. I think this is a wrong reasoning.

Besides the fact that we already produce more than enough for every single human being of Earth, chemicals and GMOs don’t address many other issues such as biodiversity loss and food sovereignty.

The magazine BioScience of July 2005 (Vol.55 No.7) reports a 10-year experience that has been done in the USA on two crops: one organic, one chemical:

“Over the 10-year period, organic corn (without price premiums) was 25% more profitable than conventional corn ($221 per ha versus $178 per ha). This was possible because organic corn yields were only 3% less than conventional yields (5843 kg per ha versus 6011 kg per ha), while costs were 15% less ($351 per ha versus $412 per ha)”

And I will finish with the introductory text of this article:

“Various organic technologies have been utilized for about 6000 years to make agriculture sustainable while conserving soil, water, energy, and biological resources. Among the benefits of organic technologies are higher soil organic matter and nitrogen, lower fossil energy inputs, yields similar to those of conventional systems, and conservation of soil moisture and water resources (especially advantageous under drought conditions).”

Conclusion

If we do a little sum up, our current chemical agriculture model is (partly) responsible for:

  • Cancers and birth defects among an increasing part of the worldwide population
  • An enormous and worrying loss in biodiversity
  • The increase of floods
  • The insalubrity of water
  • The non renewal of clean water through water cycle
  • Major pollutions in all the environment and big disruptions of our ecosystem
  • Pauperization of farmers who get stuck in the biotech multinationals’ vicious cycle
  • Waste of soils, water, energy and resources

This list is unfortunately not exhaustive as I don’t mention the attacks on democracy made by big chemical and biotech companies.

I know eating exclusively organic is almost impossible nowadays. But little by little, at our own pace, we must all change our food habit if we are to make any relevant improvement in the resilience and sustainability of our agriculture system.

And in addition to eating organic, which doesn’t necessarily mean products that have a label, it is at least as important, if not even more, to eat local. That’s gonna be the topic of another post.

As Pierre Rabhi says:

“The true revolution is the one that leads to change ourselves in order to change the world.”

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About me
I'm passionate about sustainable lifestyles and urban agriculture. I believe that community-supported initiatives and bottom-up policies are key to foster necessary societal changes. I'm an advocate of degrowth, agro-ecology, sharing economy and participatory democracy. Based in Bratislava, Slovakia, I like learning, reading, writing, sharing, hiking, dancing, eating, and celebrating.
Nicolas Giroux
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