In 1990 the “California Foods Act” was passed. Under this act, farmers who wish to market their products as organic whether it is grain, vegetable, milk or meat, must produce their products without the use of any chemicals. The chemicals this refers to includes and is not limited to insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, artificial fertilizers and hormones. Robin Parnes, a consultant for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health explains that in lieu of chemicals, organic farmers use more natural means of fertilizing, raising, and protecting their products. Examples of such means would be crop rotation where fields are given a rest between growing seasons or natural insect predators who feed on crop killing pests. For the consumer, the downsides include a higher cost of goods and questionable nutritional benefits and dangers. Regardless of these pitfalls, one can easily see that organic foods are well worth the extra dollar.
In order to assess why it is worth paying extra for organic products, one must understand why they are more expensive. Doug Jones who works for a seed company in Yuma, Arizona explains that chemicals are designed in labs to be extremely efficient; they can suffocate the nastiest pests and ward off crop-killing weeds. Hormones are constructed to bulk up cows and fungicides to prevent the most dangerous of molds. With all this efficient aid, conventional foods have no problem with product yield. On the other hand, organic products suffer the consequences of the real world. The lack of these super chemicals leaves products, whether of vegetable or animal nature, extremely vulnerable. Hence, organic product yield is much less, sometimes leaving not enough supply for the demand (Parnes). The market for organic crops, Jones explains, has increased enough to inflate prices but not to supply funds to support technology for making organic farming more efficient. Dr Jean Weese, a food scientist, explains that there are many efficient “chemicals to prolong freshness and shelf life,” also known as preservatives, which make transportation and distribution of conventional products much easier. Organic products must be kept separate from chemically treated ones in order to maintain the standards of the “California Foods Act” and therefore have no access to preservatives (Parnes). This leaves organic products much more susceptible to spoilage, and again less supply to meet the demand. The shortcomings of not having the aid of chemicals are the main cause of organic foods’ higher price (Parnes). The only way to change this predicament is to increase the market demand of organic foods as to aid technology to make its farming more efficient.
Advocates for conventional methods of food production claim that nutrition values do not differ, but research shows otherwise. A major practice of organic farming is crop rotation. Crop rotation is when a farmer changes fields for production rather than using the same field each season. This practice results in boosted soil productivity and higher nutrient values in the ground. (Parnes) Thus, anything that grows in the ground will absorb these nutrients and thus have a higher nutrient value. Dr. Bob Smith conducted an experiment in 1991 where he examined similar species of different products, both organic and conventional, and recorded their nutritional value. After the two year experiment, he published his findings in the Journal of Applied Nutrition. The difference in nutrient value was phenomenal. Smith found that “organically grown food averaged 63% higher in calcium, 78% higher in chromium, 73% higher in iron, 118% higher in magnesium, 178% in molybdenum, 91% higher in phosphorus, 125% higher in potassium and 60% higher in zinc” (Smith). Each of these minerals play an essential role in the functioning of a human body, and for anyone to claim that organic foods are less nutritious in the face of such findings are wrong. Not only did this study prove organic food to contain more essential minerals, but results showed that conventionally grown foods contained more contaminants, thus being less nutritious. Dr. Smith found that conventionally grown potatoes contained 40% more aluminum; wheat grown by conventional methods contained 40% more mercury and 65% more lead. As a final touch, all the tested foods were averaged out and organic foods had 40% less aluminum, 29% less lead, and 25% less mercury than their conventionally grown counterparts (purefood.org). Mercury, lead, and aluminum are commonly known toxins; again, to say that conventional foods are just as good as organic foods in light of these findings is wrong.
Although organic foods are grown without applied chemicals, conventional food advocates point out that not all organic foods are contaminant free. Since the use synthetic fertilizers such as sludge, or fertilizer made from sewage, is not permitted, organic farmers must turn to their natural substitutes. Manure is one of the more commonly used fertilizers; unfortunately manure is known for carrying diseases, and for this reason “farmers are restricted from using untreated manure within 60 days before the harvest of a crop” and inspections are made to maintain USDA standards. (Parnes) Therefore, the American government makes sure that organic foods are produced in such a manner as to not increase the possibilities of contamination. Organically grown product has been accused of being a carrier of E. coli bacteria, but as it turns out, both conventional and organic are at risk of carrying it. All one needs to do wash their produce properly and cook their meat thoroughly to avoid contracting food-borne illness (Parnes).
In addition to biological toxins, there is concern about chemical contaminants. In this day and age, it is not surprising that “as much as 23% of organic fruits and vegetables harbor chemical residues” (Weese). Since the 1940’s we have been using everything from nerve gas to ammonium nitrate, a chemical used for weapons during World War II, on conventional crops (Parnes). While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updates its safety standards on pesticides every couple years, it is important to bear in mind that no one realized that DDT and other such chemicals were defined as dangerous until too late (foodnews.org). It is chemicals like DDT which has left residues behind in the soil that leave residues on organic produce. Our past actions and efforts to make food production more efficient is what inhibits organic food from truly being chemical free now.
These chemicals not only leave residue on produce, though; it has hindered the environment. Pesticides such as Methyl Bromide and Metam Sodium have been polluting soil since the 1940s and 1950s (foodnews.org). Water, which natural goes through soil, picks up these residues and becomes polluted. From there it seeps into rivers and streams polluting those waters and the organisms that live there. While the EPA has conducted tests on pesticides alone, no one can predict the outcome of a mixture of such chemicals in the environment (foodnews.org). What is more, is that it is found that chemical inhibit biodiversity. A study conducted by A.B. Hald studied an area surrounding 50 miles around both conventional and organic fields; he reported that 130 different wild species were found in the organic system while only 83 were counted around the conventional. The importance of biodiversity is immeasurable: the mÃ?Â©lange of genes can support and assist organisms’ natural events such as “pollination and pest management” (Parnes). Biodiversity encourages an ecological balance, a balance in which the environment can function properly without the aid of chemicals.