Organic Farming Facts
Organic agricultural production benefits the environment by using earth-friendly agricultural methods and practices. Here are some facts that show why organic farming is "the way to grow."
According to the 15-year study "Farming Systems Trial" conducted by the Rodale Institute of Kutztown, Penn., organic agriculture can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by effectively locking more carbon into the soil rather than releasing it into the atmosphere, as happens in conventional agriculture. The study showed that if organic fertilizer were used in the major corn and soybean growing regions of the United States, annual carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could be reduced by an estimated 2%. The study also found that organic farming uses 50% less energy than conventional farming methods. (Lori Drinkwater, Legume-based Cropping Systems Have Reduced Carbon and Nitrogen Losses, Nature magazine, Nov. 18, 1998, pp. 262–265.)
"Most benefits of pesticides are based only on direct crop returns. Such assessments do not include the indirect environmental and economic costs associated with pesticides. It has been estimated that only 0.1% of applied pesticides reach the target pests, leaving the bulk of the pesticides (99.9%) to impact the environment." (David Pimentel, Environmental and Socio-Economic Costs of Pesticide Use, Techniques for Reducing Pesticide Use. John Wiley & Sons, 1997, p. 71.)
"In the United States, populations of honeybees, essential for pollinating commercial crops, have shrunk precipitously, while frogs with extra legs and missing eyes have been found in northern states. Pesticides are a leading suspect behind both aberrations." (Lester Brown et al., Building a Sustainable Society, The State of the World 1999. New York: Norton/Worldwatch Books, 1999, pp. 169–170.)
The environmental costs of using recommended pesticides in the United States are estimated to be $9 billion a year; included are 67 million birds killed each year from the recommended use of pesticides. (Pimentel, 1997.)
A study of apple farming published in the April 19, 2001, issue of Nature has found organic orchards can be more profitable, produce tastier fruit at similar yields compared to conventional farming, and be better for the environment. In the six-year study, John Reganold and colleagues at Washington State University in Pullman farmed three experimental plots of Golden Delicious apples using organic, conventional, and "integrated" growing methods. Although the organic system took longer to reach profitability, it ranked first in terms of environmental sustainability, profitability and energy efficiency by the end of the study. Integrated farming, reducing the use of chemicals by combining organic and conventional production methods, came in second, with conventional farming last.
The Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development has released a report entitled "Pesticides: Making the Right Choice for the Protection of Human Health and the Environment." Urging consumers to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating to remove pesticide residues, the committee noted, "As many as 16 separate pesticide applications may be made on apples each year to combat the apple scab. Where possible, organic products should be chosen." It added, "There is a booming domestic and export market for organic foods. The advantages of organic farming are many: reduced soil erosion, retention of soil nutrients, surface and ground water that is uncontaminated by pesticides."
"The commercialization of transgenic crops may pose a spectrum of risks—from ill effects on humans and animals that consume engineered crops to the disruption of wild ecosystems. Engineered plants risk becoming weeds in agricultural ecosystems or becoming established outside the field, disturbing unmanaged ecosystems." (Jane Rissler and Margaret Mellon, Environmental Risks Posed by Transgenic Crops, The Ecological Risks of Engineered Crops, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996, p. 27.)
Pesticide sprays "encourage life-threatening bacteria to grow on crops," according to Canadian researcher Greg Blank in the New Scientist (October 7, 2000). Research at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg found that bacteria thrived in some formulations of synthetic pesticides diluted with water.
Toxic chemicals are contaminating groundwater on every inhabited continent, endangering the world’s most valuable supplies of freshwater, according to a Worldwatch paper, Deep Trouble: The Hidden Threat of Groundwater Pollution. Calling for a systematic overhaul of manufacturing and industrial agriculture, the paper notes that several water utilities in Germany now pay farmers to switch to organic operations because this conversion costs less than removing farm chemicals from water supplies.
An epidemiological study by Paul Lichtenstein, Karolinska Institutat in Stockholm, Sweden, indicates that environmental factors, such as chemical pollutants and unhealthy lifestyles, have a greater impact on the likelihood of contracting cancer than hereditary genetic factors. The study, entitled "Environmental and Heritable Factors in the Causation of Cancer," was published in the July 13, 2000, New England Journal of Medicine.
Publishing an update to its 1999 report on food safety, the Consumers Union in May 2000 reiterated that pesticide residues in foods children eat every day often exceed safe levels. The update said an independent analysis of USDA’s 1998 tests on fruits and vegetables found high levels of pesticide residues on winter squash, peaches, apples, grapes, pears, green beans, spinach, strawberries, and cantaloupe. The Consumers Union urged consumers to consider buying organically grown varieties, particularly of these fruits and vegetables.
Nearly 40% of the world’s agricultural land is seriously degraded, according to scientists at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). IFPRI researchers found evidence that soil degradation has hurt the productivity of 16% of the world’s agricultural land. In addition, assessments suggest almost 75% of cropland in Central America, 20% in Africa, and 11% in Asia is seriously degraded.
A study conducted by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation reports that the number of persons poisoned by drifting pesticides increased by 20% during 2000. Meanwhile, a National Cancer Institute researcher who matched pesticide data and medical records in 10 California agricultural counties reported that pregnant women living within nine miles of farms where pesticides are sprayed on fields may have increased risk of losing an unborn baby to birth defects. Source: National Coalition against the Misuse of Pesticides Technical Report newsletter, April 2001.
A report from the Pew Oceans Commission has found that polluted runoff from farms and cities went largely unabated or actually increased over the past 30 years. The report, "Marine Pollution in the United States: Significant Accomplishments, Future Challenges," notes that many of the nation’s coastal environments exhibit symptoms of over-enrichment. The report is available at http://www.pewoceans.org, or by calling (703) 516-0624.
Findings published in the April 21, 2001, issue of New Scientist magazine indicate that bacteria in the soil and groundwater beneath farms seem to be acquiring tetracycline resistant genes from bacteria originating in pigs’ guts. Microbiologist Rustam Aminov and colleagues at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign analyzed samples from farm-waste lagoons and from groundwater reservoirs beneath the lagoons at two swine farms that use tetracycline as a growth promoter. They found that bacteria in the soil and groundwater carried tetracycline resistant genes almost identical to those in bacteria living in the pigs’ guts. "People at both sites are drinking this groundwater without any treatment. This may be a new way of increasing the local concentration of antibiotic resistant genes and circulating them between animals, humans and the environment." See: Applied & Environmental Microbiology, Vol. 67, p. 1494.
Nearly all crops grown in industrialized countries are exposed to more nitrogen than they can use, according to an article, "Toxic Fertility," written by Danielle Nierenberg and published in the March–April 2001 issue of WorldWatch. The article notes that too much nitrogen can throw the soil community out of balance and also lead to algal blooms in water that suffocate other aquatic organisms. In fact, algal blooms and dead zones are now a regular feature of coastal life in many places around the world.