Hey Simple && Sweeties,
Happy Earth Day!
I didn’t realize when I committed to a sustainable, mindful-lifestyle blog how much more time consuming it would be to thoroughly research these topics.
I do apologize for being radio silent, but I couldn’t treat this like a cosmo-puff piece (still love you guys at Cosmo, you keep doing you!). You get what I’m trying to say.
I’ve been reading the arguments on both sides and played devils advocate in order to look at the organic movement objectively and not as a “doomsday-hippie” but as “a person who would love to contribute to the betterment of tomorrow with small sacrifices today” type mentality.
I mean, agriculture has been operating this way for a few decades now, why go back to great-grandpa’s organic farming? What are the pro’s and cons of both? What do people mean when they say things like soil health, transport cost influences carbon footprint, antibiotic resistant bacteria ect?
Okay, so everyone has heard the green movement advocate for “organic” products. What does that even mean? How can beef and produce be organic and pesticides be organic? Isn’t art and literature organic? What about organic chemistry?
Pesticides are in their nature a man-made chemical and by definition, not “organic” but they have carbon chains that make them a part of “organic chemistry”.
Confused yet? Don’t worry it gets easier to understand in a minute.
Back to Basics: Different Definitions for “organic”.
- In agriculture (produce), organic generally means that the seed has not been genetically modified (GMO), the soil has no added growth accelerators, and no chemical herbicide and pesticides were sprayed during the growing process.
- In agriculture (livestock), this generally means, no genetically modified foods are given to the livestock, they are not given antibiotics or growth hormones.
- In goods (organic clothing, building materials, etc), the materials are harvested and grown based on the above general principles. This can have different percentages of organics because of the multiple resources needed to manufacture the good and petroleum though derived from natural sources is never organic despite the next definition.
- In chemicals, the term “organic” refers to a specific pattern of carbon bonded chain. This is not to be assumed that these are necessarily naturally occurring, environmentally beneficial, or biodegradeable. So technically petroleum is organic?
- In literature, it’s an adjective relating a material to life.
- In art, it means that there is no structure and instead it’s free-form.
For the sake of this post, I’m only referring to definition 1&2. If I deviate, I’ll specify.
Why do I keep saying general?
There are programs, some private some federal, that have their own standards in place for what they consider “certified organic”. The USDA grants these agencies the ability to certify their practices using the USDA seal we are all familiar with featured a little farther down the page.
Labels and Certifications, Behind the Sticker at the Grocery Store
USDA says it will certify it if this was grown “without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.”
…And are not GMO’s, but sometimes there’s a loophole when an organic cow eats a small amount of GMO alfalfa. As long as 95% of the good is organic, it will get one of these labels.
Yeah, if only the world’s companies were as cut-dry as their mission statement.
*knuckles crack* Lets look at these.
Even though it’s hard to find an accredited list online (wonder why), there are a handful of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that are allowed on organic fields. Some of which are illegal in other countries because of their toxicity.
Oh the irony, amirite?
Here’s a list I found (Livestrong list)
These are less synthetic, hence the loophole. However, they may be more detrimental than some lower toxicity pesticides. On the list is Pyrethrum. It is cringe-worthy because it kills bees. And even though we hate them at picnics and baseball games, they are vital to our way of life.
Future blog post? Maybee
But that being said, conventional pesticides can be toxic to bees too.
And sometimes there are crossover loopholes. Sometimes antibiotics are used on organic apples to prevent Fire Blight, a bacterial disease that affects the blossoms.
Another way the chemicals from conventional agriculture sneak into organic fields is through wind transport. If a neighbor sprays, the organic farmer ‘sprays’ if he/she is downwind.
Overall however, it appears that if the USDA or DEFRA label is on it, the synthetic element in agriculture is greatly reduced.
(Just heads up the next time you consider eating an unwashed organic apple or pear, it’s not pesticides you need to worry about.)
Other labels beware.
There are also some products that use marketing tactics like smart-choice, natural, 100% natural. These labels are not equal to this one!
However, a smaller farmer or rancher may be adhering to organic guidelines (because they are more ethical and soil-healthy practices) already, but don’t get certified because it’s a hassle and they may lose subsidies.
Don’t be afraid to ask the vendor or farmer himself if you go to a farmer’s market.
Yes, this is a low-key advocation for farmer’s markets, but that’s a conversation for later.
Single ingredients like beef, tomatoes, and avocado are easily classified as organic or not.
Multi-ingredient items like snacks and processed foods (which really shouldn’t be bought btw but that’s also for another time) are a little trickier.
Nature and Your Body on Organic vs Conventional Agriculture
Every food’s surface is permeable which means that all chemicals sprayed on fruits and vegetables will absorb what is on them. Chemicals sprayed while the plant is growing will be incorporated within the structure of the plant. Pesticides and herbicides are toxins essentially.
They are in concentrations that are potent enough to kill smaller organisms and some strong enough to kill Fido. They are typically sprayed on the crops by people wearing respirators and hazmat-level protection.
I’ll get into why a good-hearted farmer would “do such a crazy-evil thing” in the next sections.
Bioaccumulation and biomagnification are real phenomenons.
Not familiar with this? Look up “DDT accumulation in birds.” It’s a textbook example.
These toxins are in the produce in very minute concentrations, but as a person consumes more and more of these small concentrations, the toxins are accumulated.
There aren’t many studies done on the long-term effects of all of these toxins, so some may be harmless to people. While others are known carcinogens. (Source)
The truth is we don’t have a definitive answer whether all are benign or deadly in long-term exposure in small concentrations.
Although, some pesticides use heavy metals and those can be dangerous if they remain on the produce, so ALWAYS WASH YOUR PRODUCE. I’ll go more into the nutrients and metals in the next subtab.
Opinion alert: Grain of salt required!
*However, as far as my health goes, I would rather not chance ingesting what is later found to be a carcinogen. You can’t be poisoned by something that isn’t there.*
Organic agriculture doesn’t use (some of) them.
But be mindful of instances like that apple loophole and it may do you well to read up on the produce you buy most.
Check out the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15
Dirty Dozen: Has the most pesticide residue in commercial agriculture.
Clean 15: Has the fewest pesticides used.
Also, there is the chance that using the same pesticides season after season will eventually breed a super-bug.
Each time a field is sprayed, there are a few bugs that survive due to a resistant gene or behavior that they are then able to pass on to future generations. After a while, these bugs will be completely unaffected by the original toxin which will then require a more powerful toxin.
Oh and, this cannot be done an infinite amount of times because the resistance genes compound atop one another, so one day in the future it could be an Armageddon of crickets if we aren’t careful.
And guess where these toxins go? They go where the water goes.
These toxins will percolate through the soil into the groundwater, rivers, and eventually the ocean. Ever go swimming in a lake or river with a hazmat suit? Okay, I’m being overly dramatic, but in no way does the environment win with conventional pesticides and even organic pesticides.
Another issue for the environment is nutrient pollution from the fertilizers. Here’s a quick video about how it causes fishkills to fertilize your lawn…crazy right?
Organic foods have more health benefits…but only slightly. I thought this was crazy because I was thinking a bananas is a banana. Let’s not get crazy, but there was a study done surveying over 300 peer reviewed scientific articles analyzing the antioxidant and nutrient concentrations in organic vs non-organic goods.
This quote is taken from that study:
“Many of these compounds have previously been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including CVD and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers, in dietary intervention and epidemiological studies. Additionally, the frequency of occurrence of pesticide residues was found to be four times higher in conventional crops, which also contained significantly higher concentrations of the toxic metal Cd.”
Here’s the link if you want to read more about it! (Source)
It’s really hard to study these things because most people incorporate both conventional and organic foods in their diet so take the science with a grain of salt. There is only a small population of people who have only eaten organic food since childhood.
The Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry looked specifically at the total phenolic content of some organically grown products. They contained higher total phenolics, antioxidants, and anti-carcinogen compounds.
Phenolics are important human health for their “potent antioxidant activity”. (Source) Antioxidants are good for removing plaque from your blood vessels and can prevent heart attacks and strokes, so these little guys are worth incorporating into your diet.
“The producer of an organic livestock operation must not…withhold medical treatment from a sick animal in an effort to preserve its organic status. All appropriate medications must be used to restore an animal to health when methods acceptable to organic production fail.” This is straight from the ELECTRONIC CODE OF FEDERAL REGULATIONS.
Most farmers and ranchers are concerned with the health and well being of their animals!
They want to do what is best for their herd and the push to have antibiotic-free everything is putting pressure on their price point.
The same way you don’t give entire elementary schools antibiotics when a few kids have a cold is because it’s clearly more effective and humane.
The reason people are losing their crap with antibiotic-free livestock has mainly to do with the chance of eventually creating a strain of antibiotic-resistant pathogens through the over use of antibiotics.
This is more of an issue in feedlots where the animals are finished (fattened for marbling effects) and are very near one another. Finishing is a months-long process and only a fraction of a livestock’s life.
I’ll go more into this in a later post about grass-fed vs grain-finished beef.
In short, as long as it isn’t a major greed-fueled operation where it’s cheaper to mass-vaccinate than give individual care, antibiotics are used responsibly.
The doctors that are more hesitant to administer antibiotics than they were a few generations ago are operating on the same moral and ethical principles as these companies.
I’m sure you’ve noticed Subway’s antibiotic free chicken, Tyson’s antibiotic nuggets, and other companies doing similar things. These are all non-organic conventional companies and they deserve credit.
So on a beef operation example, how does that work? If you don’t give a sick cow antibiotics, the whole herd will get sick!
Livestock is paradoxically both a simpler and more complex issue than farming.
When a herd of antibiotic cattle has a sick cow, that cow is given the medical treatment and then labeled as inorganic/administered-antibiotic. Wind transport, water transport etc isn’t an issue because antibiotics operate within a closed system of the cow, metabolized and impacts the other cattle in a negligible way.
Organic beef just eats organic grass and organic corn. (Gross oversimplification but you get the point). Organic eats organic.
So, what’s better?
It depends on your priorities.
|Organic Pros||Organic Cons||Conventional Pros||Conventional Cons|
I hope this helps answer some of your questions. This is such a broad topic and I’ve forced myself to summarize A LOT. There will be more posts in this style of “well now you know” format. I did my best to give credit where credit was due and keep my own personal biases out. If you know something I don’t, comment! I’m not pretending to be an expert. This was written from a thoroughly researched lay-person’s background, so if you specialize in a certain area mentioned here and see something wonky, speak up!…with love of course haha.
Whew, anyway, if you like this new direction let me know! Until then, I send my best!
Peace be with all of you!
Aloha && Namaste,
Ps, check this out! Aloha is not only hello and goodbye. The Deeper Meaning of Aloha