Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Organic vs Factory Farm

Can’t get enough advice on greening your life? There’s a groovy US-based enterprise called Ideal Bite that sends its e-subscribers daily eco-tips. Speaking of ‘bite’, let’s look at organic food. I know I already talked about it, but now I really want to talk about it…

TO Do This Week

If you don’t do so already, I encourage you to buy at least one organic fruit, vegetable, slab of meat or other organic comestible such as peanut butter, yogurt or cheese. Start folding it into your weekly grocery shopping.

What’s the Big Deal? Some of you may find the price of organic a little difficult to swallow. They cost a bit more than non-organic because they’re not mass produced. They’re dropping in price, however, due to their growing market, a reminder of why it’s important to start purchasing them. Most major grocery stores are starting to carry organic produce. You may also be able pick up organic peanut butter, cereal and the like there. If not, health food stores are your best bet.

The problem with factory farm food:

Soil Degradation: Use of heavy machinery, irrigation and chemical fertilizers has undermined soil quality and led to its depletion. As David Suzuki writes in The Sacred Balance: “Modern techniques have increased productivity per hectare, but the organic material produced is not returned to the soil to complete nature’s cycle: instead, it often ends up in sewers, landfills or incinerators.”

Factory farms exhaust the soil, using it year after year, not allowing fields to sit fallow. Top soil can’t be made in a day. It takes 500 years to build 2.5 centimeters. Today, global loss of topsoil exceeds new soil production by 23 billion tons a year.

Chemical Use: Factory farms pump soil with petroleum-based fertilizers and use synthetic chemicals (pesticides) to control critters wanting to feast on their ‘products’. Fertilizers emit nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 200 times more powerful than CO2 and lingers in the atmosphere for 120 years. Pesticides have been linked to cancers and other health problems. These poisons accumulate in fatty tissue, especially as they make their way up the food chain. Not only do they kill the insects intended for the poison, they kill other small creatures that play important roles in our ecology, and they harm humans.

Consider that the nutritional value of our food has decreased since the 1950s thanks to this “progress” in agriculture.

Questionable Treatment of Animals: Animals that are raised for food in factory farms are pumped full of anabolic steroids and are crowded tightly together. For chickens, this means tiny cages. In most cases their feed is contrary to their true diet. Cows should eat grass, not grain or chickens that feasted on cows. For an eye opener on what you eat, if you eat factory farm meat, I suggest you pick up Fast Food Nation. That book put me off factory farm meat forever. You can also check out the PETA site.

What does organic do?
Organic farming is based on the philosophy that ‘sustainability’ includes giving back to the earth in addition to making a profit. Of course, certified organic farms use no pesticides. In fact, they have to be pesticide-free for three years before given the organic stamp of approval. In the US, that certified stamp comes from the USDA. In Canada, it’s certified by the Standards Council of Canada.

According to Canadian Organic Growers, organic agriculture does not allow the use of:
• “Synthetic pesticides, including fungicides, insecticides, rodenticides and wood preservatives
• Synthetic fertilizers
• Materials and products produced from genetic engineering
• Sewage sludge
• Synthetic growth regulators (hormones)
• Synthetic veterinary drugs, including antibiotics and parasiticides
• Irradiation
• Synthetic product-processing substances, aids and ingredients, and additions to food including sulphates, nitrates and nitrites
• Equipment, packaging materials and storage containers, or bins that contain a synthetic fungicide, preservative or fumigant.”

Please note that in the US, a brouhaha is brewing over organic. It isn’t easy being popular. More and more of us are choosing organic over factory farm and guess what, big companies want in on the act but without the stringent organic standards. On the table is a proposal to water down those standards. For more on this, click here.

Next week: local vs. organic.

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