It is sad to read a headline that casts doubt over an entire industry, Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce. It is so very misleading and eschewed. The study is really more of a synopsis of studies of nutrient value of food from traditional versus organic farming. Not a great study at all. Probably half of their studies are funded by the industrial food complex and the other half from health and organic advocates. So how could you expect the result to be a balanced conclusion about nutrition?
But the debate over organic food versus industrialized food is about so much more. It is about animal health, worker health and soil health, water shed health, air quality, environmental damage and food health and, yes, ultimately people’s health.
If I asked you to eat a dose of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, steroids and antibiotics with your food, would you? Yet this is exactly what is being offered with your food! None of this is debated — it is not being studied because the contaminate level is below “acceptable standards”. Really? When I see farm workers wearing hazmat suits in the fields to tolerate the pesticides and herbicides in the field, I think we have a problem. When we all eat chickens that are fully grown in 45 days because they eat a feed “cocktail” of steroids and antibiotics (versus a normal chicken which grows up in 90 days) are we just asking for trouble.
The Mayo Clinic does a nice job of discussing the differences between the two systems and includes this chart.
|Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth.||Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.|
|Spray synthetic insecticides to reduce pests and disease.||Spray pesticides from natural sources; use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.|
|Use synthetic herbicides to manage weeds.||Use environmentally-generated plant-killing compounds; rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.|
|Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth.||Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.|
Is it really the nutrition argument that we need to wrestle with?
The real answer to nutritional value comes from the soil. The healthier and more mineral and biologically rich the soil is the better the nutritional value of the product. Remember the expression, “you are what you eat”? It goes for plants, too. Richer soils bring greater nutrition to the product regardless of the farming method used.
But here is the catch: After time in a traditional industrial ag system, the soil health degrades substantially and becomes only a medium to host the plant. After time, it contains limited life and health and hence, the nutritional value of the product declines as well. In an organic system, however, the soil health is everything and the continuance of the life of the soil is the primary goal and the food nutritional value is maintained.
This is why it is so hard to see a headline like the NYT article. To continue on the health attributes of organic, let’s look at the protein side of the discussion. Below, see what the US allows the industrial farm community to feed the animals we eat:
- Dairy cows – antibiotics, pig & chicken byproducts, hormones (for growth), pesticides, sewage sludge
- Beef cows – antibiotics, pig & chicken byproducts, steroids, hormones, pesticides, sewage sludge
- Pigs – antibiotics, animal byproducts, pesticides, sewage sludge, arsenic-based drugs (growth hormones are prohibited)
- Broiler chickens – antibiotics, animal byproducts, pesticides, sewage sludge, arsenic-based drugs (growth hormones are prohibited)
- Egg laying hens – antibiotics, animal byproducts, pesticides, sewage sludge, arsenic-based drugs
This information is taken from a discussion on organic food in HelpGuide.org. They do a good job of reviewing what it means to eat on either side of this discussion. But the question again is asked which animal would you rather eat a naturally grown one or the one that lives in a cesspool being feed whatever is available with steroid and antibiotic cocktail.
What we really need to consider is the complete and total solution to health: environmental, community, worker, and consumer. If we do this we will clearly see that the argument of industrial or organic is not even close. In fact, the argument is so close that most of the discussion running for the past 30 years is not whether it is a healthier system but whether you can feed the growing masses with organic farming. Industrial Agriculture says no, of course. There are many ways to pull that argument apart, but that is for another time.