Today, I thought I would focus on why it is so important to grow (and buy) organic. In order to answer this question, we need to look at the problems inherent in modern food producing systems.
Unfortunately, the cost of organic produce compared to non-organic options often means that the decision often comes down to economics. People opt for the cheapest options without really stopping to think about the true costs of what they buy.
In their gardens, people often accept ‘received wisdom’ and use products that do a lot of harm without ever really thinking about the consequences.
First of all, it is important to understand what ‘organic’ actually means. ‘Organic’ is a word that can be applied to all natural living things. But in the context of food, DEFRA defines organic food as follows:
“ Organic food is the product of a farming system which avoids the use of man-made fertilisers, pesticides; growth regulators and livestock feed additives. Irradiation and the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or products produced from or by GMOs are generally prohibited by organic legislation.”
But they go on to explain that organic growing is more than just avoiding the man-made interventions and additions mentioned above. Organic agriculture, whether it is for food, for textiles, cleaning or beauty products or for other uses, is also about a ‘big picture’ approach.
“Organic agriculture is a systems approach to production that is working towards environmentally, socially and economically sustainable production.”
Just Some Reasons To Go Organic…
In total, food production accounts for around 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Agricultural crop production accounts for around 27% of food emissions and land use associated with food production for another 24%.
Not counted in the totals for emissions from agriculture are those emitted in the industrial sector in the manufacture of artificial fertilizers:
Almost 45% of the CO2 emissions from industry are the result of the manufacture of just four products: cement, steel, ammonia and ethylene. These industries account for 3 Gton CO2, 2.9 Gton C02, 0.5 Gton CO2 and 0.2 Gton CO2 respectively. Ammonia, largely used for agricultural fertilization, it therefore a major contributor to carbon emissions that contributes extensively to our climate crisis.
CO2 emissions per hectare of organic agriculture systems are 48 to 66 percent lower than in conventional systems. While in non-organic systems, 75% of emissions are due to N-fertilizers, feedstuff and fuels, in organic agriculture, almost 70% of CO2 was due to fuel consumption and the production of machinery.1 What is more, in organic farming, carbon farming practices can significantly increase the carbon-storage capacity of farm land.
Organic farming practices also reduce the emissions of nitrous dioxide, another damaging greenhouse gas.
Between one billion and six billion hectares of agricultural land on our planet is already classed as degraded or seriously degraded. Organic systems which implement no till and soil cover practices significantly reduce soil erosion and topsoil loss.
Non-organic farming uses vast quantities of water each year. Agriculture accounts for, on average, 70 percent of all water withdrawals globally, and an even higher share of “consumptive water use” due to the evapotranspiration requirements of crops.
Organic farming can often help to reduce water use, through sensible land management measures such as cover cropping, mulching, and adding plenty of organic matter to the soil. Where irrigation is required (such as in cotton production) it has been shown that organic production conserves significant amounts of water.
Organic farming methods have been shown to reduce water pollution. Various researchers have reported significantly greater nitrate leaching from conventional practices as compared with organic systems.
Increased nitrates in soil and water can cause a range of problems within ecosystems, creating ocean ‘dead zones’ and impacting the natural wildflowers and other plants upon which a range of wildlife depends.
Of course, the impacts of pesticides and other chemicals in non-organic farming are also hugely profound.
The more you delve into the scientific realities, the more you will see the truth. Not going organic is the thing we really cannot afford.