Humankind has been managing food production for centuries. Since the earliest civilizations, gardeners have worked to safeguard crops and provide their people with food. Though farming methods have changed, the need for nutritious foods that meet the demands of the world's population continues, with each generation facing growing challenges.
Today's farmers are trying to balance social, economic, and environmental concerns, often pitting the use of agrochemicals against organic methods. In the quest for more nutritious, safer foods, which is really better? To find out, it helps to explore commonly held ideas regarding the growing methods for organic food.
Myth: Organic farmers don't use pesticides.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for organic farming is that no pesticides are used. Shockingly to most, however, is the truth: certified organic farms can use pesticides, and they often use them in greater quantity than their non-organic counterparts. The reason behind this, in part, is that organic pesticides are generally not as strong as synthetic pesticides, requiring more frequent applications. To further complicate the issue, most organic pesticides are designed for broad applications. Pesticides are sprayed liberally and can therefore have an adverse effect on the soil, wildlife, and other plants.
What about organic pesticides? When asked, the majority of consumers affirm that they purchase organic produce to avoid pesticide residue on their foods. Many proponents of organic farming claim that pesticides produced organically are safer and more effective than synthetic pesticides. Few are aware that the pesticides produced from natural sources, with little to no processing, can be just as toxic as synthetics. In addition, farms that use organic pesticides, or who use no pesticides at all, are often plagued with bacterial outbreaks and other microbial infestations due to a lack of efficient pest removal.
Myth: Organic foods are healthier
Another argument used in the case for organic foods is its supposed higher nutritional value. This makes sense, after all; if one has a choice between food with extra vitamins and minerals and food with diminished nutritional value, the choice is clear. Studies over the last 50 years, however, reveal that there is minimal difference in the nutritional value of organic and non-organic foods. In comparison studies, the presence of 15 major elements were analyzed and found to be virtually equal among foods. Ironically, in some cases, organic food contained higher quantities of certain unhealthy substances, such as trans fats, making them less nutritious than non-organic food.
In conjunction with being healthier, organic foods are said to taste better. Research dispels this idea as well. In a blind taste test, nearly 80 percent of participants failed to identify the organic foods correctly.
Myth: Organic methods are more environmentally friendly.
Concerns over the long-term effects of pesticides and other agrochemicals on the environment give many organic-food proponents additional motivation, and most would agree that mitigating our damage to the earth and environment is a worthy undertaking. Logically, then, one would assume that implementing the least invasive and most natural farming methods is the better choice.
Organic methods, as previously mentioned, use their own set of pesticides, which can be harmful to the environment. In addition, organic farmers often refuse to adopt new methodologies and practices that could benefit the crop. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for example, are almost universally vilified and shunned by the organic community, even when there is clear evidence supporting their use. This lack of adoption of new strains of food organisms can be harmful to the environment as well. As a result of refusing to use GMOs, farmers end up spraying, a practice that could be eliminated if the proper seeds were used.
Further bolstering the evidence that organic farms are not more environmentally friendly is the substantial difference in the amount of food produced. Organic farms are not able to produce crops in the same quantity as other farms, necessitating the development of additional farmland. This reduction in forest areas leads to further environmental concerns, making the organic farm more harmful to the environment overall.
Perhaps most perplexing in the debate over organic and non-organic farming methods is the idea that consumers and growers must either wholly support one or the other. It seems that advocates for organic farming can see no benefit in applying alternative methods, while those who support agrochemicals see little use in organic processes. Rather than adhering to an “all or nothing” mentality, farmers and consumers would benefit from an adaptive approach that makes the most of each method. As agrochemical companies work to improve their product capabilities, organic farmers can adopt new technologies to improve their farming and food for all.