The Difference between Conventional Farming and Organic Farming
Conventional non-organic farming typically cost less, but will you end up paying more for it in the end?
60 years ago there wasn’t a need for organic foods. Farmers practiced proper treatment of animals and fed livestock natural foods free of pesticides, growth hormones and genetically modified seeds (GMO).
Since foods were grown naturally and obtained fresh, we were able to get all the nutrients our body needed from foods. Today the conventional practices of raising livestock and growing crops are not so compassionate towards the treatment of animal, environment or the effects on human consumption.
Conventional (Non-Organic) Farming
One of the many practices of growing conventional crops for human consumption and livestock feed include mixing synthetic fertilizers with added chemicals which help to produce quick-growing crops. To grow crops that are resilient to damage from insects, weeds and animals; farmers spray crops with pesticides such as fungicides, herbicides and insecticides. Furthermore, additional chemicals are sprayed on crops while they are growing and after they are harvested to keep the produce looking fresh for a longer period of time.
Conventional non-organic farming of animals is known as Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) or “factoring farming”. This process of raising livestock include such practices of overloading livestock and holding them in closed caged environments with little or no sunlight, depriving the animals of fresh air, space and freedom to graze the fields. For farmers to produce more quantity and keep up with fast food demand at a lesser cost, growth hormones are injected into animals. These growth hormones are used as growth promoters in the animals to promptly get them to their maximum weight, as quickly as possible.
These animals are kept in the same area where they excrete their feces; making it a breeding ground for infections and viruses. Since they are raised and kept in these contaminated areas, livestock are administered antibiotics on a daily basis to prevent infections such as salmonella. The majority of animal waste is untreated and often poorly regulated; numerous spills have affected rivers and other waterways that can contaminate our water supply. CAFO poses a serious threat to public health due to their impact on air and water quality and increasing the risk of spreading disease.
Fish are now raised in the same way that livestock are produced on other farms. Fish are caged under water with very little room to swim around freely. Because of the constricted living conditions these fish are prone to damaging their fins and tails therefore becoming prone to diseases and infections. Farmed fish are also immersed in waters that contain pesticides which are used to treat lice infestation and prevent weed build up in the water.
Fish are fed pellets containing additives and genetically modified foods. Additional chemical dyes are fed to the fish to make them look healthy due to their unfavourable diet and living conditions.
Genetically Modified Seeds (GMO)
Putting our health second to generate more produce, farmers have begun to use genetically modified seeds (GMO) that are unnaturally resistant to insects and weeds. This newly adopted procedure of growing crops eliminates the need for crop rotation: which in turn means farmers save a lot of time and labour intensive work providing food faster at a lower cost to consumers. Animals are then fed GMO feed that can also contain ground-up parts of other animals of the same or other species that did not make it into human food production. This is a cheap source of food which again equal cheaper costs for consumers.
As a result of conventional farming due to fast food demand at inexpensive cost our environment and health has been impacted negatively as it has increased pollution, and contaminated the earth’s soil and drinking water. Today, foods contain significantly less food value and more chemicals. A high quality daily supplement is now required in order to obtain all the nutrients our body needs for optimal health that we could otherwise be getting from whole foods.
The goal for organic agriculture is to optimize the health of the land, crops, animals and people to enhance biodiversity and restore and maintain the environment.
Organic farmers are regulated and do not use the conventional farming practices of using synthetic chemicals, pesticides and antibiotics to grow crops or raise livestock. In order for a product to be labeled “Certified Organic” the farmers need to manage their land organically for two years.
Organic farmers use more sophisticated traditional practices such as crop rotation, natural fertilizers, manure, hand weeding and using mulch to manage insects, weeds and animals to naturally enhance agricultural productivity. These practices not only benefit the environment but reduce toxins and increase nutritional value in crops, animal and animal by products. Unlike conventional practices of farming that try to repel all animals, insects and plants from interacting with crops by using pesticides; organic framers encourage some interaction with specific animals, insects and plants which help produce stronger plants without the use of genetic engineering or chemicals.
When livestock are raised by organic regulations, they are treated much differently. Organic farms attempt to provide animals with “natural” living conditions and feed. Livestock are raised in an environment where they are free to roam the land and get plenty of sunshine and fresh air. GMO feed is forbidden in organic farming practices so livestock are fed a diet that is made up of 85-90% organic ingredients. The use of antibiotics are banned and when animals get sick farmers are only allowed to use homeopathic remedies that have no side effects. Hormones and other growth promoting antibiotics used for weight gain are also banned.
The way farmers grow and process agricultural products such as fruits, vegetables, grains and animals products determine whether or not a product is organic. In the U.S, EU,Canada, and Japan, organic standards are regulated by the government, which means products that contain the “Organic” label are subjected to inspections of their land and farming practices regularly.
There are four types of organic labels which are regulated by the government:
1. 100% organic. To use this label on any product, the product must be either completely organic, made of all organic ingredients.
2. Organic. In order to use this label, 95% or more of the ingredient need to be organic.
3. % organic. In order to claim a percentage amount of organic on a label it must contain between 70%- 95% organic ingredients. These products cannot use the USDA organic logo but use “Made with organic ingredients”
4. Multi-ingredient products with less than 70% organic ingredients may only contain organic claims in the product ingredient list, nowhere else on their product are they allowed to advertise organic.
[box type="important"]Be aware of marketing claims such as “All Natural,” these products usually come with a higher price tag without going through the strict regulations of obtaining the organic certification. The use of “All Natural” label does not meet any criteria of organic labeling regulations.[/box]
Does Organic Contain more Nutrients?
There has been some debate whether or not organic foods have a higher nutritional value than conventional foods. A study in the January 2003 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found there was 52 percent more vitamin C found in frozen organic corn than in conventional corn.
The labels have nothing to do with the nutritional value of the final product even if the label of a product is “Organic” it refers to how the product is grown or raised. Although, the nutrient value of a product is important when determining whether or not to spend more for organic; what may be just as important as nutrient value is whether you want to exposure yourself to pesticides, fertilize, GMO, antibiotics and growth hormones. When buying “Organic” you can find comfort in knowing you are preventing these added toxins from your body resulting in a better choice overall and the environment.
Dangers of Pesticides
Pesticides are a modern invention used to eliminate and control a number of pests that can damage crops and livestock resulting in loss of productivity. These chemicals are used to create produce quickly at minimal cost and labor.
Pesticides are designed to kill all organisms it comes in contact with and mode of action is not specific to one type of organism, potentially killing humans. Pesticides contaminate our food, air and drinking water as it is highly used in conventional non organic practices for growing crops and livestock. Nitrates from chemically treated fertilizers, pesticides, and feces have made their way to our water supply and contaminate the water we bathe in and drink posing a threat to all humans.
Some pesticides used in conventional farming have been found to have over hundreds of toxic chemicals linked to birth defects, nerve damage, cancer and genetic mutations. Exposure to these toxic chemicals can be through the mouth, skin, and lungs.
Children and the elder population are more susceptible to harm from chemicals as they have a lower immune system than adults. Women who are pregnant are also more susceptible to harm due to the added stress these chemicals put on their body. Pesticides can be passed from the mother to the child in the womb and while breast-feeding affect the nervous system; exposure to these toxins at an early age can cause development delays, behavioral disorders and motor dysfunction.
Toxins like pesticides and other chemicals bind to fat and accumulate in the body making a person more susceptible to developing allergies, headaches, birth defects and a weakened immune system.
GMO foods were created to benefit manufacturers by creating crops which are resistant to damage caused by insects, weeds or viruses at a lesser cost for consumer. Genetically Modified organisms (GMOs) are plants or animals who’s DNA have been altered. Products that can contain GMO are grains, legumes like soybeans and soy products, soft drinks, salad dressings, produce and all other animal products like eggs, milk and butter. Non-food items that may contain GMO ingredients include cosmetics, soaps, detergents, shampoo and bubble bath. Pharmaceutical companies use Aspartame in some laxatives, supplements and even children’s vitamins.
In most countries, organic labeled products are prohibited to contain genetically modified (GMO) ingredients and additives. GMO ingredients are mainly found in processed foods which can be hidden under names like artificial flavors, natural flavors and preservatives.
Why Does Organic Cost More?
Organic food is now widely available for consumers who are concerned for their health and want to reduce their exposure to toxins by consuming produce and livestock that are organic. Organic food typically cost more than conventional foods because it is more labor intensive, and takes longer to produce. Practicing crop rotation, although more labor intensive improves the soil quality and helps control disease, insects and weeds naturally without the use of synthetic fertilizers and chemicals. To raise a cow naturally takes about twice as long as those pumped with hormones and antibiotics. Organic fruits and vegetables are not coated with wax or sprayed with preservatives which mean they do not have a very long shelf life.
Although, not all organic produce is more expensive; as the demand for organic produce increases and supply improves we can expect the price of organic produce to lower even more.
[box type="note"]If you are on a budget and cannot afford to purchase all your groceries organic it is recommended you buy the Dirty Dozen produce organic when possible. According the Environmental Working Group, the produce listed as the Dirty Dozen has the highest pesticide levels on average.[/box]
- Bell Peppers
- Grapes (imported)
[box type="important"]The following produce is known as the Clean Fifteen. Most of these fruits and vegetables have thicker skin or peel which help protect against chemicals and toxins which make it safe to buy these produce conventional non-organic.[/box]
- Peas (sweet)
- Sweet Potatoes
To further reduce your exposure to pesticide and other chemicals you can peeling the skin of fruits and vegetables, although with peeling you lose a lot of the nutrients. There are special natural products available on market which can remove some of the pesticide residue but again not all.
7 Tips for Buying Organic
- Buy organic animal products from a farm or butcher
- Get to know your butcher and ask questions about their providers, so you can know the farmers does not lace their meat with preservatives.
- Buy foods in season so you avoid paying more for transportation costs
- Grow your own fruits, vegetables and herbs in your own garden
- Join a garden community where you get together with other and to grow a variety of vegetables and fruits and share maintenance
- Buy your groceries at a farmers market instead of paying supermarket prices
- Shop around