Eating healthy isn’t just about choosing vegetables over fried food, or fresh fruit over processed sugar. It also involves considering the best options in the range of food we consume. For me, that’s where the issue of organics comes into play.
Progress is fickle. On the one hand, it’s championed with the advances in human ingenuity it brings about but, at the same time, thinking can often go full circle to come back to popularising instead the simpler practices of the past. The concept of organic farming is a case in point. Prior to the introduction and development of chemical pesticides and herbicides, agriculture was organic in principle and practice. With the advent of a more synthetic approach to the cultivation of food, however, things changed and we’ve been paying the price, good and bad, ever since.
To better understand this, we need to explore the origin and development of organic farming, a movement that originated in the early 20th century in both Europe and America. Interestingly, though this occurred in each country relatively independent of the other, the stimulus was similar – a crisis in the farming sector sparked by soil degradation and poor quality crops. This was the period between the two World Wars, a time of Depression and social malaise. The Industrial Revolution that had occurred more than 100 years earlier had left a double-edged impact. On the one hand, mechanisation of farming practices, along with chemical control of pests and weeds, had made the business of agriculture less labour intensive. An important downside though was the impact of overt chemical use on the health and integrity of crop soil, which now compromised taste and quality of what was produced. In fact, the increased use of mineral fertilisers and pesticides engendered new human health concerns, with German & English scientists in the 1920s and 1930s respectively confirming the link between increased nitrogen fertilisation and lower vitamin levels in fruit and vegetables. During this time, studies into the higher potassium levels in cancer cells were also proven to have been caused by an increase in the potassium fertilisation of crop soil (file:///C:/Users/Martine/Dropbox/I’m%20Not%20An%20Ostrich/Research/Organic-Farming-An-International-History.pdf, p. 11).
It’s no wonder then that attention started to turn to an alternative, less aggressive means of farming, with the humus-based agricultural practices of India and Asia being of particular interest. This was popularised by Sir Albert Howard (1873-1947) the Englishman generally considered to be the founder and pioneer of organic farming. Howard was not only born into a farming life, he spent most of his adult years involved in agricultural science, research and administration. Of particular note is the work he did in India over a period of 26 years, which helped to cement his theory of organic farming, “A living connection between soil fertility and plant and animal health, the Law of Return…[the recycling of all organic waste materials] and composting” (//www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/farm-ranch/a-history-of-organic-farming-transitions-from-sir-albert-howards-war-in-the-soil-to-the-usda-national-organic-program/).
It’s taken many years for organic farming and its benefits to be firmly recognised. In America, this didn’t really occur until the late 1970s and, to this day, there are those who, whether out of ignorance, politics or commerce, choose to discredit its value. In one vein, proponents believe that, “While organic foods have fewer synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and are free of hormones and antibiotics, they don’t appear to have a nutritional advantage over their conventional counterparts” (//www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-go-organic). What is of concern though is the long-term impact of herbicide and pesticide bioaccumulation in humans, considering the toxic nature of these substances in the first place. The “big guns” in this regard are DDT which was discovered by a Swiss entomologist in 1939 and yet banned in America and elsewhere in 1972, and glyphosate, the key ingredient in the still widely used herbicide RoundUp which was approved in America in 1974 and Europe in 2002. In March 2015, however, glyphosate was classified as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (www.slowfood.com/network/fr/ddt-glyphosate-une-histoire-qui-se-repete/). Studies have also linked it to birth defects, autism, liver disease and Alzheimers amongst other conditions.
For me, it is exactly the aspect of bioaccumulation that is the issue. As someone who has had cancer and been treated conventionally, I know that I must work at reducing the toxic load on my body if I want to keep my immune system functioning at an optimum level and consequently help reduce the prospect of cancer re-occurrence. I, therefore, rely on organic food as much as possible, since even though many may argue that herbicides and pesticides have their place in modern farming, to me, that “place” is better kept outside of my body.
TO HELP YOU MAKE INFORMED FOOD CHOICES & REDUCE YOUR EXPOSURE TO TOXIC PESTICIDES, THE ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP’S RECOMMENDATIONS BELOW ARE A GOOD PLACE TO START.