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Research makes it clear: Organic food is best for people and the planet (continued)

Why organic?

Human health care costs are rising meteorically, global warming is threatening our future, lack of safe clean water is spreading globally, and famine-plagued regions will continue to haunt us. When you choose organic, you are doing more than buying the best food. You are investing in answers to four huge problems:

Nutrition: Organic food helps protect against childhood maladies, such as obesity and type-II diabetes. Mounting evidence shows that organic produce, for example, has more macro- and micro-nutrients, more cancer- fighting antioxidants and flavonoids, increased levels of benefi cial phytochemicals (such as lycopene), fewer nitrates and far fewer pesticide residues than its conventional counterparts.

A recent University of Washington study of preschool children found that kids on an organic diet had one-sixth the pesticide residues in their urine as did kids on a conventional diet. The organic kids were well below U.S. EPA’s standards for safe exposure, while the kids on conventional diets placed well above those benchmarks. When kids on the conventional diets switched to organic, the pesticides in their urine dropped to safe levels within a week.

Highlighting the unacknowledged impact of agricultural pesticides, pediatrician and author Alan Greene, M.D., cites a recent study which shows that children exposed to pesticides in the womb were three times more likely to be obese by age 6, than tested children whose umbilical cords did not contain high levels of pesticides. Pesticide exposure, particularly during gestation and when children are very young, has also been linked to cancer, reproductive system abnormalities, birth defects and autism.

Global warming: “Organic farming in and of itself can effectively reduce global warming,” said Tim LaSalle, CEO of the Rodale Institute. “Very few of us know that.”

After conducting research trials on organic agriculture for nearly three decades on its 333 acres, the Institute’s records show that organic systems’ soils, when intensively managed with compost and cover crops, can sequester (store) more than 2,000 pounds of carbon per acre per year. Our Farming Systems Trial comparison of tilled organic and conventional farming systems showed that over a 20-year period the organic systems sequestered two to three times more carbon than the conventional system.

If all the world’s 3.5 billion tillable acres were converted to these biological farming methods, we could reduce global CO 2 emissions by a whopping 40 percent. And if global pastures and rangelands were managed with a focus on improving soil health by greatly increasing organic matter, early indications are that we could easily double that amount, approaching a carbon dioxide reduction of human-caused emissions by nearly 100 percent.

By returning organic matter to the soil, good organic farming practices could be the single most signifi cant act we could perform to correct global warming.

If farmers were paid handsomely for their positive, soil-carbon impact—rather than their yields of a few commodity crops—the increase in ecological services to all citizens would far outweigh the costs. “In this age of carbon awareness, we think farmers should be well- rewarded for innovative stewardship that builds soil for future generations,” said LaSalle.

Famine prevention: Scientists worldwide are discovering that regenerative organic farming holds the only sustainable solution to effectively fi ght world hunger. Fossil fuel-based nitrogen fertilizers, that are an expensive fi nite resource prone to pollute water and degrade soil in North America, are even more of a problem in developing countries. A recent report to the United Nations drafted by more than 400 cross-disciplinary researchers and development workers drew the conclusion that organic, regenerative agriculture utilizing available and affordable techniques— such as cover cropping, crop rotation and composting—would serve the people of the developing world far better than imported “Green Revolution” technology that is dependent upon chemical fertilizer and other outside purchased inputs, including genetically modifi ed crop varieties. Yield data from 286 farms in 57 countries show that small farmers increased their crop yields by an average of 79% using environmentally sustainable techniques including organic farming and crop rotation.

The only hope for a new “Green Revolution” is one that is organic and ecologically regenerative. The fossil-fuel based agriculture of the past is a true dead-end.

Ecological sustainability: In their restoring role, organic farming practices help to heal the planet. From Rachel Carson’s seminal publication “Silent Spring” in 1962 to the International Panel on Climate Change’s 2008 report assessing humankind’s impact on our environment, scientists are able to show ever more clearly the profound lesson that everything is connected.

Organic farming regenerative practices invest in the biology of the soil to:

  • Build topsoil instead of losing it to erosion or degradation.
  • Store water and dramatically reduce evaporation and runoff by building soil organic matter.
  • Decrease crop failure due to drought, boosting national food security.
  • Reduce flooding and excessive runoff due to the sponge-like effect of organic matter.
  • Clean up our waterways, restoring life to the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and restoring marine life to Chesapeake Bay, as well as purifying our cities' aquifers.
  • Provide healthier, more nutrient-dense food.
  • Play the largest, quickest and most practical role of any known technology to convert the most prominent greenhouse gas—carbon dioxide—into carbon safely stored in soil, where it can provide all the benefits above.

Regenerative (resource-improving) organic farming as practiced in this millennium combines timeless farmer wisdom with the best scientific evidence of how to sustain natural systems while producing food and fi ber. Farming with petroleum-based chemicals is no longer a viable model. Farming organically provides nutritional health, encompasses a plethora of environmental benefits and makes sense economically and socially to boost farmer net income, keeping farm families on the land.

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“By returning organic matter to the soil, good organic farming practices could be the single most significant act we could perform to correct global warming.”

— Dr. Tim La Salle, Rodale Institute 

Organic is Best: Farming Systems Trial

Many of Rodale Institute’s key findings have emerged from its nearly 30-year comparison of organic and synthetic chemical-based farming systems, the Farming Systems Trial. Yields from this trial have demonstrated that organic systems sustain higher yields in the face of climate extremes, like drought, and high pest pressures. Further, these organic systems provide greater soil protection and conservation during flood events. Lastly, organic systems have demonstrated a greater ability to conserve soil fertility, including soil carbon, important both to mitigating climate change and maintaining long-term agricultural productivity.

Climate change will increase extreme weather events, like flooding and droughts, as well as increase global temperatures documented to increase rates of soil carbon losses. These scientifically documented characteristics of organic systems clearly support organics as our best agricultural option for adapting to as well as mitigating the challenges posed by climate change. 

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