Thursday, May 6, 2010

Why Go (Really) Organic?

Sometimes when I talk or even think about organic food, it's hard for me to come up with basic reasons for choosing it beyond very general feelings about reducing pesticide use, improving soil quality, and growing better food. Hearing snippets on the radio about how organic food practices are nice and all for the upper middle classes but they won't solve food shortages in Africa and wondering what "organic" means when it's printed on all sorts of everything Whole Foods makes for their in-house brand made me wonder about my general, vague feeling that organic food must be the way to go. Well, writing for the Foreign Policy website, Anne Lappe has a piece on how organic farming can feed the world. Responding to a piece by Robert Paarlberg (which I haven't read), she writes:

"Organic farmers improve output, less by applying purchased products and more by tapping a sophisticated understanding of biological systems to build soil fertility and manage pests and weeds through techniques that include double-dug beds, intercropping, composting, manures, cover crops, crop sequencing, and natural pest control."

And then there's this about industrial farming:

"Biotech and industrial agriculture would in fact more aptly be called water, chemical, and fossil-fuel-intensive farming, requiring external inputs to boost productivity. Industrial agriculture gobbles up much of the 70 percent of the planet's freshwater resources diverted to farming, for example. It relies on petroleum-based chemicals for pest and weed control and requires massive amounts of synthetic fertilizer. In fact, in 2007, we used 13 million tons of synthetic fertilizer, five times the amount used in 1960. Crop yields, by comparison, grew only half that fast. And it's hardly a harmless increase: Nitrogen fertilizers are the single biggest cause of global-warming gases from U.S. agriculture and a major cause of air and water pollution -- including the creation of dead zones in coastal waters that are devoid of fish. And despite the massive pesticide increase, the United States loses more crops to pests today than it did before the chemical agriculture revolution six decades ago."

So, you know, she had me at "fossil-fuel-intensive farming."

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