(As seen in the Valley Voice Magazine)
By Andrea Jones RNCP
A CBC article was recently posted scrutinizing the organic food industry in regards to pesticide residues. The article, written by Joanne Levasseur and Vera-Lynn Kubinec has given non-supporters of the organic food movement justification to continue purchasing chemically grown agriculture. The ongoing debate on whether or not organic food is any different or superior to conventionally grown agriculture has been happening since the early 1900’s. According to The Organic Institute, all agriculture was organic before the Second World War. After World War II it was discovered that the thousands of gallons of leftover chemicals that had been formerly used to kill people, could also kill insects. (1) As activist Vandana Shiva so eloquently and accurately states, “we’re still eating the leftovers of world war II.” As industrialized agriculture (what we now call conventional) was born, so created the need for traditional farming practices to be preserved. The new term for farming without chemicals was “organic”. After reading the CBC article the big question hanging heavily over our heads remains: Is buying organic still any better for us or worth the added expense?
Organic foods may be mildly contaminated some of the time; however these foods are still far safer than the non-organic versions. In the article written by Levasseur and Kubinec of CBC, the authors state that pesticide residue levels in organic food “were still considerably less than the ... [levels]... of non-organic samples the inspection agency found containing pesticide residues”. If I can choose between food containing lots of chemical residue almost all of the time and organic food that sometimes contains a small amount of chemical residue, I am still choosing organic.
The use of these chemicals in the first place has permanently contaminated our planet. If we are seeing detrimental effects of this now, the use of more chemicals is only going to make the situation worse. The CBC authors quote Matthew Holmes, the executive director of the Ottawa-based Canada Organic Trade Association. Holmes points out, “We see pesticide residues throughout our environment. It's in our soil, they're in our water, drinking water now, and there's new reports coming out showing there's pesticides in fetal cord blood. So unfortunately, it's really hard to have a zero pesticide residue any longer”. We can take this information for what it is, a huge warning flag, or we can use it as an evasion. Either way it does not make any logical sense to justify the previous use of poisonous pesticides by continuing to use more pesticides. We cannot hold an “oh well, we’ve ruined it anyways” attitude. It is up to us as individuals and together as collective communities and countries to ban the use of these pesticides and grow food in the most ecologically conscious ways we can. When choosing ecological consciousness, the only choice is organic.
When we buy organic we are not just minimizing the effects of the chemicals on our health, but also using our dollar to vote for farmers who are trying to minimize the harm of agriculture on our environment and our entire ecosystem. Levasseur and Kubinec quote Mark Kastel, a farm policy analyst at the Cornucopia Institute in Wisconsin. Kastel says “I'm very comfortable that the vast majority of allorganic fruits and vegetables and other commodities are produced with high integrity, but we do need to protect the ethical farmers that are participating, and businesses in the organic industry — and, most importantly, consumers who are seeking authentic food.” If we want to be able to trust what we are eating as consumers, than we need to put the responsibility of growing our food into the hands of farmers who actually care about its quality and integrity—not into the hands of chemical companies whose sole responsibility is to maintain the highest profits possible. When we buy organic, we are voting with our money for the kinds of foods we want to be grown. We are choosing to support farmers who are trying to set a higher standard for better quality food, and a healthier, stronger eco-system. When we put money into the hands of large corporations, we are not giving them incentive to change.
We have to start somewhere. If one can grow and forage all of his or her foods locally, that would be ideal. However, when faced with the question of which is better for you and the planet: buying an organically grown pineapple or a genetically engineered, chemically grown pineapple? The answer is obviously the organic pineapple is better. Holmes states that “past studies have shown the quantity and incidence of pesticide residues in organic produce are consistently lower than those in non-organic”, for example: “[t]he average quantity of thiabendazole measured on organic apples was 0.02 ppm whereas the average amount measured on non-organic was 0.3 ppm — about 15 times higher”. I would still rather purchase food that is accidentally contaminated from “contamination of water or soil through pesticide spray drift from neighboring farms” than from those very farms where the pesticide spray is drifting from that are knowingly poisoning their food and soil in much higher volumes than what their unfortunate neighbors may passively receive.
As intelligent beings we have to realize that regardless of the state of things, we can always choose better. We have a responsibility to choose better for ourselves, for our children, for our environment and most importantly for the future. So when I ask myself if I should continue to support organic or not, the answer is “YES!” It is definitely still better and has a lower cost to my health, the health of the planet and everyone and everything on it.