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Can We Afford Not To Go Organic?

How to solve the world’s most wicked problems. Consider them Solved!

The above words are the subtitle of a report published in 2010 that highlight the scarcity of solutions to environmental and social problems around the world and which is the basis for Finland’s national strategy: Mission for Finland.(1) It’s an eye-opening read, that for me could be used as a template by every nation on earth to identify their national strengths in solving both social and environment problems while succeeding economically. 

One of the conclusions in the report was that Finland should take action immediately to ensure that Finnish agriculture should increasingly be shifted to organic production, with the goal that organic production should account for at least 50% of total produce by 2030.

No doubt many will wonder if this one initiative would in fact if followed through bring prosperity (jobs), health and other social-environmental benefits to a nation.

So, using this one example of conversion to organic agriculture, let’s see what the possibilities are.

Prosperity and jobs.

The notion of “green jobs” has become a symbol for a more sustainable economy and a society that aims to preserve the environment for both present and future generations.

With sales of organic produce reaching over $100 billion worldwide recently, organic farming is beginning to have an economic impact.

An increasing body of studies shows that per-acre yields on organic systems can match or outperform those of conventional industrialised farms. (2)

Additionally, a 2008 study of 1,144 organic farms in the United Kingdom and Ireland showed that they employed one third more full-time equivalent workers per farm than conventional farms.(3) Organic agricultural land amounts to 4.3 per cent of the total farm area in the UK, and 1 per cent in Ireland. If 20 per cent of farmland became organic in both these countries, it would create an additional 73,200 jobs in the United Kingdom and 9,200 in Ireland. Whilst the past has seen many people leaving farms to work in cities, an increasing number of youth are beginning to seek work on the land as an alternative to cities, and therefore, organic farming presents the opportunity for many to do so.

Environmental Pollution

Pollution takes many forms — the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil where we grow our food.

Results of a study conducted by the Rodale Institute showed that every three acres of land that is organically farmed equates to taking one car off the road, when you compare the capacity of an organic farm to remove carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere to that of a conventional industrial farm.(4)

Based on the above, consider the following: If only 40% of the farm land in the world, which currently occupies nearly 45% of the earth’s surface and equates to 12.35 billion acres, was converted to organic, that would be the same as taking more than 750 million (yes, million) cars off the road. Since there aren’t even 750 million cars on the road in the entire world, we can see the enormous benefit that would be affected if every nation moved towards organic agriculture. It’s BIG in any language! 

Health

The artificial fertiliser, pesticide and agricultural chemical industries are growing at a rapid pace, whilst environmental and health consequences grow in parallel. Many health professionals consider a large number of “foods”, “body care” and “cleaning” products to be a major health risk. If we look at the use of synthetic pesticides alone, we see they are being linked to a range of health disorders, which include Parkinson’s Disease, obesity and decreasing male fertility, whilst also being ranked among the top three environmental cancer risks.(5) It has been calculated that 25 million people a year die from pesticide poisoning, and that children in homes that use pesticides have a 7 times greater chance of contracting some form of leukaemia. 

Let’s look at this from another perspective by asking a question. How would you feel if one of the world leaders was to announce that its Nation would, over the next 12 months, drop more than 70,000 atomic bombs on another country? Quite a scary consideration isn’t it? Whatever your answer, please ponder the following:

During 1964 the world used 265 million kilograms (583 million lbs) of pesticides in agriculture.

In 1974, Dr Americo Mosca, famous chemistry prize winner of the Brussels World Fair, discovered that toxic generic chemicals used in agriculture are more dangerous than atomic fall-out. He stated: “I calculate that in the U.S. the yearly use of toxic generic chemicals (herbicides, insecticides, hormones, steroids…) causes damage equal to 450 H bombs”. (This equates to 72,500 atomic bombs of the Hiroshima type). “If use of these toxic generic chemicals persist in agriculture and on food, this will cause destruction of the American people”.

The worldwide usage of pesticides increased to 500 million kg (1.1 billion lbs) in 1991.

So where are we today? The current world usage of pesticides is 3.3 billion kg {7.27 billion lbs) a year. 

If you expose a human cell to high levels of radiation, it does one of two things: it mutates and becomes cancerous or it dies. If you expose a human cell to pesticides, it does the same, mutates and becomes cancerous or it dies. There is only one difference between the two exposures, and that is time. If a nuclear bomb were to be dropped on your city today, the devastation is instantaneous. Pesticide poisoning, however, is much more insidious as it will take ten, twenty, thirty or even forty years, depending on your immune system and your capacity to metabolise and eliminate those pesticides that have stored in your fatty tissues. 

Nutrition

A growing amount of evidence indicates that organically grown fruits, vegetables and nuts contain higher levels of nutritional compounds such as Vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorous than their conventional counterparts while also showing significantly higher levels of antioxidants. (6)

While this is a contentious point, it is universally understood that crops grown in healthy soils provide food with high nutrient value. In contrast with the conventional agricultural practice of short term intervention using artificial fertilisers, organic agriculture promotes long term soil fertility as a primary focus. 

Can we afford not to go organic?

Clearly a worldwide conversion to organic has the potential to increase food production and reverse the degradation of our soils, atmosphere & waterways, while conjunctly increasing the wellbeing of humanity in all aspects, from physical health, through to social and economic benefits. Therefore the question that begs to be asked is: can we afford not to go organic?

Alf Orpen

References

1. http://www.tehtavasuomelle.fi/documents/TS_Report_EN.pdf
2. Broadbalk experiment at the Rothamsted Experimental Station, UK;
Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems project (SFAS) at UC, Davis;
G Stanhill. Institute of Soils and Water. The Volcani Centre Israel;
Badgley et al, 2007 Cited in New Scientist 12 July 2007;
Pretty 1995, Pretty 1998a, Welsh 1999, Reganold et al 2001, Parrot 2002, Pimentel 2005 Wynen 2006 Monbiot 2000 Unep-Unctad 2008.
3. United Nations Environmental Program Research Report Sept 2008: Towards decent work in a sustainable low carbon world.
4. Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial (FST). 
https://rodaleinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/fst-30-year-report.pdf
5. Parkinson disease and pesticides: Deborah Cory-Slechia, Professor of Environmental Medicine and Dean of Research, University of Rochester, School of Medicine and Dentistry.
Influence of pesticides on male fertility: R. Bretveld, M. Brouwers, L. Ebisch, N. Roeleveld, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Radboud University. Nijmegen Medical Centre. The Netherlands.
Obesity and pesticides: Dr Paula Bailliu-Hamilton MD, BS, D. Phil; Frederick vom Saal. Professor of Biological Sciences University of Missouri-Columbia.
Pesticides and cancer: J F Balch & P. A, Balch, Prescriptions for Nutritional Healing 1997,
2nd edition , 
6. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. Aug 2002, June 2007, July 2008.
Denis Lairon Uni of Aix-Marseills, France. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 2009
European Journal of Nutrition Vol 40 P289
Science Daily June 2002