By: Juliana Hinton, Program Communications Coordinator
More often than not, the answer to this question is quickly reassured: no. It’s not often enough that then a second question is asked, why? The general public is spoon fed the idea, yes organic food for everyone sounds ideal but in an industrialized and growing society is it simply impossible. Why is it impossible? Who is saying that it is impossible? There are people who believe it is simply not a reasonable answer to rely on organic to feed the world. Steve Savage, agricultural industry consultant, states, “Let’s start with yields. Studies have shown that organic yields are lower than yields of conventional farming. Detailed survey data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service for 2011 shows that for organic farming to equal conventional farming’s production of 14 staple…” The 14 staple that he is referring to is the crops grown for humans typically. While this is a valid concern, there are many others who not only disagrees with Steve’s and many others belief that organic food can’t feed the world, but also believe that the current global food system is at the root of many environmental and public health crisis.
We currently live in a world where hundreds of millions of people are starving under the current global food system. According to the UN, 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, [or 1 in 9], were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2014-2016. Yet food is shamefully wasted around the world, as noted in a study, about “1/3 of all food produced worldwide, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems.” The issue seems less to lie in the production yields of agriculture in more in the system of distribution itself. Not only is enough food being produced, it more than enough to feed “a growing population”. Not only is food waste a cost within the present system of industrial agriculture, but as well the health of the environment and even more so, the health of the people it directly affects.
A major aspect that is pushing consumers and advocates alike for organic agriculture is the negative effects of pesticides that have been witnessed time and time again in farmworker communities. Pesticides are not only harmful for consumers if ingested but they have extreme negative consequences for farmworkers. The farmworker population is often marginalized whether geographically or culturally. So, through this marginalization, you find many cases where men, expecting mothers, or even children are working in the fields and are unaware of how to protect themselves to avoid pesticide exposure. When exposure to pesticides, there are short term and long term negative health consequences that can end up becoming costly additions to their already underpaid work. A mother who lives near a field might find out that her child has autism, severely delaying him from having a normal life. Even living near pesticides being sprayed has been found in numerous studies to be correlated to cases of autism. A 50-year-old man with kids still in school might find out he has stomach cancer, and wonder how he will pay for treatment or his kids education.
Present industrial agriculture is harming our farmworker communities that should be enough to change something. Still, if that is not enough, agriculture is a major source of air pollution in the U.S.: “…mainly in the form of ammonia, which enters the air as a gas from heavily fertilized fields and livestock waste…combines with pollutants from combustion, to create tiny solid particles, or aerosols, no more than 2.5 micrometers across, about 1/30 the width of a human hair. The particles can penetrate deep into lungs, causing heart or pulmonary disease; a 2015 study in the journal Nature estimates they cause at least 3.3 million deaths each year globally.” Fertilizers and pesticides are culprits of air pollution but also soil and water. When fertilizers are mixed into soil, they are mainly beneficial and less toxic, but inevitably they reach water tables and rivers. This then leads to “eutrophication – resulting in an explosive growth of algae due to excess nutrients. This depletes water of dissolved oxygen, which in turn can kill fish and other aquatic life.” These areas where essentially food chains are dismantled are referred to as dead zones. With so many negative effects caused by the way we currently grow our food, it would seem that the question needs to be, how will organic food feed the world? Moreover, as we celebrate Earth Day this Saturday, it’s important to bring the global food system to the dialogue, and hands behind it.