Sustainable Agriculture

Fruits and Vegetables - Choosing the Right Quality for Your Health and the Environment

Dorian Soanes

Registered Nutritional Therapist (mBant, CNCH)

Sustainable Agriculture

Fruits and Vegetables - Choosing the Right Quality for Your Health and the Environment

What are organic foods?

Organic foods are foods which are grown without the use of agrochemicals (e.g. pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides). Also, organic fruits and vegetables must meet a soil quality quota to make sure it's not polluted with heavy metals.

For animal foods to be certified organic, they cannot be fed antibiotics, and must be fed on organic feed. Beware, organic feed does not mean grass fed. This is a common marketing strategy used to convey 'quality'. Read about grass-fed animals here.

Are the recommendations to eat organic food justified? There is no doubt that organic food is more expensive, but what is the real difference and is the price worth it?

This article focuses on the how organic vegetation affects our environment

Organic food vs. non-organic: what’s the real difference?

Pesticide Use

Both organic and conventional farming use pesticides on crops and vegetables. Pesticides are used to minimise consumption by pests such as insects, fungi and bacteria. They do this by acting as a repellent or herbicide/pesticide, which therefore means, they kill the relevant pest on consumption [1].

The key difference between organic and conventional agriculture is the type of pesticides used. Farms that comply with regulations that allow their products to be sold labelled as organic use natural pesticides which tend to deter pests as opposed to killing them.

However, the disadvantage of this method is that natural pesticides are not as effective as chemical ones meaning the crop yield will be lower in comparison [2,3].

The primary pesticide used by commercial farmers in the developed world is known as ‘roundup’. This is made of a compound called glyphosate. The ubiquity of its use being due to it being cheap and effective. This is a comprehensive herbicide and pesticide that covers all the critters that may reduce your crop yield including weeds, fungi and bacteria.

In fact it is so effective it can impact on the growth of the plants you are attempting to cultivate. For this reason, GMO crops have been developed that are specifically resistant the glyphosate allowing liberal use of this pesticide to nuke pests but not affect the primary crop yield [4].

What does this mean for soil health?

There are two concerns with glyphosate when comparing it to organic pesticides.

Glyphosate is like a nuclear bomb to micro-organisms – as killing microbes is what it is designed to do. This spells disaster for soil health, which is the reason non-organic cultivation is reliant on chemical fertilizers; as a result, the soil has been completely depleted of its microbiome that would normally create an environment suitable for the growth of plants without the need for added nitrogen, phosphorus and other elements [4,5].

This is a big deal.

Not just for the health of the soil on that farm but for the survival of the human species. This is not a hyperbole; healthy topsoil determines our ability to grow food, without it no amounts of industrial fertilizer will help [6].

Hence, the importance of soil health cannot be overstated.

The impact on the environment

No discussion on the soil would be complete without considering the environment; as soil is an intrinsic part of the environment. Consequently, anything that affects soil composition can in turn impact the environment at large.

Microbes in soil remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, this is then used by plants to grow. But, the glyphosate kills these microbes and this has environmental implications.

A reduction in the ability of soil to uptake carbon impairs the Earth’s capacity to reduce all the CO2 in the atmosphere, making soil health a factor in the balance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere [7].

The effect of glyphosate is not limited to soil that is farmed. Run-off means that it’s transported into non-farmed soil, lakes, rivers and eventually the sea. The effect of this has yet not been quantified on the environment. It may never be.

We do know that microbial activity in all environments and in all life forms is the bedrock of an ecosystem. It is not a stretch of the imagination to think that the introduction of an antibiotic, even in low concentrations, may alter the balance in an unfavourable direction [8].

Does this affect your body?

The discovery and study of the gut microbiome (the population of bacteria within your intestines) is a relatively new field in science, and we don’t yet fully understand the implications of how different microbiome composition can affect health. However, we do know that changes to the microbiota can impact your immunity, this has been demonstrated with conventional antibiotics [9,10].

Considering this, it is important to note that glyphosate residues are found in foods using conventional farming methods. It may not be a stretch to postulate that regular consumption of an antibiotic residue may not benefit the health of your immune system. Accordingly, glyphosate has been implicated in various conditions including cancer [11,12,13].

Should you only eat organic food?

The purpose of this blog is not to create fear but to empower you to make better food choices.

Though it is highly likely that eating glyphosate residue is probably not optimal, it is more likely to be a contributing factor in dysfunction as opposed to the sole cause itself.

The effect on the environment however, is undeniable and this goes far further than just mineral depleted soils on agricultural land and stretches to the sustainability of our food system as well as health of the planet.

Therefore, whether you chose to consume organic food or not, we should all be pushing towards a more sustainable food system that is better for the planet.

If any of this resonates with you, try shopping at your local farm shop, growing your own vegetables or attending farmers markets. Ultimately, the consumer controls the market and every decision you make with your money sends a signal to producers.

If we all only spent money on food from sustainable farming methods, that is all that would be supplied.

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