by Dr. Lawrence Wilson
© February 2019, LD Wilson Consultants, Inc.
All information in this article is solely the opinion of the author and for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.
Why Organic Agriculture?
Raising Livestock Naturally
NOTE: This article does not do justice to the subject of organic agriculture. That would require many articles explaining the theory, practice, problems, politics and much more about agriculture.
This article is a brief introduction to the subject only. For much more on the subject, the reader may wish to consult the list of books available from ACRES USA at http://www.acresusa.com and other sources of agricultural information.
Definition of organic agriculture. A general definition is that organic agriculture is the raising of crops and farm animals without the use of toxic chemicals. The chemicals include pesticides and insecticides used on the soil. It usually also includes toxic chemicals used to raise livestock such as medical drugs such as hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs.
Other definitions. Different organic food certifying agencies have very precise legal definitions of organic agriculture that are based on the amount of pesticide residues found in soil tests. A separate article contains definitions for many other words used in connection with modern agriculture, Definitions In Agriculture.
Sustainable or regenerative agriculture. This means agriculture that does not destroy the soil, upon which agriculture depends. It can mean the same as organic agriculture, although some would say it is a broader term that includes any method that helps sustain the soil.
Biodynamic agriculture is a European variant of organic agriculture that is based on the work of Dr. Rudolf Steiner. It is a more involved way of using various mineral preparations, enzymes to break down compost, and other methods to enhance the soil and the crops grown on that soil. They do not use any superphosphate fertilizers. The food grown by this method is of excellent quality.
WHY ORGANIC AGRICULTURE?
The impact of twentieth century changes in agriculture on our health is at least as profound as the effects of such inventions as cars, television and computers. This article explains why our food today is far less nutritious, far more toxic with pesticides, insecticides and other agricultural chemicals, and the soil is also much less healthy. The organic agriculture movement is a response to this rape of our soils and food supply.
Specific reasons for the need for organic, sustainable or regenerative agriculture are:
1. To stop the pollution of the soil, water and air of the entire planet with toxic pesticides, insecticides and other agricultural chemicals. This pollution is affecting the soil, livestock, wildlife, fish and the oceans, as well as human life on planet earth.
2. To improve the nutritional quality of our food. Organic food generally has much higher levels of vital nutrients than commercially grown food, although not in every case.
The food is also much less toxic for the farmers, their families, and for those who eat it. This has been proven in numerous studies. Do not believe anyone who says there is no difference between organic and non-organic food.
3. To save the topsoils of the planet. This is a very serious problem worldwide. Our lives literally depend upon the first 12-24 inches of topsoil upon which all plants and grasses live.
Standard “green revolution” agriculture always leads to soil erosion and destruction of farmland. This occurs because toxic chemicals and other foolish farming practices kill soil microorganisms that keep the soil aerated and give the soil structure. Without them, the soil more easily dries out and loses its structure. Then when it rains or the wind blows, the topsoil washes away or blows away.
Organic farming methods tend to make the soil more porous, so that when it rains it absorbs a lot more water. This helps reduce water runoff, flooding, and topsoil erosion.
4. To improve the health of farmers, their families and millions of others who work in the agricultural industry. With standard chemical agriculture, these people work around toxic chemicals that sicken them. Farming areas have become among the most toxic and unhealthy areas to live and work.
Agricultural workers includes migrant workers who pick crops, those who work in the food processing, transport, storage and other areas of the agricultural sector of the economy.
5. Other. Organic agriculture methods are the only way to maintain topsoil is rich in humus and other compounds that absorb radiation much better from nuclear disasters such as occurred at the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan (see Acres USA Magazine, Vol. 41, #5, 2011, page 5).
DESTRUCTIVE FARMING METHODS
In most of the world, agriculture is done poorly and often stupidly. Often, farmers mix a little chemicals and fertilizers into their soil, plant seeds and hope for the best. Many times the crops do not grow well and/or plant diseases or pests arrive and the result is a poor quality harvest. As a result, starvation is still a major problem on earth, although it is probably less prevalent than in past centuries.
Soil mining. In nations where there is a lot of land, farmers often plant crops for a number of years until the soil becomes depleted. Then they abandon the land and move on to a new area with more fertile soil. This is the least costly method of farming. However, it leaves a trail of deserts, and causes massive soil erosion, dust bowls and other problems.
AGRICULTURE IS A SCIENCE
In fact, the only way to avoid the mistakes above is to realize that agriculture is a science and one must do it right or it does not work well. Whim is not a good way to proceed, just as whim is not a good way to decide what to eat or how to do most things.
THE GREEN REVOLUTION
The so-called Green Revolution was and is the application of modern chemical science to agriculture. It began in the late 1800s and early 1900s with the discovery of superphosphate fertilizers. These are chemical fertilizers that stimulate plant growth and can increase crop yields. They are combination of nitrogent, phosphorus and potassium compounds, for which reason they are also called N-P-K fertilizers.
Using these new chemicals, food production can be increased up to 10 fold. This was hailed as a great revolution in agriculture that would end world starvation and help the farming sector of the economy by allowing farmers to grow much more food.
Superphosphate problems. Unfortunately, superphosphates harm the structure and life forms in the soil. They also harm plants, making them much more yin in macrobiotic terms.
Also, while the crops are higher in carbohydrate, they are lower in protein. They are also much lower in minerals because farmers rarely put back on the soil the same amount of minerals as they remove with their superphosphate-fertilized plants.
The result of these problems is much less healthy plants, much less healthy animals and people who consume the plants. This is our situation today and one reason we require so many vegetables to restore health and cause development. For details, read Superphosphates.
At about the same time that superphosphate fertilizers were invented, motorized tractors and other motorized farm implements became available. This made it possible for one man to farm a much larger area than in the past.
This helped gave rise to mega-farms that depend on the use of a lot of mechanized equipment. This led to lower prices for food and put a lot of old-style family farms out of business because they could not compete with the new mega-farms.
The new equipment and superphosphates also gave rise to large-scale monocrop farming. This means raising just one crop in a field because the crop is suited to tilling and harvesting by a large machine. It is basically mass production of food.
Those who favored the green revolution said that the sick crops were not an insurmountable problem. They used the new science of chemistry to invent a whole series of chemicals that kill worms, bugs, parasites, bacteria, fungi and the other things that were starting to infect plants grown with superphosphates.
At the same time, the pharmaceutical industry was growing and inventing drugs to take care of the diseases that the superphosphate-fertilized food was causing in livestock and human beings. This, too, is our situation today. Literally thousands of toxic chemicals are used on the farms, on the ranches and in the medical offices in an attempt to counteract the harm done by eating food fertilized with superphosphate fertilizers.
It is important to understand who owns and operates the agricultural system of most nations today. In fact, a few enormous companies own or control most of the farmland in many nations.
In the early part of the twentieth century, large companies began moving into the agricultural sector. Today, just a few such as Cargill, ADM, Monsanto and very few others own or control vast amounts of farmland. They have huge, expensive farm machinery and use the latest scientific methods to increase crop yields.
They also have powerful and well-funded lobbyists in Washington, DC and the capitols of most other nations that protect their interests from competition. While they must respond to the buying habits of the population, they have corrupted the organic standards in some nations, and have infiltrated many farming organizations to make sure they do not interfere with their business.
Most of these companies own the entire food chain. This means they produce fertilizers and pesticides. They also own seed companies and may patent seeds. They may also control aspects of the food distribution system of a nation, as well. These very large and vertically integrated companies are called agribusiness.
The advent of agribusiness has been a mixed blessing. While they do not tend to grow the best quality food, at least they do not allow farmland to just blow away in the wind, which was often the case in earlier times when people who did not know enough or did not care enough about the land ruined it with improper farming practices. The agribusiness companies look at their land as an investment and one they do not want to ruin.
One of the big projects of the agribusiness companies is to breed and design crops that better match the needs of these companies, and yet will be popular among the people to whom they sell food. They have large laboratories where they breed plants and, in some nations such as the USA, they also do gene splicing to create new GMO (genetically modified organisms) plants.
Enhanced nutrition is rarely on their list of traits that they wish to improve with their hybrid and GMO crops. Instead, they are usually interested in hardier varieties that can live on today’s depleted soils, withstand insect attack, last longer on the supermarket shelf and be cheaper to produce. As a result biotech is a negative force in agriculture and in the world.
THE BIRTH OF ORGANIC AGRICULTURE
The twentieth century trends in agriculture caught the attention of a number of prominent agricultural scientists. One of them was Dr. William Albrecht at the University Of Missouri. These scientists saw clearly that the green revolution was a trap that was slowly ruining the farmland and ruining the health of the crops, the farm animals and the people who eat the food. They sounded the alarm and what is called the organic food movement began as the response to the green revolution.
Today, organic agriculture is fastest growing sectors of the food market in America and some other nations.
The ‘green revolution’ succeeded in drastically increasing the amount of food grown. American farms feed millions more people around the world. Our government pays farmers millions each year not to grow certain crops to keep the prices up. We also have access to fresh pineapples from Hawaii or Malaysia, tomatoes from Colombia, even rain forest herbs. Fresh food can be shipped virtually anywhere on earth in a few days.
The green revolution also succeeded in increasing the efficiency of farming, if that is measured in human labor required to grow food. It also succeeded in reducing human drudgery - the hard, relentless manual labor required for non-mechanized farming.
However, not all changes have been positive. Modern agriculture requires huge investments in machinery, fuel, chemical sprays and fertilizers. Other difficulties and costs to society may be far greater.
Chemical Poisoning. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers pesticide poisoning the worst environmental problem in the world. Pesticides have contaminated almost all water supplies in most nations, decimated dozens of animal species, and polluted every aspect of our environment. Most are cumulative poisons and carcinogenic. Cumulative means they do not leave the body and they just build up more and more.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 85% of cancers are environmentally caused. The cost of this epidemic is enormous. Some pesticides cause genetic damage similar to the effects of atomic fallout. This may contribute to a doubling or the birth defect rate in America since 1950. Other pesticides mimic estrogen, which may contribute to many cancers and other health problems. By killing soil microorganisms, herbicides and pesticides contribute to massive soil erosion and loss of precious topsoil around the world, even creating deserts in some areas.
Nutritional Depletion. Few people realize how devastating chemical agriculture has been to the nutrient content of our food. The average supermarket apple or tomato today bears little resemblance to one grown 100 years ago. This was the subject of a book written in the 1980's called Food For Naught, The Decline in Nutrition by Ross Hume Hall. A more recent book on the same subject is called Empty Harvest (1995) by Bernard Jensen and Mark Anderson.
According to the USDA, the calcium content of an apple has declined from 13.5 mg in 1914 to 7 mg in 1992. The iron content has declined from 4.6 mg in 1914 to 0.18 mg in 1992. Some nutrition books written 50 or 60 years ago simply do not apply to today's food.
For example, some people think they can live comfortably on the protein in pasta or other wheat products because they read this in books. However, today's wheat has about half the protein content of wheat grown just 80 years ago. The use of pesticides and stimulant fertilizers has allowed poor-quality crops that would otherwise have been destroyed by pests to make it to market.
Mass production of chicken, beef, pork and other products often results in unhealthy animals who receive over half the antibiotics used in America. Residues of these and other drugs used in food production find their way into our meat, eggs, and dairy products.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Nutrition, Vol. 45, #1, 1993, pp. 35-39 compared the nutrient content of supermarket food versus organically grown food from food stores in the Chicago area. The organic produce averaged twice the mineral content of the supermarket food! Fortunately, the organic food industry is growing rapidly, as the truth about our nutritionally-depleted food becomes more widely known.
Health Disasters and even more world starvation. Along with the green revolution has come "the diseases of civilization". Authorities are realizing that costly epidemics of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, AIDS, mental illness and even violence are related to the nutritional content of the food, and toxic substances in the food, water and air. Also, the advent of agribusiness has upset the social fabric of many traditional societies. Today they cannot feed themselves and their land has often been sold out from under them to the large companies that ruin the land and ship the crops back to America and Europe while the local people do not have enough to eat.
Social Displacement. Factory farming has also forced millions of people off their land and into the cities seeking work. Life on the farm was not easy, but living on the land provided a source of security, and a far healthier environment than many city environments. Many people today cannot even afford the food that is grown on what was their land. Living on the land has been replaced by ghetto tenements in many nations including America.
This is not a total indictment of factory farming and agribusiness. However, it is important to understand that any movement or revolution of this magnitude and nature, as has occurred in agriculture just in the past 50 to 100 years, has had far reaching consequences in many nations on the globe.
If one wishes to evaluate the green revolution, one must consider all of these consequences, and it is a very complex picture. While millions have been displaced, millions have also been relieved of a life of drudgery.
On one hand, the green revolution continues in full swing, with ever newer technologies to produce more and cheaper food. Genetically engineered foods and food irradiation are two of the newer technologies. New drugs are developed to handle the new plant, animal and human diseases that result from consuming the chemically-grown foods. .
The other trend is the growth of organic, sustainable, or ecological agriculture, the environmental movement, the locally grown movement, land trusts, and seed banking. Sometimes I feel it is a race to see which will win. Of course, the answer is the organic movement, as it is the more sustainable and it is what the people want. However, the “food scientists” keep trying to come up with newer seeds and plants that can withstand more pesticides and can grow in more depleted soils. The food is a mix, therefore, of old technology and new. As a result, you never know what you will get these days in the supermarkets or even the health food stores. This is just one problem with today’s food.
GENETICALLY ENGINEERED (GE or GMO) FOODS
Genetic engineering involves adding, deleting or changing specific genes in a plant to produce certain qualities in the plant. Genetic modification is not new. Crops have always been crossbred to produce tastier, hardier, more nutritious varieties of food. Indeed, our present foods were bred from wild plants by generations of farmers who carefully picked the best of their crop to produce the next year's crop.
The new genetic methods are more specific, work much faster, and for the first time companies are patenting their new varieties to give them control over who grows the crops. They are also, for the first time, combining the genes of pigs or fish with those of plants. This is radical new technology – and very unproven in its long-term effects.
As with any new technology, there are potential problems with GE. For example, some G-E plants make their own toxic pesticides. In a recent incident, Bt corn, bred to produce a pesticide to kill corn borers, also killed monarch butterflies that ate the pollen. It won't kill humans outright, but what are the health effects? Thirty percent of the corn grown in America in 1999 was genetically engineered Bt corn.
Roundup Ready soybeans are bred to withstand more of the pesticide called Roundup. This means more pesticide can be sprayed. This is excellent for the pesticide producer. However, what does the pesticide do to our bodies, water supplies, wildlife, and soil microorganisms?
Another controversial area of GE is called "terminator genes". These are genes that are added to the plant so that it will not reproduce. This way, the farmer must buy new patented seeds from the company each year, instead of saving seeds for next year, a common practice especially in poorer nations. In summary, there are potential benefits of GE, such as improved drought-resistance or nutrition of crops. In practice, however, the focus of GE is often on greater production and continued dependence on chemical methods of agriculture.
Most European nations, where more small farms remain, prohibit the importation of GE foods or seeds. There is less concern in America, although recently two large natural food retailers decided to stop selling GE foods. Americans tend to embrace new technology more readily, and in America chemical companies have more influence.
Most likely, GMO or GE foods should be banned, as we simply don’t know enough about its long-term effects. As a first step, there is a campaign to insist on labeling of genetically engineered foods. This is the only way people will have a choice regarding what they are eating. Time will tell if any of the GMO foods are really better foods for our health, and not just ways to enhance crop yields or fight bugs that attack poor quality crops.
As food is grown and shipped globally, avoiding spoilage is of great importance. Food grown with pesticides and chemical fertilizers often does not keep as well as the older, hardier varieties. This has spawned interest in newer methods of food preservation. Irradiation of plant and animal products kills bacteria that can cause spoilage.
Problems with food irradiation are the danger of damaging sensitive components of the food, harm to workers, and disposing of spent radioactive material. Ionizing radiation is very harmful to living matter. Also, food that spoils easily is often of lesser quality. Preserving it with irradiation to make it edible does not make it healthful to eat. The nutritional and vitality of the food take a back seat to the desires of the processors to avoid spoilage.
Irradiated food in America is supposed to be labeled, although processed food often contains irradiated ingredients that are not labeled. Labeling of GE foods and irradiated food is a critical issue so that people have a choice. I believe irradiated food should be outlawed completely, as it is a method of food processing that just further reduces the nutritional and safety of our food, even if it kills harmful germs.
MAP OR MODIFIED ATMOSPHERIC PACKAGING OF ORGANIC PRODUCE
Another newer insult to the food supply – including food that is labeled organic - is called MAP. It is the spraying of produce – fruits and some vegetables, too – with various ‘natural’ chemicals to preserve the food. This puts a sort of bio-film on the surface of the fruit that helps retard spoilage.
As a result of this technology, food can be grown in China or India, for example, and shipped to the United States on a slow-moving boat. The trip takes two weeks, at times, and the food is miraculously still fresh-looking. This outsourcing of our agriculture is great for China, and very bad for our health and for our farmers.
Problems with this technology are that food begins to lose some of its nutrients as soon as it is picked, so “preserving it” with MAP, while it may not spoil, it still loses nutrients. Also, the chemicals used to create the bio-film or atmospheric packaging, as it is euphemistically called, are often slightly toxic. They can cause allergic reaction, and often there are outbreaks of disease because the food is not clean and fresh, even if it looks like it.
This may be one reason to eat good quality frozen produce instead of fresh produce “made in China”. The frozen vegetables are often frozen at the farm, and freezing, or even canning them, preserves them better than many of the chemicals used in the modified atmospheric packaging. This is a difficult question to answer simply, as it will vary among different crops. I will be researching it more in the future and will report upon it in this article.
I am opposed to all MAP technology at this time, as I do not think it is necessary or helpful for our health. Yes, it makes for slightly cheaper food grown in China, but the unintended consequences or ‘side effects’ of ingesting many unknown and odd chemicals is not worth it. At least, it should be absolutely labeled with any chemicals that are sprayed on it, even if they are “natural”. Here is a link to a longer article on this subject:
Land trusts are agreements made by individual land owners to prevent future development on their land. The trusts contain strict covenants for the land use, to prevent its use for parking lots and shopping centers, for example. Buyers or renters of the land must agree to abide by the contract. Though still a small movement, land trusts now exist in every part of America. They are helping to save farmland, wildlife habitats and old-growth forests from destruction.
As new hybrid plants are used more widely, some of the older seed varieties are in danger of being lost. Several groups have taken on the task of saving and banking precious seeds. They could be useful or even life-saving if weather changes or new crop diseases destroy the hybrid or GE plants. Also, the genetic material in the older seeds may be needed at some time to enhance our crops. For research and for disaster preparedness, the movement to save traditional seed varieties is an important trend.
More small farmers are finding a niche catering to the needs of the local community. Farmer's markets and local buying clubs help address the problem of the loss of the family farm. Communities are reaping the benefits of supporting local farmers by getting fresher and often better quality produce.
Often the local farmers grow food organically, helping preserve the land, the wildlife and the local environment. The locally grown movement also fosters a greater sense of community, and contributes to local self-sufficiency and sovereignty.
However, do not be misled into thinking that locally grown food is always best. This is not always true. It may well be the freshest, but sometimes a farm far away is able to produce better quality food.
It is possible to use modern technology wisely to produce pure, nutritionally superior food without damaging the environment. This is the challenge for agriculture in the 21st century.
1. www.thecampaign.org (excellent site for labeling of genetically engineered food.
2. Bergner, P., The Healing Power of Minerals, Special Nutrients and Trace Elements, Prima Publishing, CA, 1997.
3. Hall, R., Food For Naught, The Decline in Nutrition, Keats Publishing, New Canaan, CT, 1979.
4. Price, W., Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, La Mesa, CA. 1945, 1970.
5. J. Applied Nut., 1993, 45:1, pp. 35-39. (study of the mineral content of organic versus commercial food in the Chicago area)
6. Wilson, L., Nutritional Balancing And Hair Mineral Analysis, LD Wilson Consultants, Inc., 2010.