Poisoned water, depleted soil, increased health problems – non-organic conventional farming did not deliver on its promises and has too many negatives. Just how does conventional farming affect the environment?
Do you believe that only chemical-based conventional farming can feed the world? That, if we switched to organic farming, millions would starve? Many people do believe this, but it’s not true.
The truth is, conventional farming is killing us.
Let me detail a few of the very major ways that conventional farming affects our environment – and our health.
What Is Conventional Farming?
Conventional farming – also called big ag, big agriculture, factory farming, or industrial agriculture – refers to the prevalent farming practices that use synthetic fertilizers and herbicides, monoculture (growing huge fields of one crop), CAFOs (Confine And Feed Operations), and other intensive activities that have a large footprint.
Conventional farming can be contrasted with organic farming, which refers to farming practices that use natural fertilizers, mixed crops, free range animals, and other activities that have a much smaller footprint on the earth.
There is no such thing as a PESTicide or an HERBicide.
All ‘cides kill living things. That is right there in the name “-cide” means it kills something.
Pesticides are used to kill fungus, bacteria and insects that attack crops used in food production.
Chemical pesticides, used in conventional, non-organic farming, have been linked to cancer, allergies, birth defects, Alzheimer’s and many disorders.
Of the 25 most common commercial pesticides:
- 6 disrupt normal hormonal function,
- 10 harm reproductive organs,
- 17 cause genetic damage,
- 5 harm the nervous system,
- 18 harm the skin, eyes and lungs, and
- about half of them are made from carcinogens.
In fact some of the most toxic chemical compounds we know about – known as Persistent Organic Pollutants – are found in our food. The most famous of these is DDT. Like plastic, these toxins don’t occur naturally, they don’t decompose quickly and, essentially, they just don’t go away.
Chlordane, one of those Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP), was banned by the USDA in 1983. However, it has polluted nearly the whole world. And, as I said, it doesn’t go away.
There is enough chlordane in China’s soil to cause health risks to humans.
Seriously, do not buy anything from China that is intended to go in your mouth or on your skin. Ever. That’s advice given to me by my Chinese sister-in-law!
Closer to home, soil samples in Yosemite National Park, in the United States, show chlordane contamination.
The University of Saskatchewan has found contaminated salmon, which travel great distances and then die, releasing POPs into the environment.
Even after roasting coffee beans contaminated with POPs, Japanese scientists have found that up to 10% of the toxins remain.
The World Health Organization has stated that people who eat food treated with antibiotics are more susceptible to infections commonly treated by that type of antibiotic. Not only are we more likely to get those infections, but the microbes build up defenses against these drugs, creating superbugs, and those antibiotics are less likely to work.
In your body, the pesticides are stored in your colon, where they build up and cause disease.
Pesticides, by the way, transfer from mother to child during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Washing and peeling does not remove pesticides from our food, so it’s a waste of money to buy those expensive “produce wash” products.
The USDA found, in both 1995 and 2002, that up to 90% of our most commonly eaten produce and wheat samples were contaminated with pesticides. Buy a nice, shiny apple at the grocery store, grown by conventional farming, and you are eating over 30 different pesticides that were sprayed on that apple.
Strawberries, blueberries, apples, carrots, celery, spinach, grapes and cucumbers – among others, try to always buy these from an organic, or at least a non-spraying, farm.
If increased disease, allergies and superbugs were not enough, the most urgent concern regarding conventional farming is actually contamination of our drinking water.
Conventional farming uses about 70% of our fresh water supply. Yet the mixture of pesticides, nitrogen fertilizers and industrial chemicals is destroying our groundwater.
In the United States, more than half of all fresh water wells tested as pesticide contaminated, and tap water across North America contains pesticides in levels that far exceed federal health standards.
Like fresh water, our oceans are also being contaminated.
160 million tons of nitrogen is used as a fertilizer each year – with most of it ending up in the ocean. Here they cause massive algae growth that depletes the water of oxygen. No plant or animal life can grow in these dead zones, which have doubled since 1990.
The larger dead zones are up to 70,000 square kilometres in size.
Can it get worse?
Volatilization, also called vapor drift, is caused when a pesticide turns into a gas or vapor after spraying. This lets it travel through the air to different places and harm wildlife that would not ordinarily be directly affected. Frogs have been found with damaged reproductive systems caused by volatilization of atrazine. This is one of the world’s most commonly used pesticides.
Healthy soil is created by a natural, diverse ecosystem.
Conventional farming grows a single crop year after year, usually vast fields of that one crop, which depletes the soil of micronutrients.
NPK chemical fertilizer contains only three nutrients – Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium – instead of the dozens (or possibly hundreds) that are contained in compost and manure.
Once these micronutrients are lost, soil loses its ability to hold water. This causes topsoil runoff, flooding and other serious problems.
Up to 80% of the world’s arable land is moderately to seriously degraded.
As soil nutrients are lost, conventional farmers must use more chemical fertilizers in order to maintain their crops.
Chemical resistant insects and weeds
The ‘cides are not intelligent. They kill the unwanted pests but they also kill the natural predators of those pests. Since the weaker pests are more easily killed, this breeds stronger, pesticide-resistant insects.
Over 400 insect and mite pests, and more than 70 fungal pathogens, have become resistant to at least one pesticide.
This applies to unwanted plants as well. Local blueberry farmers complain that mullein in their fields is now resistant to Roundup, a very common pesticide used in conventional farming.
Nature loves diversity. Conventional farmers want genetic uniformity in their crops and livestock so that they can consistently offer each consumer a predictable, standard product.
Compare any conventional seed catalog (especially the big ones geared to large farmers) to a heritage seed catalog.
Many of the heritage catalogs will show vintage pictures that make it clear – we have lost an incredible range of fruits and vegetables that our ancestors enjoyed but which we will never taste.
And, incidentally, most of the conventional catalogs will be full of hybrids!
Around the world, at least one breed of livestock disappears each week as farmers focus more and more on standardized hybrids. All of the pork that we buy at grocery stores comes from a breed of pigs called American Landrace, which is a white pig that handles confinement well.
One problem with all of this standardization is that diseases sweep through these farms, causing death and devastation.
Trees – big, old trees with massive root systems – are a fabulous type of carbon sink. Healthy soil with an active and diverse ecosystem, however, can also be a huge carbon sink.
To get our carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under control, we need forests and other permanent vegetation.
All insects are important (even the ones we hate), but the bees.
Oh, the bees.
We poison the weeds that the bees pollinate and then we wonder why the bees are dying.
It’s rather simple, especially when you talk to organic farmers and realize that bees who feed exclusively on organic flowers are thriving.
Action Steps to Reject Conventional, Non-Organic Farming
There has to be something we can do!
Of course there is.
If you can do it, grow your own food. Use organic, natural pesticides and other methods like companion planting.
If you can’t, buy as much as you can from farmers that grow organically. They may not be certified organic, but make sure you know what they use on their fields and the methods they use.
Do not buy non-organic berries, apples, peaches, pears, grapes, celery, spinach and bell peppers.
The more demand there is for livestock and produce diversity, heritage grains and organic produce, the more inclined farmers will be to raise and offer them!
Keep your own property pesticide and herbicide free!
Consider raising bees on your ‘cide-free property.
Carbon sink – keep as much of your property in permanent vegetation as you can. Look into permaculture for ways to maximize this.0