A few weeks ago I came across an article in my Facebook feed that intrigued me. It was titled “Top 11 Reasons to Buy Organic Food” posted by the CEO of the eco-friendly detergent company Rockin’ Green Soap on their blog. I clicked the link with a bit of assumption on what I’d find, and as I continued to read the article, unfortunately I determined I was accurate in my assumptions. I read things along the lines of “healthier”, “less pesticides”, and “no GMO’s”. Right away I tweeted, left a comment under the article on their Facebook page, and emailed them asking if I could guest blog for them to perhaps give a different perspective on the blog post as a conventional grain farmer’s wife. I heard back almost immediately and they were glad to have me guest post and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. I have been a Rockin’ Green Soap customer for almost 4 years and I have never seen any pro-organic/anti-GMO sentiment on any of their social media outlets until the beginning of this year. Since I contacted them they voluntarily removed the blog post and have published mine, so I would like to share it with you on my blog now.
As moms and dads we all want what’s best for our kids and our families, and of course for ourselves. There’s so many choices to make regarding the health and safety of our family, and one of the things we easily have control over is the food we buy and eat. There are a lot of choices, labels, and production methods to sort through when filling up our grocery carts, and I’d like to take some time to teach you about some of our different choices and address some myths too.
Organic vs. Conventional Food
I really didn’t want to use the “vs” in that subtitle again because it portrays a battle, but sadly in our world these two farming production methods are often put in opposite corners defending their practices to each other and their consumers. You know what I think? There’s a place for both of them, along with other farming practices, and they can peacefully coexist. Not one farming method is perfect, they each have their pros and cons, and there’s lots to be learned about both. So let’s take a look at some of the biggest conventional and organic agriculture myths I’ve come across…
- Organic Farming Does NOT Use Pesticides – This is the one myth I see time and time again, and while it’s true that their standards do not allow for the use of the all same synthetic (conventional) pesticides, they are allowed to use organic-approved pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides and even some synthetics too. It is often touted that organic farmers must do everything they can before they apply pesticides and implement integrated pest management strategies such as crop rotation, accurate identification of pests, etc. This is not a unique strategy to organic farmers, however. Did you know that 95% of consumers buy organic solely because they believe organic farming doesn’t allow the use of any pesticides?
- Conventional Farming Uses Too Much Pesticides – Following off of the last myth, a lot of people are mistaken in the fact that they feel conventional farming uses too much pesticides. While any farmer (organic or conventional) could choose to use too much, it’s not in their best interest in the long run. These pesticides cost a lot of money and no farmer who cares for their land and their bank account is going to spend unnecessary money by spraying too much pesticide on their crops. To get a better idea of how little we spray on our crops, my husband explains it here. With the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops, conventional farming actually uses less pesticides than they did before. And no, we don’t douse our crops in glyphosate. This study in 2014 shows that on average GM crops have reduced pesticides by 37%, and increased yields by 22% and profits by 68%.
- One Method is Better for the Environment – This topic is quite arguable, as each have their pros and cons. Since both practices use pesticides & fertilizers, that can be ecologically damaging, it all depends on who uses more and how they use it, which will vary farmer to farmer. Organic farming *generally uses more heavy tillage (and thus more fuel) than conventional practice to control their weeds, and this also releases carbon back into the air, damages soil structure, causes more soil erosion, the soil cannot hold as much water, and it has a higher evaporation rate. Organic crops yield less product than conventional crops, anywhere from 20-50% less. Meanwhile, in conventional farming they are battling disease & weed resistance, leeching of fertilizer into the environment, and a shift towards monocultures. However, it is up to the individual organic or conventional farmer to be the best stewards of their land as possible and use these technologies & methodologies responsibly.
- Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) Are Bad – This is a big can of worms, I get it. If all you’ve seen on Facebook are memes of scary corn being injected with syringes and you’re leary of GMOs, I wouldn’t blame you. There’s a lot of misinformation, fallacies, and lack of education surrounding GMOs out there and I’ve touched a lot on this before. One thing I would like to point out is that some GMO corn and GMO cotton have been genetically modified to produce it’s own pesticide, thus killing the pest/bug (not the human!) when it tries to eat the plant. This same toxin Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), is a naturally occurring bacteria in the soil and is also a pesticide in organic farming. Both methods use Bt, just in a different way.
- Organic Food is Healthier – Depending on who you talk to, organic food is not more healthy than conventional, but to be safe we can at least agree that right now they are equally nutritious? Eating conventional and/or GM crops will not cause disease or mortality at any higher rate than eating organic food. Sometimes organic farming battles bacterial contamination in their food (ex. e.Coli from fertilizer/manure) which can lead to illness and even death in some who consume said food. No disease or mortality has ever been linked directly to transgenic food, it’s very important to remember that correlation does not always equal causation.
- Organic Doesn’t Always Equal Local – Time and time again I hear people saying that they want to buy local and support their local farmers, which is why they buy organic. It’s great if you’re buying direct from the organic farmer or a local farmer’s market, but organic at the grocery store does not always imply locally grown. Over 75% of Canadian organic food is imported, [2008 stat, nothing more current] and how can we be certain the countries exporting this organic food are producing it organically, as imported organic foods are only randomly tested in Canada. Buying local reduces food miles and your food’s carbon footprint – absolutely buy local when you can!
Conclusion: Choose What Works for Your Family
You do NOT have to choose “sides”. It doesn’t have to be all organic or all conventional in your grocery cart. I recently wrote a blog post on how lucky we are to have all these choices in what food we buy, especially when there’s so many countries and people around the world that do not have a choice or food as readily available to them as we do. We shouldn’t ever feel pressured to buy or defend the food we do, but stand strong and confident in your choices and stay positive. Please don’t shame someone for the food choices they make, educate yourselves (don’t ever assume!), and if you ever have any questions there’s a whole group of farmers/ranchers/producers/scientists you can find on Twitter, I’d be very happy to point you in the right direction. There is a big gap between the farmer and the consumer and the agriculture industry is just itching to teach!
As always, please refer to my comment policy and be kind to one another. I know there will always be people who do not agree with what I write, I get that, but you can still be respectful. Keep in mind that my goal for writing this post was to address (not dispel) some common myths in agriculture and not to bash any farming practice. If I have any facts wrong, I’m always happy to learn, but please do so kindly!
*Update: I also wanted to add that we are conventional farmers, not organic, and this article is based on what farming is like for us here in Alberta. Different farming regions throughout the world may use more or less tillage, for example, (organic and conventional) but this doesn’t apply to us here where organic farmers do till more than conventional. I have respect for organic farmers and their right to farm differently than us, but admittedly do not always agree with the way their products are marketed by using fear and misleading information of conventional farming—but that’s a post for another day!
This post was originally shared at Rockin’ Green Soap and has been slightly modified to suit the needs of this blog.