Where our food comes from can make an impact on the environment, either for the good or the bad. Grocery stores have many food choices ranging from foods with organic labels to foods that are not organic. There is a large gap between the number of choices that are organic and those that are not, and the majority of those choices are not organic. Conventional agriculture and organic agriculture are very different forms of agriculture, but both provide the foods available in grocery stores. Conventional agriculture is, at this time, the dominate way of farming. The way animals are held and raised for consumer consumption can be differentiated as either inorganic or organic as well. In both forms of agriculture, crop and animal, organic farming provides a healthier alternative means of production for the environment. Although there are many choices in a grocery store, organic foods should be seriously considered over inorganic produced foods because organic farming reduces chemical pollutions, animal pollutants, and preserves our lands and plants species.
Conventional farming techniques implement the use of chemicals for synthetic herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. When we choose foods that are not labeled as organic, we may not only be getting more than we bargained for with chemical covered foods, but we also contribute to the continued use of chemicals for the production of food products. In crop agriculture farmers face challenges, in areas of weed control, pest control, and fertilization of crops for the purpose of greater yield. When it comes to growing crops, conventional agriculture and organic agriculture use different methods to help get the best possible results. For the control of weeds, conventional agriculture uses chemical herbicides. Weeds can become resistant to herbicides, rendering the herbicide, or combination of herbicides, less effective as time goes by (Mortensen et al., 2012). Mortensen et al. (2012) asserts that more a greater amount of herbicide is the result of better resilience against the chemicals of the herbicide. Mortensen et al. also argues that the use of combined herbicides, the use of two herbicides instead of just one, can also result in herbicide resilience in weeds. Due to the fact that organic agriculture does not implement the use of chemicals for weed control, organic agriculture must rely on other forms of management (Gomiero et al., 2011). According to Howard (1943), Altieri (1987), Lamplin (2002), Lotter (2003), Altieri & Nichols (2004), Koepf (2006), Kristiansen et al. (2006), Gliessman (2007), practices to control weeds in an organic manner include “appropriate rotation, seeding timing, mechanic cultivation, mulching, transplanting, flaming, ect.” (as cited in Gomiero et al., 2011). Since organic agriculture methods do not involve the use of chemicals for weed control it helps keep harmful chemicals from entering the land in which the crops grow and in turn offers environmentally friendly methods of weed control.
Pest control is another factor that farmers must take in account in managing their crops. Again, solutions for pest control in conventional farming involve the use of chemicals. Crops are treated with chemical pesticides to kill pests that would otherwise cause damage to the crops. Kabaru & Gichia (2001) report that, synthetic pesticides have been the primary solution for pest control for around the last 50 years (as cited in Shrivastava et al., 2010). Pesticides do not distinguish between the species of pests on farm land that harmful to crops and the natural enemies of those pests that damage crops (Pimental et al., 1992, 1997; Kruess & Tscharntke, 1994; Pimental, 1997; Barbosa, 2003; Altieri & Nicholls, 2004; Perfecto et al., 2004; Bianchi et al., 2006; Crowder et al., 2010) (as cited in Gomiero et al., 2011). Solutions to pest control in organic agriculture without the use of pesticides are prevention and biological control (Shrivastava et al., 2010). In organic agriculture, there are organic pesticides that are allowed in the treatment of crops to eliminate pests (Shrivastava et al., 2010). Shrivastastava et al. (2010) asserts that the majority of organic pesticides “have low residual activity” but does also concede that the use of the approved organic pesticides is still controversial and debated over whether or not they are truly environmentally safe. Unfortunately, it cannot be said with complete assurance that every product on the grocery store shelves has not be subjected to any kind of pesticide; however, in organic agriculture pesticides are not heavily relied upon nor are they the only means of pest control.
Fertilizers are used as an aid for crops. Fertilizers are meant to help plants grow bigger and produce more and better results than a plant would on its own. In Araujo & Melo (2010), it is reported that conventional farming uses synthetic, or chemical, fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers are said to lead to degraded soil and increases the toxicity of the soil (Araujo & Melo, 2010). Conventional agriculture depends on chemical solutions for weed control, pest control, and for the purpose of growing food better all at the expense of the environment of the lands in which the farming is done. Organic agriculture uses organic fertilizers which promote sustainability (Araujo & Melo, 2010). There are different practices for fertilizing the soil for crop growth in organic farming. Employing practices such as “crop rotation, intercropping, polyculture, covering crops and mulching” (Araujo & Melo, 2010) are all organic means of fertilization without using synthetic fertilizers. Although organic farming may permit some usage of organic pesticides, it uses far less chemicals for weed control and fertilizing than does conventional farming. The significantly higher usage of chemicals on conventional farming lands leads to increased amounts of chemicals into the environment. These chemicals pollute the land and are not sucked back up after using the chemicals, but are instead left in the ground. Continued purchases of inorganic foods are an indirect way to promote the continued use of the chemicals that infect the environment. A well known and terrible effect of chemical fertilizer usage is the “dead zone” of the Gulf of Mexico, which is the result of chemical usage in the “corn-belt corn production” (Pimentel et al., 2005). Organic farming does not rely on chemical usage like conventional farming. With the high usage of chemicals in conventional farming it is alarming that so little attention is given to that fact, and it is frightening that conventional farming foods are so prevalent in food selections in stores. By choosing organic foods, people can choose not to support the use of so many chemicals and instead support the health of the environment. Organic farming techniques go beyond the scope of plant based foods and into more natural and less environmentally devastating way to raise animals for consumer consumption as well.
Animal agriculture presents different issues that can cause environmental stress. In animal agriculture, animals are raised for eventual consumer consumption. Conventional farming emphasizes animal management procedures that produce high output over environmental friendly procedures (Putting Meat, n.d.). Organic animal agriculture raises animals in drastically different ways than conventional. When we go through the stores, beef, pork, and chicken are the most prominent forms of meats available for purchase. In conventional farming, the use of confined animal feeding operations, CAFOs, are implemented to help provide high output (Jing et al., 2010). Waste lagoons are common on the CAFOs; waste lagoons are essentially small ponds that contain waste from the animals housed on the CAFOs (Jing et al., 2010; Starmer, n.d.). Animals cannot be made to quit ridding themselves of their waste; it is a natural process that takes place regardless of what anyone does. Since organic farming does not implement waste lagoons, it makes sense to move away from conventional farming and toward organic. Organic animal farming provides open pastures for cattle, allowing cattle to roam over a large area in which waste can be absorbed by the land or even used as fertilizer. Either way, organic farming keeps a far smaller number of animals per area of land where conventional animal farming keeps many animals in confined spaces.
Since animals in CAFOs are kept in such close quarters, measures need to be taken in order to help prevent the spread of diseases. Antibiotics used in swine CAFOs are used in large amounts and lead to antibiotic resistant strands of infectious microbial (Chen et al., 2010). Chen et al. (2010) reports that through the waste lagoons, adverse effects are created by environmental pollution of the resistant strands of microbial which can transfer to animals within the area. Along with antibiotics, growth hormones may be used as well; some of these substances used in poultry contain arsenic (They Eat, 2006). Again, as with the other pollutions that result from animal waste, the arsenic present in runoff at the facilities that use the substances the arsenic can pollute water sources (They Eat, 2006). The conventional animal agriculture management techniques are appalling. Even if regulations were constructed and enforced to reduce the possibility of pollutants, there will still be the risk of contamination of the environment until conventional animal agriculture ceases to exist and organic agriculture takes center stage. Feed provided for animals raised in non-organic practices have environmental impacts as well.
Feed farms in conventional farming, like at cattle feed farms, provide large amounts of corn in the feed provided for the animals (Woolf, 2007). The corn is actually not part of a healthy diet for the cattle and is conventionally grown corn (Woolf, 2007), which loops back to all the issues of conventionally grown crops that are discussed in previous paragraphs. In order for the animals to be considered organically raised, they must be fed a 100% organic diet (Organic Livestock, 2004). Conventionally raised animals cause pollutions to the environment through their care in every aspect while organically raised animals are raised through more natural processes and do not contribute to polluting the environment. From chemicals to animals, there is plenty to be alarmed about within the subject of crops; the different characteristics of crop treatment can be an issue of importance for the environment as well.
Different farming methods can have different results on the soil in which crops are planted. The differences that occur between organic farming methods and conventional farming methods are substantial and should not be ignored. Conventional farming methods include the use of chemicals through fertilizers and pesticides; due to the extensive use of these chemicals, the result has been raised toxicity levels of the soils exposed to the chemicals and has caused the degradation of the soils (Araujo & Melo, 2010). Those pollutants that conventional farming employs are polluting the environment and ruining the soil they are used on, which can only further the reliance that conventional farming has on its chemicals. The differences in organic and conventional farming include more than the use of chemicals. The non-chemical methods implemented in organic farming promote soil fertility (Broad & Cavanagh, 2012), the opposite of conventional farming. The healthier soil in organic farming can use water more efficiently than soil in conventional farming (Gomiero et al., 2011). Conventional farming cannot even sustain its own soil, and with the poor soil requires more water than organic farming. Organic practices actually help improve soil conditions, which would seem to be a much more desirable outcome than the results provided by conventional farming. Organic foods may cost more in the stores, but conventional farming certainly runs high costs for the environment. Some risks or consequences may not be quite as obvious.
Another of the many differences between organic farming and conventional farming is the inclusion or restriction of the use of GMs. GM stands for genetically modified, and GM plants are those that have been either bioengineered or genetically engineered, or have had both changes made as defined by Perr (2004) (as cited in Singh et. al., 2006). It isn’t that all conventional farming grows GM crops, but there are no restrictions to using GM crops. In organic farming, however, the use of GM crops is prohibited (Gomiero et al., 2011). Although at first glance it may seem that GM foods actually offer great benefits as listed in Singh et. al. (2006), there are risks to the use of GM foods that are known and perhaps some still unknown (Singh et. al., 2006). GM crops can be altered so they do not need pesticides, but as pests build a tolerance to the plant’s new changes, the use of pesticides or more alterations will again be needed (Singh et. al., 2006). Any conventional farming that uses GM crops will be stuck in a cycle in which the outcome can only be negative toward the environment or unknown. Organic crops offer natural solutions such as mentioned in Broad & Cavanagh (2012), since farmers use seeds that have been “in-bred”, making it so the seeds grow well within the local ecosystem the parent plants were a part of and in the soils those parent plants grew. Organic crops are unaltered crops that can be cultivated naturally to work with the environment making them superior when keeping the environment in mind. GM crops also pose possible danger to the diversity of plants (Balezentiene, 2011).
Cross pollination and accidental seeding, through means such as transportation of seed, can cause GM crops to grow or cross with other plants (Craig et. al., 2008) (Singh et. al., 2006). With unknown long term affects of the GM alterations, limiting crops to only organic origins will help prevent any potential adverse affects on the environment. As stated in Balezentiene (2011), conventional farming has had a negative influence on the “floristic diversity” of the areas surrounding such farms. Balezentiene (2011) reports that organic farming is helpful to surrounding plant life due to the methods used in organic farming. The results are in for organic farming, but still pending for GM crops that are allowable in conventional farming. With so many things to consider between organic foods and conventionally farmed and raised foods, organic continuously comes out on top as a better choice for the environment.
People must speak out with a unified voice, as consumers who want organic foods to be the prevalent choices in stores to promote a healthy environment. Right now in the market place, organic foods are no doubt more expensive than there conventional farmed counterparts, but that is because there are many fewer organic farms than conventional farms, so the prices must be higher in order to keep up with the supply. If organic farming becomes the prevalent form of farming, or better yet the only way of farming, the supply for organic foods will be higher and thus allow the prices of organic foods to be lowered. Right now, chemicals make their way through the environment, animals crowd at feed factories, and genetically altered crops are being made and grown. Right now choices are being made in stores. Right now, make the right choice for the environment and choose organic.
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