Organic or GMO?

Organic or GMO?

 Khushi Chawda ’21

Organic agriculture started in the early 20th century as a response to the environmental consequences of the agricultural revolution. It aims to increase biodiversity, nutrition levels, and sustainability by using naturally occurring pesticides and fertilizers, such as green manure. Crop rotation and intercropping are common practices that help keep the soil rich and fertile for future crops. This definition may seem glorious and appealing at first glance, but upon close reading and fact-checking, organic farming isn’t entirely sustainable: the FAO claims that “by only organic farming, one couldn’t feed mankind.” Experienced agriculturists argue that the best farming practices are a combination of conventional and organic farming that use both synthetic and organic agrochemicals, crop varieties, and other techniques.

Often, genetically modified crops (GMO) enable farmers to use organic practices like using less synthetic weedicides as plants are modified to be weedicide resistant. This not only requires less weedicide sprays, but also saves farmers millions of dollars each year in agrochemicals. Weedicide resistance is one of many traits for which plants are modified. Ironically, GMOs aren’t used in organic agriculture as they are considered unnatural even though they help promote organic practices while keeping the yield high. Additionally, there are about 20 chemicals approved by the USDA for organic use, and they aren’t necessarily better for the health or the environment than synthetic agrochemicals.

The average organic farm is 65-200% larger than a conventional farm as crop yields drop by at least 20% in organic agriculture because weed and pest control are a challenge to say the least. Organic agriculture is extremely labor-intensive and much like farming in the old times, the quality of life of farm workers is anywhere between questionable to dire.

Food companies claim that organic produce is more nutritious and promotes health, even though there is insufficient evidence that organic food is safer or healthier and there is no difference in cancer risk between conventional and organic produce. As no synthetic pesticides are used, the fruit produces increased amounts of certain antioxidants in order to better combat the pests. This results in a higher nutrient concentration, but the difference certainly doesn’t have a significant effect on the consumer’s health.

It is true that organic farms have more biodiversity with 30% more species inhabiting the soil and/or plants, but this can often pose some health problems. Even though organic farms constitute 1% of all farms, 7% of organic foods are recalled from the market due to bacterial contamination. There have been multiple cases on E.coli and Listeria contamination even in highly reputed food brands, and these bacteria are infamous for killing thousands in the US each year.

While organic agriculture may be highly profitable when practiced in areas with perfect weather conditions and if they cater to an urban market, it isn’t for the masses who need abundant and affordable meals.

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