How Organic Farming Benefits Human Health and the Environment
The term organic is quite popular these days. People usually perceive it as something healthier and more natural, but you will often hear someone ‘not buying into it’ and taking the organic hype with a big grain of salt. Is organic food really worth it? Is it healthier and more nutritious than conventional food? Can organic farming feed the exploding human population? What about the environmental effects?
I present you the most important benefits of organic farming for human health and the environment. You will learn how it affects the health of farmworkers, consumers, and the entire planet. This article focuses on negative health effects of pesticides, but the big picture goes far beyond that. Organic farming offers a holistic sustainable approach to food production with plenty of health and environmental perks.
What Is Organic Farming/Agriculture?
“Organic agriculture can be defined as: an integrated farming system that strives for sustainability, the enhancement of soil fertility and biological diversity whilst, with rare exceptions, prohibiting synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, and growth hormones.” — Wikipedia
This definition makes a great starting point for revealing the benefits of organic agriculture. Go through it once again and spot all the amazing aspects. If all this is true in the real world, organic farming could revolutionize the food production and solve some of the world’s burning issues. So, let’s dive into each aspect and see what the evidence says.
How Organic Farming Benefits Human Health
The first thing that comes to your mind is avoiding the pesticide residues in food, right? Although this is the most important health advantage of organically produced foods, the whole picture is much more complex. Everyone included in the production chain benefits from organic farming, from farmworkers to consumers.
Organic Farming Benefits Farmworkers
Farmworkers are at the forefront of pesticide exposure and their destructive health effects. In conventional agriculture, farmworkers prepare huge amounts of toxic chemicals, apply them to the crops, and manage the sprayed crops. They are exposed to much higher concentrations of pesticides than consumers are by ingesting the end products.
According to the World Health Organization, acute pesticide poisonings (APPs) “account for significant morbidity and mortality worldwide, especially in developing countries. Studies from Sri Lanka regarding self-poisoning reveal an APP incidence rate of approximately 180 per 100 000 workers.”
APPs are just one part of the farmworkers’ problem. They are constantly surrounded by toxic pesticides, which puts them at risk of numerous chronic diseases. Entire farmworkers’ families, especially children, can experience these negative effects through contact with them. In developing countries, pregnant women often work in the sprayed fields, threatening the health of their unborn babies. Later in this article, we’ll go into details about the health dangers and negative effects of pesticides.
Organic Farming Benefits Consumers
There's an ongoing debate whether the organic food is healthier and more nutritious than conventional. Before diving into pesticide residues in food and their health effects, let's take a look at the nutritional profile of some organically produced VS conventional foods.
Scientists are yet to conduct comprehensive tests and answer this question thoroughly. Emerging evidence, however, indicates that organic foods contain more antioxidants, polyphenols, essential fatty acids, and other vital nutrients.
The Organic Center analyzed the antioxidant content of organic VS conventional foods. They found higher polyphenols, flavonoids, and total antioxidant capacity. Here’s their full Antioxidant Report. A new study, published in the journal Antioxidants, confirmed the vital roles of these nutrients and their potential to improve cognition, cardiovascular health, liver function, and much more.
A study published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry revealed a much higher total phenolic content of organic corn and strawberries. Dairy products are no exception. This meta-analysis compared the nutritional quality of conventional VS organic dairy product and concluded: “Organic dairy products contain significantly higher protein, ALA, total omega-3 fatty acid, and omega-3 to -6 ratio.”
Pesticide Residues in Food, Our Bodies, and the Environment
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the pesticide use in agriculture with the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), making sure that pesticides don’t end up in our bodies and harm our health. But is this really the case?
A study titled Pesticides and Health Risks reveals worrying statistics: “Detectable levels of 50 different pesticides were found in the blood of a representative sample of the U.S. population”. They even detected infamous DDT, although the US authorities banned its use back in 1972!
Many pesticides belong to so-called Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs); they can stick around in the environment—and our bodies—for decades. The Stockholm Convention on POPs (2001) warned about the 12 most dangerous persistent chemicals; 10/12 are pesticides.
Pesticides Health Effects in Humans
Why should you worry about pesticide residues in food and environment? Well,the following studies will give you a damn good reason.
One systematic review examined the connection between pesticide exposure and cancer. Researchers found a positive relationship for “brain, prostate, and kidney cancers, as well as NHL and leukemia.” NHL stands for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Another review investigated whether the pesticide exposure increases the risk of other diseases (non-cancerous) and found solid evidence of “neurologic, reproductive, and genotoxic effects.” Speaking about reproductive effects, a study published in the Industrial Health Journal confirmed that dibromo-chlorophane and 2,4-D could impair fertility in males.
The list goes on and on… For example, ‘Beyond Pesticides’ published a comprehensive review of their endocrine (hormone) disrupting effects. Children are much more susceptible to these hazardous side effects, due to their developing immune and nervous system. FQPA also warns about this and recommends setting a 10x safety factor for children’s exposure to pesticides.
The rampant use of antibiotics and growth hormones poses another serious downside of conventional livestock production. Like pesticides, they also end up in our food and our bodies.
Organic farming prohibits the use of toxic synthetic pesticides and encourages natural pesticide alternatives instead; same goes for hormones and antibiotics. This approach offers a sustainable solution to all of the above issues.
Organic Farming and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
Whether or not GMOs are safe and healthy goes far beyond the scope of this article. One thing is for sure: they are not studied well enough. The potential GMO risks for human health and the entire planet are vast. According to the latest genetic research, food acts as information and can modify our genes.
I will leave it up to you to imagine the potential implications of these findings. Organic label assures that no GMOs are used to produce and process your food.
Organic Farming Benefits the Environment
Another topic that deserves a whole new article (or even a book). I will briefly cover the environmental benefits of organic farming as they imply more benefits for human health.
Organic agriculture encourages the use of sustainable farming methods and discourages the use of toxic chemicals; as a result, it can:
- Reduce air, water, and soil pollution
- Save water and energy
- Build healthy nutrient-rich soil
- Protect animal welfare and biodiversity
Rodale Institute has been conducting the longest and most comprehensive comparison of conventional VS organic farming (37 years and counting). Their findings are confirming the mentioned benefits of organic farming for the environment and human health. Rodale Institute underlines another important aspect: organic yields can match—and even outperform—conventional ones and grant more profit to farmworkers.
I hope you learned a lot from this post and realize the importance of organic farming. It’s time for us to embrace natural farming methods that were once considered normal. Organic food can improve your health and wellness while taking care of the environment; add it to your list of great wellness habits, and your body will thank you.
What do you think about organic farming? Do you buy organic food? Please join the discussion in the comments below and share your thoughts and experience. Thank you!
Author Bio: Aleksa Ristic is a freelance health writer with a Master's degree in Pharmacy, currently writing for a wellness blog called Big Blue Waves. His main fields of interest are nutrition, herbal medicine, and a healthy sustainable lifestyle. He found a way to merge his two biggest passions—writing and health—and use them for noble purposes. Ultimately, Aleksa’s mission is to inspire the readers to improve their wellbeing and live their lives to the fullest. Connect with him on Facebook and Blogger.