Organic foods may look smaller and less appetizing than their genetically modified companions, but every inch is covered and filled with twice as …
With its strong focus on social change for small farmers, agroecology is going mainstream worldwide, but the American food movement has yet to catch up.
Earlier this month, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) held the 2nd International Symposium on Agroecology at its headquarters in Rome. The gathering attracted almost 800 participants, with representatives from 72 governments and 350 “non-state actors,” including civil society, academia, and the private sector. Farmers from Senegal, academics from the U.S., French parliamentarians, and staff of CropLife International, among others, gathered to debate the FAO’s claim of the urgent need to “scale up” agroecology as a means of achieving a more sustainable food system.
The symposium, hosted by the preeminent global institution on food issues, suggests that agroecology may finally be moving out of the margins. And it’s in the process of being mainstreamed.
Yet here in the U.S., it’s a different story. In fact, the word is rarely heard, even among people concerned with both agriculture and ecology. Instead, advocates—and the food industry—use the words organic, sustainable, and regenerative. And while some seem to use agroecology as an umbrella term that encompasses all of these practices, it’s more complex than that.
All the above-mentioned terms share a commitment to food production without negative impacts on the environment. What makes agroecology different, potentially, is the combination of its scientific bona fides and its rootedness in the practices and political organization of small-scale food producers from across the globe. The former—as seen in multiple scientific elaborations of agroecology’s principles, like improved soil health, crop rotation, and diversification—is complemented by the latter, which gives agroecology meaning beyond the combination of “ecological” and “agriculture.”
Research shows people with healthy diets rich in fruit and vegetables are the most wasteful and calls for better education for consumers
About 150,000 tons of food is tossed out in US households each day, equivalent to about a third of the daily calories that each American consumes. Fruit and vegetables were the most likely to be thrown out, followed by dairy and then meat.
This waste has an environmental toll, with the volume of discarded food equivalent to the yearly use of 30m acres of land, 780m pounds of pesticide and 4.2tn gallons of irrigated water. Rotting food also clogs up landfills and releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
Researchers at the US Department of Agriculture analysed eight years of food data, up to 2014, to see where food is wasted and also what members of the public say they do at mealtimes. The research has been published in Plos One.
Pesticides cause a multitude of adverse effects on humans. However, they are especially harmful to children. They may have something to do with the mass-shootings in schools all over America because some of them are neurotoxins. This means they affect and damage the central nervous system and the brain – of all animals, including humans.
Warren Porter, professor emeritus of zoology at the University of Wisconsin, conducted experiments with ground water – water drawn from the ground of farms with typical levels of pesticides and fertilizers. He chose farm water contaminated with the insecticide aldicarb, the herbicide atrazine, and nitrogen fertilizer. He tested that mixture on white mice and deer mice.
The concentrations of the fertilizer with each of the pesticides (aldicarb and atrazine) in the ground water were of the order of magnitude the Environmental Protection Agency says the chemicals cause “no unreasonable harm to man and the environment.” In other words, Porter put to the ultimate test the assurances of EPA and the chemical industry about the toxins EPA registers (approves) – that they are safe and farmers may spray on crops Americans eat.
Porter discovered the mixture of common ground water and farm chemicals had detrimental effects on the animals’ nervous, immune, and endocrine systems. The mice became aggressive and had problems with their thyroid hormones. Their immune system was also compromised in its ability to make antibodies against foreign proteins.
Organic food means food without farm sprays, sludge, radiation, and genetic engineering. This healthy food is also political food: helping us to fight pollution and control by the agrochemical-industrial-political complex.
This seems like good news—but in truth, organic farming makes up just a tiny fraction of the global agriculture system controlled by a few giant corporations generating enormous profits. And it’s about to get worse: If current deals in the works make it past European and U.S. regulators, three companies—Bayer, DowDupont and ChemChina—will own two-thirds of the world’s seeds and pesticides.
This unfortunate reality threatens to hold us hostage for decades as conventional agriculture continues to ravage our planet: gobbling up immense fossil fuels for production and shipping, flooding the earth with toxic synthetic pesticides and deadening our soil’s biodiversity with GMO seeds (along with the taste of our food). Conventional agriculture also generates a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions now baking our atmosphere.
And food is just part of the picture. Consider cotton, a fiber used to make a large majority of our clothing globally: just one percent is grown organically. That figure has stayed mostly stagnant since at least 1996, the year Patagonia started sourcing 100 percent organic cotton. It’s especially appalling considering 16 percent of all pesticides used worldwide are used to grow conventional cotton—exposure to which has been linked to higher rates of cancer and other diseases. Conventional GMO farming practices also reduce soil fertility and biodiversity, require more water and large amounts of herbicides, alter the nutritional content of our food, and result in toxic runoff that pollutes our rivers, lakes and oceans.
Thankfully, the status quo isn’t our only option. Regenerative organic agriculture includes any agricultural practice that increases soil organic matter from baseline levels over time, provides long-term economic stability for farmers and ranchers, and creates resilient ecosystems and communities. Put simply, this approach presents an opportunity to reclaim our farming system on behalf of the planet and human health—while fulfilling the obvious need to feed and clothe billions of people around the world. We can produce what we need and revitalize soil at the same time, thereby sequestering carbon currently polluting the atmosphere and warming our planet.
For a deeper dive, take a look at Unbroken Ground, a 25-minute film by Chris Malloy on the wonderful work of four different groups to help create higher-quality food that is far more nutritious and delicious than anything our worn-out industrial farms can produce.
Women in Indiana’s “corn belt” had shorter pregnancies if they were regularly exposed to glyphosate, a new peer-reviewed study has found
“Glyphosate is the most heavily used herbicide worldwide but the extent of exposure in human pregnancy remains unknown,” Indiana University researchers write in the journal Environmental Health.
The chemical is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup spray, which accompanies the company’s genetically modified corn and soybean seeds so that farmers can freely kill weeds without destroying their seeds.
Glyphosate-intensive farming has taken over industrial agriculture in the United States, resulting in 300 million pounds of the spray applied annually. Some researchers, as well as public health advocates and environmental groups, have charged that little is known about the potential health effects of exposure to a spray prevalent in the environment and the food supply.
To study the effect of glyphosate on pregnancy, researchers with the Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health took urine samples from 71 pregnant women who live in central Indiana, which produces much of the world’s corn.
We have all heard of vegetarian, vegan and flexitarian diets. But have you heard about wildevore diet? Surely, no! Nowadays, dieting is considered a national obsession among everyone. These types of diets mentioned above are definitely healthy and less fatty, but it might have a negative impact on one’s health and sense of well being. Concerns about climate change, environmental stress and animal welfare mean that “what we eat is an ethical as well as a health issue.”
The two women, who are promoting the all-new ‘wildevore diet’, said that the new approach will help people to show how they can eat to benefit their own health while making planet-friendly choices at the same time. The Wildevore diet incorporates some of the philosophies of veganism, vegetarianism, flexitarianism, ethical omnivorism, and clean eating, but it looks more closely at the pressures on the environment and the impact that has on human health, according to The Ecologist.
The new eating approach identifies on how to make the best choices both ‘nutritionally and ethically’ and aims at educating the people about where their food originates from. Health problems Caroline Grindrod, an environmental conservationist, writer, and Wildevore coach, and Georgia Winfield-Hayes, a nutritionist both agree that the new eating diet is not for the “faint-hearted, requiring some serious homework and a desire to change habits.”
The system can work for vegans and meat-eaters, but there is an underlying need to understand the consequences of food choices. In the Wildevore diet, meat reared on regenerative farms and fed on natural diets is allowed for its human health benefits. Georgia, who has written extensively on human nutrition, said that a vegan diet does not ‘always’ provide the best results.
‘From a health perspective a vegan diet, in the short term is an amazing way to cleanse the body and this feels great,” Georgia said. “However, long-term it can create serious health problems. Soya, the main protein source for many vegans, is a hormone-disrupting food and can cause our own reproductive systems to stop working correctly,” she added.
Will Harris, a good ol’ boy Georgia rancher, may well be our nation’s best bet for a better, more sustainable future. He’s the subject of a documentary by Peter Byck, “One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts.”
Tell us one story about the production.
When Will was taking me around the surrounding counties, to see the dying towns, small towns that had a strong agricultural base and that had been shriveling up due to poor economics for the local folks, we were filming along an old mill and rain was impending. I could see the coming squall down the road and it appeared to me to be about four minutes away. At about three minutes [out], when Will finished his answer to one of my questions, I grabbed the camera and tripod, told him we’d better run back to his truck, and as soon as we shut the doors, it started to really come down. He was impressed with my sense to read the rain. That made me feel good.
What’s been your past interest in sustainable animal agriculture?
I look to regenerative agriculture, and AMP [adaptive multi-paddock] grazing in specific, as a potential way to draw down significant amounts of carbon from the air and store it in the soils. Carbon is the currency for healthy soils — and healthy soils produce healthy foods and help farmers to make more food on their land. My experience is filming farmers and ranchers across the U.S., Canada and the UK. These innovative producers of food are my heroes.
This headline from the smart website newfoodeconomy.org caught our attention: “General Mills is transitioning 53 square miles of South Dakota farmland to certified organic.” That’s 34,000 acres that will be converted to organic by planting a mix of hard red spring wheat (for pasta) hard red winter wheat, dry yellow peas, corn, soybeans, sunflowers and alfalfa. They call it Project Gunsmoke.
“The Gunsmoke project is an opportunity to use our scale to help convert large areas of acreage to organic as one of our tools to create a more stable supply chain,” General Mills said.
In short, demand for organic, or chemical-free, foods is growing exponentially and the major food suppliers can’t keep up.
A new study says that even in the ‘unrealistic’ event of a total halt to the flow of agricultural chemicals the damage will persist for 30 years.
The enormous “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico will take decades to recover even if the flow of farming chemicals that is causing the damage is completely halted, new research has warned.
Intensive agriculture near the Mississippi has led to fertilizers leeching into the river, and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico, via soils and waterways. This has resulted in a huge oxygen-deprived dead zone in the Gulf that is now at its largest ever extent, covering an area greater than the state of New Jersey.
A new study has found that even if runoff of nitrogen, a fertilizer chemical, was fully stemmed, the Gulf would take about 30 years to recover. Even this scenario is “not only considered unrealistic, but also inherently unsustainable”, researchers stated in the work, published in Science.