Saturday, April 4, 2009

Organic Farming History

My husband asked me what I knew about the history of farming in America, specifically pesticide use and organic practices. I had no clue so I began to look into it today. Here's what I found:

From: History of Organic Farming on Wikipedia...

To me it looks like the big farming movement took place between 1900-1940 with the introduction of tractors, nitrogen fertilizer, and affortability.

"Consciously organic agriculture (as opposed to the agriculture of indigenous cultures, which always employs only organic means) began more or less simultaneously in Central Europe and India."

Pesticide use came about massively post-WW2...

"Technological advances during World War II accelerated post-war innovation in all aspects of agriculture, resulting in large advances in mechanization (including large-scale irrigation), fertilization, and pesticides. In particular, two chemicals that had been produced in quantity for warfare, were repurposed to peace-time agricultural uses. Ammonium nitrate, used in munitions, became an abundantly cheap source of nitrogen. And a range of new pesticides appeared: DDT, which had been used to control disease-carrying insects around troops, became a general insecticide, launching the era of widespread pesticide use."

DDT was banned in 1972...hmmm, that took awhile.

"In 1962, Rachel Carson, a prominent scientist and naturalist, published Silent Spring, chronicling the effects of DDT and other pesticides on the environment[2] . A bestseller in many countries, including the US, and widely read around the world, Silent Spring is widely considered as being a key factor in the US government's 1972 banning of DDT. The book and its author are often credited with launching the worldwide environmental movement."

Into the 21st century we see where the attention has been...

Throughout this history, the focus of agricultural research, and the majority of publicized scientific findings, has been on chemical, not organic farming. This emphasis has continued to biotechnologies like genetic engineering. One recent survey of the UK's leading government funding agency for bioscience research and training indicated 26 GM crop projects, and only one related to organic agriculture.[3] This imbalance is largely driven by agribusiness in general, which, through research funding and government lobbying, continues to have a predominating effect on agriculture-related science and policy.
...on making money, UGH.

"A 2001 study demonstrated that children fed organic diets experienced significantly lower organophosphorus pesticide exposure than children fed conventional diets. Additionally, in 2005 the EPA's "Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment" showed that children receive 50% of their lifetime risks of cancer during their first two years of life ([3]). These studies and others like it have helped spur a growing organic baby food trend in the United States. Mothers are more and more hesitant to feed their children potentially dangerous food, given that their small bodies are especially vulnerable to toxins"

"The invention of DDT coupled with dramatic increases in crop yields in the 1950's kicked off what many call the "pesticide era." Today, more than 20,000 pesticides are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) resulting in a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States alone.4"

"Pesticides are a public health concern and have been linked to a range of diseases and disorders. Many chemical pesticides are known to cause poisoning, infertility and birth defects, as well as damage the nervous system and potentially cause cancer.10Although it is widely understood that exposure to pesticides is dangerous to humans, research has shown that many people in the US carry high levels of pesticides in their bodies.11 According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American child between the ages of six and eleven carries four times the acceptable level of pesticides called organophosphates (which are known to cause nerve damage).12 Scientists studying the effects of chemical pesticides have found that exposure to small doses of these toxins during the fetal stage and childhood can cause long-term damage.13"

"Pesticides are tested and approved for use by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which establishes "tolerances," or maximum residue levels, that limit the amount of a given pesticide that can safely remain in or on a food."14 The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is then responsible for monitoring pesticide levels on fruits and vegetables, while the Department of Agriculture (USDA) is charged with the task of surveying pesticide residues in meat, eggs and dairy products."

"The FDA is also criticized for its inadequate monitoring of pesticide levels on fruits and vegetables. The Environmental Working Group reports that the FDA fails to test the majority of produce consumed in the US, and as a result Americans regularly consume food-bearing residues of illegal pesticides that are not approved for use in the US.16 "

Especially Dangerous to Children... "Pesticides may harm a developing child by blocking the absorption of important food nutrients necessary for normal healthy growth. Another way pesticides may cause harm is if a child's excretory system is not fully developed, the body may not fully remove pesticides. Also, there are "critical periods" in human development when exposure to a toxin can permanently alter the way an individual's biological system operates."

I will come back to this, for sure. I am VERY intrigued by what I have learned so far!


Shannon said...

Oh, goodness! It is probably too late for my kids, then. The damage has been done. I am going to try to change some things in our diet, but Andy feels that going organic with milk is a waste of money - as he worked on a dairy farm and "knows" the rules of what they are allowed to do with milk and thinks the hype about milk is wrong. I can't say for sure as I haven't researched it - maybe this summer I will.

Trish said...

My question is about the bacteria and other things that are supposedly in organic foods. I just started researching this too, so I don't really know many answers, but a lot of what I read has said that organic foods (mainly produce) are at a much higher risk for parasites and bacteria, like e.coli, etc. What have you found?