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Organic is the only mode of agriculture with a set of principles that put nature first. These principles are enshrined in industry-developed standards approved by consumers and verified annually by accredited, third party certification bodies. As of 2009, the National Canadian Organic Standards became backed by government regulation and oversight.
The Canadian Organic Standards, General Principles and Management Standards (CAN/CGSB-32.310) states that,
Organic agriculture is a production system that regenerates the health of soils, ecosystems, and people. Organic farmers rely on natural processes, biodiversity, and cycles adapted to local conditions rather than the use of synthetic inputs like chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not allowed in organic agriculture.
Some essential features of organic farming is that organic farming does not rely on chemical interventions to fight pests and weeds, and to provide plant nutrition. Organic farmers do not use synthetic fertilizers, or pesticides such as herbicides and insecticides. Instead, organic farming relies on natural principles like biodiversity and composting to produce healthy, abundant food.
Organic Farming can be profitable, and organic food appeals to consumers as both healthy and ethical choices. Beyond money though, organic farming practices also result in numerous environmental benefits. Organic farming:
Regenerative organic food production is an approach that includes cultural practices as well as not using toxic chemicals in food production. This eliminates risks from pesticides to farm workers who plant, pick, handle and pack products, as well as risks to the environment. Organic standards for animal management have statistically reduced use of antibiotics and increased beneficial fatty acids in animal products. Nutritional, toxicological and epidemiological studies of organic versus conventional food most often find that organic foods do contain more healthy properties and less toxic residues than their conventional counterparts; however, debate over the healthfulness of organic food is most often concentrated around nutrient density or nutritive value and what this means for human health.
Today’s challenges to growing food are unlike anything we have experienced before, and they require revolutionary approaches to solve food production and sustainable nutrition problems. In short, new food production systems must deliver more human value, to those who need it most, with the least environmental harm. Furthermore, many climate scientists and policy experts recognize that organic, regenerative farming helps to mitigate the threat of global warming by sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from energy-intensive chemical fertilizers. All of these elements come together to protect our health, the health of our families, the prosperity of communities and our environment.
GMOs are living things that have had their genetic code altered. Typically, a package of genes is taken from an unrelated organism and inserted into the GMO to create a desired trait, such as herbicide resistance. A GMO that is resistant to a herbicide will survive when sprayed while nearby plants will die. GMOs exist for many reasons and in many forms; for the purposes of this discussion, we use GMO to indicate a crop that has been modified to tolerate a chemical herbicide, such as the crops produced by Monsanto (now Bayer).
The problem is that these GMOs haven’t lived up to their promise and have facilitated poor agricultural practices, like monocropping and intensive use of toxic chemicals. Nature adapts. Chemicals that were once sufficient to kill weeds become less effective over time. As weed pressure mounts, more intensive applications are required to achieve the same result—and many of those chemicals end up in our air, food and waterways.
Since introducing GMOs, we are using more herbicides than ever before; not less. As well, “stacked” GMOs introduced to tolerate multiple herbicide mixtures, for example with the addition of the older herbicides dicamba and 2,4-D, introduced to kill plants that are now resistant to glyphosate alone not only escalated chemical use, but also caused damage and losses of neighbouring crops.
Importantly, the rise of these GMOs has created a vertically integrated system owned by the chemical company. Farmers become mere implementers of someone else’s design, obligated to pay a licensing fee on every bag of seed, and vulnerable to prosecution for contamination of seed with modified genes. GMO crops may simplify food production, requiring fewer people to manage more acres, but the short -term gain comes at cultural and spiritual costs. The fracturing of rural communities in which younger generations see no future is a direct consequence of this type of industrial agriculture.
An important Canadian concern is the proposal to allow unassessed, unapproved, unregistered, untraced commodification of organisms that have been genetically altered using CRISPR technology.
GMO cropping is ultimately short-sighted and reductionist, putting power in the hands of a few and over time degrading the resilience of agricultural land. Regenerative organic agriculture instead encourages methods that put power in the hands of as many farmers as possible.
Bhosekar V, Nichols K, Myer J. Rodale Inst. 2017. Organics for Sustainable Food Security. Mod Concepts Dev Agronomy. ISSN 2637-7659.
Moyer J., Nichols K, Bhosekar V. Rodale Inst. 2017. A fifteen year review summarizing effects of conventional and organic farming systems on soils, nutrition, environment, economics and yields (1981-1995). Asian J Sci Tech. 8(4):4628-4623.
Bhosekar V, Nichols K, Moyer J. Rodale Inst. 2016. Energy use and emissions in agricultural production systems. Canadian Organic Grower COG.ca
Seidel R, Moyer J, Nichols K, Bhosekar V. Rodale Inst. 2017. Studies on long-term performance of organic and conventional cropping systems in Pennsylvania. Org. Agr. 7:53–6.
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