- Mar 22, 2006is an organic future really sustainable ?
Many people think organic farming will produce food that is healthier better for the environment than that produced with non organic methods.
Organic sales are increasing at 20 percent per year and policymakers are directing taxpayer money towards organic. For example,Sen Hillary Clinton, D-N,Y, recently announced a program to help dairy farmers in her state transition to organic,and Norway set a goal to get 10 percent of the managed area be organic food production,it is
important to realize that some claims of organic are often ignored.
First, there is no consensus about health claims of organic food.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, studies have shown no clear,consistent results. According to the USDA, the organic label
does not mean that organic food is superior, Safer or healthier than conventional food is.
We are blessed with a very safe food supply, although,admittedly, many of us eat unhealthily The latter is not because of non organic food, but because we eat too much fat, sugar and carbohydrates,and too few vegetables and fruits.
Second, organic farming has some serious environmental challenges.
Organic producers use intensive tillage for soil preparation and and weed control .Plowing favors run off and erosion. It oxidize soil organic matter and destroys soil aggregates.
Tillage also harmful to many soil organism such as earth worms,No-till system have been developed where soil is protected by a mulch,reducing erosion and run off .This increasingly popular practice is now used on 23 percent of U.S. crop land.
Living vegetation is killed with an herbicide and crop are planted directly into a mulch with no-till planter. Soil organic matter is preserved, surface aggregation is improved, and soil organism such as earthworms are favored. Without herbicide, continuous no-till farming is virtually impossible.
Organic farmers rely primarily on compost manure or green manure in crops to supply fertility. The nutrients in crops to supply soil fertility. The nutrients in these organic sources typically do not match crop demands .So it is easy over apply nutrients such as phosphorus,while nitrogen needs are just barely met.
When cover crops or manure are plowed down ,nitrogen can be released rapidly .Unfortunately no crops is present to take these nutrients up immediately
Hence the potential for significant nutrient losses is organic farming .Commercial fertilizer could help complement organic sources of fertility , reducing the opportunity for losses to the environment ,but these products are not allowed in organic farming is however, how to produce enough affordable food without sacrificing natural ecosystem.
The world population has doubled since 1960,now exceeding 6 billion, and expected to reach 9 billion in 2050. Despite fears in 1970s of wide spread famine, the average world citizen (even in developing countries) eat more now than in the 1960s.
According to the F.A.O., food production out placed population growth and and the price
of food decreased 40 percent in real terms between 1960 and 1999, seventy eight of the increased in food production was due to increased production per acer of land made possible by the use of improved crop varieties, chemical fertilizer, crop protectant and improved machinery.
Although competitive yields are possible with organic producer , a major production of the worlds land would have to be devoted to green manure crops to fix nitrogen. Expansion of cropland comes at the expense of natural habitat and is some times impossible.
Recently members of Chinese Academy of science expressed their concern about an organic food strategy for china.
They pointed out the china produces enough food for 21 percent of the population on 9 percent of the worlds cultivated land. This has only been possible because 75 percent of
crop nutrients are now supplied by chemical fertilizer, compared with only 22percent in 1965.
If china were to adopt organic practices on a large scale, crop land would have to be expanded which is no option in land scares in china .
Health promises organic food remain elusive ,whereas it has significant environmental challenges ,including its reliance on intensive tillage and organic nutrients sources .The need to expand , crop land means less natural habitat ,and rising food costs present a problem for the world;s urban poor.
These issues needs to be the seriously considered before we become to enamored with organic.
Sjoerd W. Duiker assistant professor of soil management at Penn State.
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