Organic research

Make my meals toxin-free

In New Zealand the Safe Food Campaign and the Pesticides Action Network NZ provide information on the toxins contaminating foods in this country, and the campaigns to remove them.

GE Free NZ does the same for genetic engineering (GE) in food and farming, including forestry and aquaculture.

There is a strong link between GE organisms and toxic residues on food, with most of the soya bean crops grown in North and South America today being engineered to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate, which the World Health Organisation International Agency for Research on Cancer has now identified as a probable cause of cancer and which the latest independent research shows is capable of causing liver and kidney damage at the ultra-low levels typically found in drinking water.

Read two recent studies on how organic diets lower children's exposure to organophosphorus pesticides here and here.

The dangers of pesticide use for farm workers, their families and farming communities have been documented from around the world, including California, Zimbabwe and Mexico.

For up-to-date information on the latest scientific studies on chemical hazards in food and the environment, see the website Our Stolen Future; for a collection of studies on specific diseases and conditions linked to pesticide exposure see the Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database, and for why pesticides are a such a big problem and how they got to be that way, see the books The Myths of Safe Pesticides by Andre Leu (Acres U.S.A., 2014) and Poison Spring by E.G. Vallianatos and McKay Jenkins (Bloomsbury, 2014).

A useful book on how to de-tox ourselves and our home environment is Toxin Toxout by Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith (University of Queensland Press, 2013).

Make my meals nourishing

Where is the scientific evidence that organic foods are more nutritious? It’s increasingly available online.

Read the 2014 Newcastle University study High antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: A systematic literature review and meta-analyses here, a Q&A with the researchers here, and another 2014 study, this one from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences – Contribution of Organically Grown Crops to Human Healthhere

This 2008 report from the Organic Center – State of Science Review: Nutritional Superiority of Organic Foods – outlines the rigorous methodology it used to make its comparisons, and also explains the concept of 'nutrient density', or what makes a fruit or vegetable more or less full of nutrients.

Make my meals greener than spinach

In his 2015 Edible Education 101 lecture at the University of California, Berkeley - "The Ecological Crisis as a Crisis of Agriculture"  - Professor Emeritus Garrison Sposito demonstrates the ways in which the current global ecological crisis – loss of biodiversity; pollution of air, soil and water; greenhouse gas emissions and global warming; and energy wastage – is a crisis in the ways in which the world currently produces, distributes and consumes food. The good news is that organic farming methods are effective both in mitigating these effects, and in creating sustainable adaptations for those that can't be mitigated.

Links to studies on the role of organic farming in maintaining and enhancing biodiversity can be found here  and a paper on The Farm as Natural Habitat
by Professor Laura Jackson of the University of Northern Iowa here.

The Center for Biological Diversity in the USA campaigns against pesticides because of the damage they do to wildlife.

Research by Massey University on New Zealand organic dairy farms shows that they produce 50-60% less nitrogen pollution than non-organic farms.

The core practices of organic agriculture, such using only natural sources of nitrogen as fertiliser and being careful not to over-fertilise, and adding carbon to the soil and preventing its loss, make a significant difference when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture (as well as sustaining good yields in the face of climate change effects like drought and rainstorms).

The scientific evidence for this is summarised in the paper Organic agriculture and climate change produced by the Natural Resources Management and Environment Department of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. The paper looks at the organic supply chain as well as farming practices, and the ways in which organic standards now cover packaging, heating of greenhouses and cool storage, and transport of foods so as to save energy, prevent waste and reduce GHG emissions.

Make my meals cruelty-free

Philip Lymbery, the Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming and author of Farmageddon The True Cost of Cheap Meat endorses organic farming  for its superior approach to animal welfare.

What's better for animals is better for people too – battery 'farms' are hugely polluting of soil, air and water, and even toxic to their neighbours and those downstream.

Make my meals generous and hospitable

The longest study comparing the performance of organic and conventional farming systems is the Rodale Institute's 30-year Farming Systems Trial, which ran from 1981 to 2011.

This study compared like with like – identical varieties of crop (the American 'top two' of corn and soybeans) were grown side by side on identical soils and experienced the same weather conditions. The only differences were in how the soils and crops were managed.

In addition to the environmental benefits of the organic system (35% less greenhouse gas emissions; 30% less energy use and, of course, no chemical pollution), the economic benefits were also clear. The organic crops gave a higher yield over the trial period (mainly due to their greater resilience in conditions of drought and heavy rain, a result of the greater water-holding capacity of organic soils).

Furthermore, even when the premium for organic corn or soy was low, the organic system was still around 30% more profitable than the conventional system.

While farm economics differ between countries, and between farms, the Rodale findings are backed by other comparative research which shows why organics makes economic sense for farmers everywhere, including small and peasant farmers such as the Indian farmers who converted to organics covered in this study.

What's involved in being fair trade as well as organic? Check out the principles and practices of these fair trade organic bananas and fair trade organic coffee importers.