- Organic does not necessarily mean pesticide free
- Pesticide use has occurred over thousands of years
- Synthetic pesticides were seen to be able to effectively treat pests
- Pesticides are regulated by both state and federal governments in Australia however there are weaknesses in the regulation
- Increase in pesticide use has had significant impacts on the health of the worlds ecosystems, flora and fauna
- Evidence is still being developed on the effects on the nutritional quality of the food
- Toxins in food are being linked increasingly to the rise in diseases, with strong evidence showing the impact to the endocrine system
- Greatest at risk groups of food toxicity are to neonatal babies, children and adolescence
Ultimately, we all choose to live long and healthy lives with minimal health issues. We are constantly being impacted by fads that are sparked via media and contemporary science. There is a plethora of information out there and it is hard to distinguish truth from illusion, not knowing what twisted motives individuals and organisations have that create further confusion in the name of profit.
The food that we eat is not protected from this confusion, especially when it comes to the organic vs ‘conventionally grown’ food debate. Some people are either sitting on the fence or either side holding their stance staunchly with a naïve stubbornness. Those with clarity and understanding can see why we have shifted to a chemical fueled agricultural system and why we are now inevitably moving back to low impact techniques which re-balances the homeostasis of our planet, our food and ourselves.
In this article we are exclusively looking at the use of pesticides in farming. Articles in the future will address the other differences between farming methods including: antibiotics, hormones, irradiation and genetic modifications.
- Organic farming: an approach to raising livestock and producing crops that doesn’t use synthetic chemicals, hormones, antibiotic agents, genetic engineering and irradiation (1).
- Biodynamic farming: a holistic approach where individuals consider every aspect of farming, from how the land is owned and capitalised to how the food is produced, distributed and prepared, recognising the planet as a single, self-regulating, multi-dimensional system (2).
- Conventional farming: highly intensive, targeting single crops on the same lot, season after season, utilising pesticides and fertilisers combined with energy intensive technologies (3).
- Pesticide: any substance or mixture of substances used to destroy, suppress or alter the life cycle of a pest. They can be synthetically produced or naturally derived, including organisms. Pesticides include herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, fumigants, bactericides, rodenticides, baits, lures and repellents (4).
Pesticide use has occurred for thousands of years with civilisations using poisonous plants to protect their crops to increase their yield. Over the years it changed from natural occurring sources to engineered chemical compounds like organochlorines and pyrethin. The increase of use occurred after the famines of World War II, at a time when global powers needed to ensure food security (5).
Since then we have had increased farming yields and increases in pesticide use with one million tonnes being dispersed annually (6). This growth though has had significant effects on the world’s ecosystems, having a major role in world pollution, as the demand for food increases due to the growing human population (7).
How are Pesticides Regulated in Australia?
Pesticide use is regulated under the National Registration Scheme (NRS), which is a partnership between state and federal government. Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) is responsible for what products can be used in Australia, up to and including the point of sale. The actual use of the pesticides is regulated by the states themselves (8).
The productivity commission of 2008 (9) and other reports have found some serious gaps in the regulation process:
- 75% of chemicals approved under the old NRS before it came under APVMA were accepted, despite less rigorous assessment, with some pesticide dating back to the 1950’s (10)
- A dozen pesticides that are banned in the EU for their harmful effects, backed with empirical data and evidence, are registered and commonly used in Australia (9)
- State legislation managers the single use of chemicals but doesn’t regulate how they interact with other chemicals (11)
Gaps in our legislation and the rush to minimise red tape by APVMA over pesticide use can only results in us finding out about the long term risks after we have already been exposed.
What is empirically conclusive is how pesticide use through conventional farming techniques has affected the health of all the ecosystems in the world. Many studies have shown the disastrous effects pesticide use is having on:
- Large ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef have suffered significant damage from heavy pesticide use and are currently under threat (11)
- Cellular health of fish population have been impacted (12) as well as species of vertebrae being effected by endocrine disruption compounds (EDCs) that affect reproduction and are impacting species resilience levels, increasing the threat of extinction (13)
- Tiny micro-organisms that ensure soil health are being killed, destroying the soil homeostatic balance, especially with the broad-spectrum pesticides that are extremely cheap to use. This leads to poor soil health and impacts our ability to grow food in the long term (9, 14)
Without stable ecosystems in the world, we as a species won’t be able to survive. It is clear that the way we farm has direct links to the ecosystems and when we increase the toxicity of those systems and create a homeostatic imbalance, it throws our world into turmoil, directly affecting all species survival.
What impacts are there on the food?
Less well known is the impact of organic vs conventionally grown farming techniques on the food itself. Although conventionally grown food will carry with it the residue of the pesticide that we consume (15), the current science isn’t completely clear on effects on the food (16). Some studies have shown links to higher Vitamin C and lower Nitrate levels (17) and obviously lower toxicity but further studies need to be conducted to control factors like climate, plant maturity at harvest and location, etc. to get a greater understanding.
What are the Impacts on human health?
What you put into your body is so important and is a major contributing factor in the health of all organisms. With disease on the rise around the world, food may in fact be the primary route of exposure to contaminants from multiple chemicals, pollutants and pesticides (18). Studies looking at the effects of the toxins in our food are showing:
- The cocktail effect of mixing chemicals in the agricultural process having a build-up effect, especially when looking at the effects of Roundup at non-toxic levels on endocrine cells as well as affecting the estrogen cells that are responsible for foetal development in pregnant women (19, 20).
- Glyphosate (primarily used in Roundup) has been shown to inhibit enzymes that have a crucial role in breaking down foreign substances, creating a build-up effect and linking to gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease (21).
- Human development has seen to be impacted by Chlorpyrifos (a common agricultural pesticide), with children developing neurodevelopmental problems (22) as well as other common abnormalities (23)
The problem is so bad across the planet that in 2012, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) updated its State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, illustrating how exposure to ECDs lead to alternations of endocrine regulation, especially at vulnerable times like foetal development and puberty (13). This is linked to increased global trends of:
- Low semen quality in men
- Genital malformations
- Adverse pregnancy outcomes
- Neuro-behavioural disorders
- Rises in endocrine-related cancers (breast, endometrial, ovarian, prostate, testicular and thyroid)
It is important to note, all these studies are looking at pesticides that ARE permitted currently in Australia, with Glyphosate restrictions around waterways and Chlorpyrifos currently under review by APVMA.
BUYING ORGANIC FOOD
Why is organic food more expensive?
Better Health Victoria (24) suggests some reasons why organic farming is in general more expensive than conventional farming:
- Farming in general is on a smaller scale
- Production is more labour intensive
- Yields are generally smaller
- Farmers need to pay for organic certification
When you look at the true cost of buying conventionally grown food on a holistic scale, as has been evidenced in this article, we can no longer ignore our moral obligation to choose a healthier and more sustainable way of producing our food.
Canberra Organic Options
In Canberra we are lucky to be exposed to a variety of organic grocers and markets. A list can be seen below:
- Ziggys (Fyshwick)
- Mountain Creek Wholefoods (Griffith)
- Organic Energy (Griffith)
- Canberra Organics (Online)
- Capital Region Farmers Market (Mitchell)
- Choku Bai Jo (Lyneham)
- Doorstep Organics (Online)
When purchasing organic food always look for organic certifications as some products will say they are ‘organic’ however this is branding rather than being factually correct. Organic certifiers that are approved by The Department of Agriculture are:
- AUS-QUAL (AUSQUAL)
- Australian Certified Organic (ACO)
- Bio-Dynamic Research Institute (BDRI)
- NASAA Certified Organic (NCO)
- Organic Food Chain (OFC)
- Safe Food Production Queensland (SFQ)
Note: Organic doesn’t mean pesticide free. Try to purchase organic/biodynamic and pesticide free where possible.
From the research that has been shown, there is growing data on the effects of conventional farming methods on the planet, the food produced and our individual health. Over time the science will become clearer and the world will learn to accept that there are negative side effects to our current conventional farming techniques that are no longer ok for the world we live in today.
You can’t always eat organic and we aren’t encouraging a strict regime that limits your ability to engage with the community around you. Merely this work is aimed to allow you to make more consciously aware decisions on the effects to your health and the world around you. As the science behind eating organically becomes clearer, the rest of the world will start to shift too.
In the future we will expand the understanding of the impacts on organic food vs non-organic and look at the impacts of the use of antibiotics, hormones, genetic modification and irradiation and the effects it has on the food, the planet and ourselves.
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