By Brian Huynh
Since 1939, farmers across the world have been using pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides to protect their crops, increase their yield each year, and turn a profit. These pesticides are used on different kinds of plants, fruits, and vegetables. But within the last decade, an organic craze has swept the developed world. The question is: Is growing food organically better for the environment than growing food with pesticides?
When people think of pesticides, their thoughts migrate toward the negative impacts they have on the environment and the humans that consume them. The most infamous pesticide to date is DDT, an insecticide developed in the late 19th century by Dr. Paul Muller. DDT has been used as a pesticide in nearly all produce grown in the United States and around the world in the mid-20th century.
After extensive testing, DDT is said to have too great of a harm if consumed and is now only used in tropical areas of the world in order to control mosquito populations and the spread of malaria. Currently, new synthetic pesticides is said to have less of an effect on humans and the environment. They are being used to protect crops around the world.
There is no doubt that any type of pesticide, herbicide, or insecticide is harmful to the human body and the environment. On the other hand, if we were to convert to an organic agriculture on a global basis, much more land would be needed to grow as much food as we do today using pesticides. So much land would be used that urban and suburban areas would not be able to expand, taking away housing for millions. In addition, there wouldn’t be enough food to feed the world.
Norman Borlaug, winner of the Nobel Peace prize and developer of semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties, stated that if the world were to farm organically, only 4 billion people would be fed, leaving an additional 2 to 3 billion people starving to death.
Many people know surprisingly little about organic farming, but still support organic farmers with their wallets. One of the largest misconceptions is that if one buys organic food, they are supporting the smaller and local farmers. However, nowadays, most of the organic food is grown on large farms owned by large corporations.
In the United States, the USDA requires that the organic food produced be fertilized by natural fertilizers and have as minimal exposure to pesticide residue as possible. What is meant by this statement is that manure must be used as a fertilizer and that use of scant amounts of pesticides is still legal. Cow dung not only fertilizes the soil, but is also a breeding ground for viruses, including E. coli and Salmonella, not to mention that it releases methane, a gas 23 times more toxic than CO2. One notion states that organic produce tastes better than non-organic produce. But taste is purely subjective.
Additionally, the costs of organic produce may be 30 to 50 percent higher than that of its pesticide counterpart. Once all of the factors are weighed, the use of pesticides may be accepted by some non-believers, but are still shunned by many others. Whichever side one may take, today’s agriculture is one of man’s greatest achievements, though it can still be improved upon. (end)
Editor’s note: This story was written by a Summer Youth Leadership Program student, not a Northwest Asian Weekly staff member.