Six Myths of Organic Farming
Myth #1: Organic food is better for the environment.
Organics don’t contaminate soil and groundwater with pesticides and chemicals like regular farming does. But organic farming is only about half as productive as conventional farming. It requires far more land to produce the same amount of food. Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues estimates that modern high-yield farming has saved 15 million square miles of wildlife habitat, and that if the world switched to organic farming, we’d need to cut down 10 million square miles of forest. Less-productive farming could also lead to even less food for the world’s undernourished.
Studies keep flip-flopping on this: One found more vitamin C in organic tomatoes than in conventional ones. Another found more cancer-fighting flavonoids in organic corn and strawberries. But other studies haven’t found organics to have a nutritional edge. What makes the biggest difference in nutrients is how long produce sits on the shelf. Spinach, for instance, loses about half of its foliate within a week.
Nobody has been able to tell the difference except in one study of apples, where organics came out ahead. To get raspberries that taste “raspberrier,” buy produce that’s locally grown, is in season, and hasn’t been sitting on the shelf too long. Nothing is at its best when it’s flown halfway around the world and waxed then has to spend a week in the grocery store.
All produce, whether purchased from a grocery megachain or your local organic farm, is susceptible to nasty bacteria, such as deadly E. coli. Soil and runoff water that is contaminated with E. coli harboring animal poop can get onto produce, particularly melons, lettuce, sprouts, tomatoes, spinach, and green onions, since they grow close to the ground. Your best defense: Wash everything thoroughly under running water.
General Mills owns the Cascadian Farms brand, Kraft owns Back to Nature and Boca Burger, and Kellogg’s owns Morningstar Farms, to name a few conglomerates currently flaunting the organics’ flag. And with such high demand, these giant companies are importing organic ingredients as cheaply as possible. Often from other countries. Whole Foods sold roughly $1 billion in produce last year; only about 16 percent was locally grown. With all the CO2 spent in transport, some organics have questionable ecological virtues.
Myth #6: It’s better for you.
Not if it’s organic chips, organic soda, or organic cookies. Cane sugar is still sugar and fried chips are still fried, no matter what kind of compost was or wasn’t heaped onto the potatoes.
Five Myths About Grass-Fed Beef
Myth #1: Grass-fed beef is good for the environment.
Raising animals for food, especially cattle, is one of the leading causes of global climate change. In 2006, the UN release a study called Livestock’s Long Shadow which made the point that raising animals for food is the largest contributor to global climate change. The biggest environmental problem with raising animals for food is the greenhouse gases that they produce: methane and carbon dioxide. Feeding cattle grass instead of corn or soy is somewhat of a reduction of resources, but does not address the issue of greenhouse gases. It does not matter whether the cattle are located on a giant factory-farm or on a small farm in Central Massachusetts, each cow still produce a huge amount of greenhouse gases.
Myth #2: Animals on grass-fed farms are happy.
There is certainly a gradient in the ways in which animals are treated in the meat and dairy industry, but even small operations are far from kind to animals. Cows are artificially inseminated. Calves are taken from their mothers shortly after birth to be sold to a veal farm or used as dairy cows. Most small farms send their animals to the exact same slaughterhouses as factory farms.
Myth #3: Grass-fed beef is safer.
If you eat meat, you are increasing your risk of consuming E. Coli. There is no evidence to suggest that grass-fed beef has a lower risk of contamination than factory-farmed meat. E. Coli is transmitted through contact with fecal matter and all meat has fecal matter contamination. Supporters of grass-fed beef have said that the stomachs of cows who eat grass are more resistant to E. Coli, which is a claim that has never been backed up by facts.
Myth #4: Grass-fed beef is good for your health.
Grass-fed beef is still full of saturated-fat, cholesterol and growth hormones. It may be true that beef from cattle who are fed grass is a little better for your health than meat from animals who live on feed-lots. However, eating a plant-based diet is even better for your health. Beef consumption is linked to the major killers: cancer and heart-attack. Grass-fed beef can also contain added artificial hormones. A short time before being slaughtered, grass-fed cattle are often fatten-up with by being fed corn, soy, and given unnatural growth hormones.
Myth #5: If everyone ate grass-fed beef factory-farming would end.
Eating grass-fed beef does not challenge factory-farming, because it is not a viable alternative. It is expensive and there is not enough grassland to raise that many cattle. Every year in the United States, over 10 billion land animals are raised and killed for human consumption. Most families cannot afford the high price-tag of grass-fed beef. A small operation based in Hardwick, MA sells grass-fed ground beef for $9 per pound and $23 for rib-eye.
Facts About Free-Range
- According to the Certified Humane label, Free range (or free roaming) is a general claim that implies that a meat or poultry product, including eggs, comes from an animal that was raised in the open air or was free to roam. USDA considers five minutes of open-air access each day to be adequate for it to approve use of the “Free Range” claim on a poultry product. Its use on beef is unregulated and there is no standard definition of this term. Factories (containing over 1,000 hens) must have at least one pop hole access to the outdoors which can be locked.
- Chickens raised for meat are selectively bred to grow to “market weight” at an alarming pace. In the past 50 years, the amount a chicken used for meat grows each day has increased by more than 300%.
- Chickens in the meat industry typically spend their lives confined to warehouse-like buildings, each packed with as many as 20,000 chickens. On average, the space per chicken is only slightly larger than a sheet of letter-size paper. This crowding can result in scratches and sores from the birds being forced to walk all over each other.
- A 2006 study found that 55% of uncooked chicken purchased from supermarkets contained arsenic, which is known to cause cancer in humans. Arsenic is added to the feed of approximately 70% of the broilers raised each year because it is believed to promote growth.
- Since more than one flock is sometimes kept on the same litter before the floor is cleaned, floors can be covered in the waste of tens of thousands of chickens. Excessive ammonia levels that can result from the waste breaking down can lead to health problems for chickens, including difficulty breathing.
- The lights are kept on nearly constantly in the buildings where chickens raised for meat are confined. This can stimulate eating and unnaturally rapid growth and limits the opportunity for chickens to sleep and rest, all of which leads to serious health problems.
- Studies have consistently shown that approximately 26–30% of broiler chickens suffer from difficulty walking because their skeletons have trouble supporting their rapidly growing bodies. This can also lead to deformities and lameness.
- The rapid growth of broiler chickens is often associated with acute heart failure. The hearts and lungs of the rapidly growing birds are not able to effectively get oxygen circulated throughout the body. This problem is the leading cause of death in chickens as they reach “market weight.”
- Chickens who survive their time in production are often slaughtered at just 42 days old.
- At the slaughterhouse, there is no law in place requiring chickens to be rendered unconscious before slaughter, and the electrified water bath stunning used has been shown to cause painful shocks before it stuns the birds.
What Does It All Mean?
As much as we would like to believe otherwise, businesses have a commitment to stockholders and staying in business. Many time, this means using cheap resources from other countries and only meeting the minimum requirements. I hold a strong hope that there is at least one company that promotes locally-grown products and treats it’s animals with the respect and dignity they deserve, but I have failed to find a company that does so.
The best thing you can do as a consumer is to do your research and stick to what you believe, whether that be veganism, vegetarianism, or only buying straight from the farmer. With the state of our economy and our bull-rush through our and other countries’ resources, we are looking at a very bleak future. America, land of the plenty, may very well back fire on itself before long.