Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Organic Farming - Controversies

Organic Fertilizers

In organic farming, compost made from manure is somehow questionable. The manure used in preparing compost may originate from non-organic animals. Some compost may contain sewage sludge, and discarded animal parts from slaughter house.

Organic fertilizers made of guano, blood meal, bone meals, fish meals, etc, are more complex than chemical fertilizers. The mineral contain are difficult to identify and quantify. Lack of crucial information on the mineral contain may easily lead to over fertilized, nutrient leaching, heavy metal toxicity and many other issues.

Composting is a very complex process, which involved micro-organisms and subject to specific ideal conditions : temperature, moisture content, O2 content, C:N ratio and type of ingredient. Anaerobic composting releases CO2, hydrogen sulfide and methane ; while aerobic system releases co2 and heat. High temperature destroys insects, larvae, weed seeds, but no compost will be totally sterilized by high temperatures alone, thus open a window for contamination of pathogens and disease vectors to the farm and the consumers.

Organic fertilizers are bulky, making it less manageable. The use of agricultural machinery powered by diesel-engine during preparation of compost, storing, transporting and application contribute equally to depletion of non-renewal energy sources.



Productivity

Issue of productivity is more than a summary of yield per arable land. However, the hidden costs of conventional farming’s side-effects, like environmental damage, health risk, consumption of energy, usage of water, of which eventually will reach to the consumer.

However, basic economy sees only production per arable land. There are still no conclusive data supporting the claim that farming is able to meet the demand for affordable food. Norman Borlaug, father of the ‘Green Revolution’, a Nobel Peace Prize laureates, asserts that organic farming can at most feed 4 billion people, after expanding cropland dramatically and destroying ecosystems in the process.

However, some believe that organic farms require more land to produce same amount of foods as conventional farms. If this argument is true, organic farming could potentially destroy the rainforests and wipe out many ecosystems. ( Bob Goldberg. 2000. The Hypocrisy of Organic Farmers. )


Pesticide Residue

Organic farming standards do not allow the use of synthetic pesticides, but they do allow the use of specific pesticides derived from plants. The most common organic pesticides, accepted for restricted use by most organic standards, include Bt, pyrethrum and rotenone. Rotenone is a rotenoid plant extract obtained from barbasco, cub, haiari, nekoe and timbo. it is EPA toxicity class I or III – highly toxic or slightly toxic, depending on formulation.

A study published in 2002 showed that organically grown foods consistently had about one-third as many residues as conventionally grown foods. ( Baker, et al. 2007. Pesticide Residues in Conventional, IPM-Grown and Organic Foods : Insights From Three U.S. Data Sets. ) (Goldberg. 2005. Consumers Union Research Team Shows : Organic Foods Really do Have Less Pesticides )


High Retail Price

One of the objectives of organic movement is to produce food for local community. However, due to the low yield/acre, the organic farmers had no choice but to sell their produce at higher retail price. Without proper certification and control, anyone can claim their produce as ‘organic’ and sell at premium price. Thus organic becomes the food for the ‘fooled’ wealthy-few.


Healthier & Safer Food

There is no conclusive proof to support the claim that organically grown produce are healthier and nutritious. Organically grown produce are equally susceptible to contamination without proper use of organic fertilizers and pesticides, poor handling and storage.

Some unethical shop owners simply market their poor-quality produce as ‘naturally grown’ or ‘no chemical fertilizers used’, insect-damaged as ‘insecticide-free’, etc.


Soil Conservation

Some organic farming practices are claimed to do more damage than conventional practices, for instance, soil preparation by ploughing is claimed to increase soil damage compared to using Roundup.


Sustainability

Although it is generally held that organic farming is sustainable agriculture, the two are not synonymous. Sustainable is a concept with the idea of approaching as closely as possible a balance between what is taken out of the soil, and what is returned to it, without outside inputs.

Application of organic fertilizer, in the contrary, is act of imports of nutrient, which violates the concept of sustainability.

Thus, an organic farm, even operated in small scale, shall be able to self-sustain as a complete ecosystem. While the nutrients are taken out ( harvested produce ) from the soil, equal amount of the nutrients are to return to the soil ( in-situ manure ).


Environmental Friendly

Organically grown produce are normally sale in specialty store or special refrigerated shelves in hypermarkets, packed in individual plastic bags. Instead of side-tracked to centralized food system, organic produce should market directly to the local community to avoid unnecessary transportation cost, packaging, storage as a more energy-saving, and less-waste-production approach.
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