Many consumers believe that the biggest difference between organic farming, also known as sustainable agriculture, and conventional farming, also known as industrial agriculture, is that organics are grown without the pesticides and fertilizers that are used in conventional farming.
People may even believe that both organic farming and conventional farming use the same seeds and soil, but that organic farmers don’t use chemical pesticides or fertilizers, and just let nature do what nature does. However, those are fallacies.
Organic farming requires the use of only heirloom seeds, while conventional farmers may use GMO seeds. Heirloom seeds are the naturally produced, pre-GMO-era seeds.
Now that doesn’t mean heirloom seeds haven’t been subjected to hybridization by farmers for generations, because many of the fruits and vegetables we eat today are hybrids that were developed in the past, but GMO seeds are manipulated in a laboratory to carry the DNA of pesticidal bacteria, which kills the worms that bite the crops, protecting the crop somewhat from insect infestation by killing the pests in the field.
It is common for people who defend genetically modified foods (GMOs) to argue something along the lines of, “What’s the big deal? Humans have been genetically modifying plants for thousands of years.” Unfortunately, this claim can only be made by someone who either doesn’t understand seed breeding, or who is outright trying to deceive you. There is a reality check in the graphic below.
Today, seeds are bred in either an open pollinated environment, through a hybrid cross, or (as with GMOs) through direct DNA modification in a lab.
All Heirloom seeds are open pollinated, so they can be saved and passed from generation to generation.
Hybrids are often spontaneously and randomly created in nature when open-pollinated plants naturally cross-pollinate with other related varieties.
For creating hybrid seeds, plant breeders just direct the process to control the outcome. (A whole new world of food crops became available as a result of hybridization, including grapefruit, sweet corn, broccoli, cauliflower, cantaloupes, kohlrabi, seedless watermelons, “burpless” cucumbers, as well as tangelos, clementines, and other unique foods.)
Unlike heirloom or hybrid seeds, GMO seeds are not created using natural, low-tech methods.
GMO seed varieties are created in a lab using high-tech and sophisticated techniques like gene-splicing. Furthermore, GMO seeds seldom cross different, but related plants.
Often the cross goes far beyond the bounds of nature so that instead of crossing two different, but related varieties of plant, they are crossing different biological kingdoms — like, say, a bacteria with a plant.
Genetically modified crops include genes extracted from bacteria to make them resistant to pest attacks. These genes make crops toxic to pests but are claimed to pose no danger to the environment or human health.
Genetically modified brinjal, whose commercial release was stopped over a year ago, has a toxin derived from a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis ( Bt).
What is a GMO?
“GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, and it can describe the way many products in industries like medicine, scientific research and agriculture are made. When it comes to food, GMO refers to seeds. They grow in the ground like any other seed, only genetically modified (GM) seeds have certain desirable traits setting them apart. These seeds grow into plants that might use water more efficiently or better withstand pests like bugs or weeds, which means they may require less farmland to grow.
GM seeds have been used by farmers for more than 30 years. However, seeds have actually been modified through traditional plant breeding techniques for hundreds of years. Fruits like today’s seedless watermelon and bananas, which are significantly different than earlier versions of these fruits, are a result of traditional plant breeding techniques. Modern GM seeds still make use of traditional plant breeding to add desired traits to plants—essentially combining cutting-edge and foundational plant science.
Farmers are consumers too—and any one of them will tell you that stewardship of their land is among their core values. Scientists, for their part, place the highest priority on the safety of each product and conduct rigorous and demanding tests on each.
GMO corn developed by Monsanto, for example, includes genetic material from the bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which kills European corn borers by punching holes in its gut lining. This means that every single cell of the GMO corn plant contains the DNA of a bacteria that damages the digestive tract of whatever eats it. And because it is engineered into every cell of the corn plant, it doesn’t wash off. Though biotech companies swore that Bt always breaks down during digestion, Bt has been found in the gut lining and bloodstream of humans. While Monsanto swore that glyphosate (Round-up) was safe to eat and couldn’t get into ground water supplies, it is now listed as a probable carcinogen, and found in the waterways and groundwater in every country where it is sprayed, often at levels higher than allowed in drinking water.” Source
Now that we know about the seeds we are using, let’s take a look at the soil and fertilizers that replace plant nutrients in the soil, harvest after harvest.
Soil Nutrition and Organic Farming
Soil nutrition is very important in organic farming. Organic farmers do use fertilizers, but only those with naturally occurring ingredients, like manure and plant matter.
Even so, manure that has not been properly aged or composted can lead to E. coli contamination in the field, which can end up on the vegetation. Compost made from yard waste, tree trimmings, table scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds and the like, is beneficial to the soil because it replaces the nutrients that were used to grow the last crop.
After a grow field has been harvested the soil is naturally depleted of certain elements and the soil nutrients must be replenished before a new crop will grow well.
Organic farming practices call for the use of lime to restore calcium to the soil. A nice scattering of 10-10-10 or 8-8-8 will replenish nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, some of the vital nutrients lost from the soil. (Farmers have soil samples analyzed to determine deficiency of micro-nutrients)
The delicate balance of soil chemistry is vitally important to producing the nutritious foods we consume. Those leafy greens we love to eat, provide our bodies with calcium and vitamins, which come from the soil.
Soil without the right mix of nutrients will not yield a bountiful harvest.
Chemically treated soil
Conventional farming, calls for the use of synthetics like GMO seeds, industrial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and relies on heavy irrigation, intensive tillage or monoculture production (growing a single crop in a given area).
Despite its name, conventional farming is a relatively new science, having been developed in the late 19th century and becoming widespread only after WWII.
Since the 1950s, farmers have been producing more edible food using less land in an effort to feed a larger population.
However, since we have learned in recent years that the pesticides and fertilizers used in conventional farming are present in our bowls of Cheerios, more and more people are turning to organically farmed meats and produce, as a means to maintain a healthy diet, and reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases.
Pest management in organic farming relies on the ‘PAMS’ strategy: prevention, avoidance, monitoring and suppression.
Prevention and avoidance are the first line of defense against pests, weeds, and diseases. If pest or weed suppression becomes necessary, organic farmers often use mechanical and physical practices, such as releasing predatory insects to reduce pest populations or laying down a thick layer of mulch to smother weeds.
As a last resort, producers may work with their organic certifier to use an approved pesticide, such as naturally occurring microorganisms or insecticides naturally derived from plants.
We cannot exercise our way to good health until we fuel our bodies with nutritious foods. Even with organic farming there are many measures that must be undertaken to assure the quality and safety of the food supply.
Soil nutrients must be replenished before planting, and wild animals must be kept out of the grow fields because their wastes (urine and feces) can contaminate growing vegetation.
When a farmer holds an Organic Certification, and evidence of wild animals is found in the field, the organic farmer will not harvest any crops within 5 feet of the animal scat because of the danger of E. coli contamination.
Workers in the field are required to wash hands with soap and clean water after taking a lunch break or going to the bathroom to ensure that they do not contaminate the growing crops while working in the field. There are chemicals and hand sanitizers that are safe to use in organic farming, and they protect the field workers as well as the end consumer.
Many fresh fruits and vegetables are hand-picked, and only lightly washed before being displayed at your grocery store, but still need to be washed thoroughly before consumption.
How many unseen people have handled your cucumber before you slice it and eat it?
Who put your lettuce in that plastic bag?
Do you wash each grape before you pop it into your mouth?
Maybe we don’t always think of these things before eating, but no one wants to get a food borne illness, so careful handling is very important.
Southern Belle Organics takes proper hand washing very seriously.
Organic farming is a different science than Conventional farming, using different seeds, fertilizers, and techniques to produce the largest possible harvest of nutritious foods.
Its not something you can compare as being similarly done.
Sure, conventional farming and monoculture production may work well in third world countries where the number of ‘mouths to feed’ exceeds the available farm land, but when there is such a clear choice between foods that are naturally grown & naturally good, and the possibility of chemical residues finding their way on to your (or your child’s) plate, organics seem like the smart choice for those who are aware and informed.
A Brief History of GMOs
Between 1997 and 1999, genetically-modified (GM) ingredients suddenly appeared in about two-thirds of all U.S. processed foods. This change to our food supply was fueled by a single Supreme Court ruling. It allowed, for the first time, the patenting of life forms for commercial profit. Since then, thousands of applications for experimental GM organisms have been filed with the U.S. Patent Office alone, and many more abroad.
The first commercially grown genetically modified whole food crop was the Flavr Savr tomato, which was made more resistant to rotting by Californian company Calgene (later bought by Monsanto). The tomatoes were released into the market in 1994 without any special labeling.
Later GM crops included insect resistant Bt cotton and herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready soybeans, both of which were commercially available in 1996.
Between 1995 and 2005, the total surface area of land cultivated with GMOs had increased by a factor of 50, from 17,000 km² (4.2 million acres) to 900,000 km² (222 million acres), of which 55 percent were planted in Brazil, mostly on land that had been tropical rain forest.
By 2006, 89% of all U.S. soybeans, 83% of cotton, and 61% of corn were genetically modified varieties. Today, U.S. farmers can barely even find non-GMO corn, soy or cotton seed anymore, unless they buy certified organic seed.
For crops like corn, canola and alfalfa, wind can easily carry the pollen from GMO varieties quite far to contaminate non-GMO and even organically grown varieties on neighboring farms. And there is no mandatory labeling of GM content in seed.
Like open pollinated seeds, many GM seed varieties can be saved and expected to produce uniform offspring the following season. But GM seed cannot be saved because all GMO seeds are patented. It is actually illegal to save GMO seed.
You see, GMOs are so expensive to produce (thousands of times more expensive than hybrids or other publicly bred seeds), without patents, biotech companies couldn’t make their money back, much less hold the world hostage to their product monopoly.
Subsistence farmers in developing countries, just like during the Green Revolution, are even worse off—now more dependent than ever on having to purchase seeds year after year—and the chemicals that go with them. That is, if the effort hasn’t already impoverished them off their land in the process.
Biotech companies are so rabid about protecting their patents that many U.S. farmers have been sued by Monsanto when GMO crops were found illegally planted on their fields.
Unfortunately, many of these farmers did not intentionally plant the patented seed; rather, the GMO pollen drifted onto their property via wind or insects, and contaminated their non-GMO crops. This didn’t stop Monsanto from winning their cases against them though, and shutting those farmers down.
Pollen contamination has also affected U.S. wheat and alfalfa exports, and crops that farmers did not know were contaminated have been turned away by countries that do not allow GMOs in their food. This has cost farmers a pretty penny, for sure!
Lastly, and perhaps most gravely of all, because of pollen drift and genetic contamination, we are starting to permanently lose food biodiversity. Control over seeds and the very ability to produce food at all continues to concentrate even further into the hands of just a few multinational corporations.
Know the difference
So, if anyone ever tries to convince you that hybrid seeds and GMOs are the same thing, or that genetic modification technology is “just another” form of seed breeding, you will know this truth.
Hybrids are created through guided natural reproduction, while GMOs are the product of species-crossing methods used to create untested organisms that would never occur in nature. Source
Southern Belle Organics is happy to bring you information we find helpful when planning your family’s menu. We want you to get the best nature can offer in every single bite. Our motto is “Freshness with a Southern Charm”