I don’t know about you, but I thought organic food was 100% goodness. Good for humans, good for the earth. So, you can imagine my surprise when I read Conservation Magazine’s Fertility Treatments article and found it’s mostly good but not 100% fabulous. I felt a little bamboozled needed to generate a couple quick lists to see where everything stood.
Certified Organic: The Plus Side
- Produce is not treated with synthetic pesticides, only natural pesticides, if needed and available
- Synthetic hormones, antibiotics or other medications are not used on livestock
- Livestock eat organic feed
- No genetically modified organisms (GMOs), so plant and animals are as nature intended
- Fertilizers are made up of animal manure, compost, green manures
- Farming involves crop rotations and cover crops to keep the soil fertile
- Fertilizers don’t exhaust the soil.
Certified Organic: The Downside
- Farming yields can be nearly 40% less than synthetic fertilizers for the same crop and amount of land, which explains why organic food can cost so much.
- Organic fertilizer’s “carbon footprint is three to eight times as large if you delivered the same amount of nitrogen with synthetic fertilizers like urea.” So sad.
Both synthetic and organic fertilizers share the problem of nutrient runoff into sensitive aquatic ecosystems. But, after looking at my lists, organic still wins. Conservation Magazine’s article suggests that the best solution might be combining synthetic (for its timed release of nitrogen) and organic fertilizers (to keep soil fertile) to get the best results.
Best Way to Reduce Food-Related Carbon Emissions
Hint: eat less meat (and dairy). You weren’t expecting that were you?
Here’s why. “Most nitrogen fertilizer in the U.S. goes directly into the production of corn. The majority of that corn goes to feed cows [steer].” And, as the article points out, only 40% of the steer is edible. “It takes about 140 pounds of nitrogen to grow an acre of corn, but closer to 60 pounds to grow an acre of kale – a crop that people eat.”
We need to shorten the distance between fertilization and human consumption to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which we can do by eating more fruit and vegetables.