Boulder, Colorado – The Organic Center, a leading research institute focused on the science of organic food and farming, has revealed its broad concern for the state of the food industry and American agriculture. Despite the hopeful and symbolic gesture of planting an organic garden at the White House and the First Lady’s ongoing efforts throughout 2009 to promote healthier diets amongst children, the year ended with little progress on important domestic policy issues affecting food safety and quality, agriculture and nutrition.
The Organic Center highlights seven predictions for 2010 that cast a dark shadow over national efforts to improve public health and restrain health care costs, conserve natural resources and combat global climate change. These predictions will become or remain reality in the absence of concerted action to address the root causes of systemic problems relative to how food is grown and processed and in the American diet itself.
Seven Predictions for 2010 and Beyond
1. An increase in the number of children facing developmental issues including autism, ADHD, birth defects and allergies. Just one percent of all pesticides are responsible for virtually all pesticide-related developmental risks from exposure in the diet. The government must take steps to ban high-exposure uses of these pesticides, while also limiting access to heavily sweetened foods and beverages in schools and promoting affordable access to organic fruits and vegetables, which are generally free of toxic pesticide residues.
2. An increase in the number of Americans who are obese, diabetic or both. Government agencies and programs either directly control or shape one or more of the daily meals consumed by 25 percent of Americans. More can and must be done in the marketplace to reward the food industry for offering healthier choices. In order to address the obesity and diabetes epidemics in the US, farm program spending must shift away from subsidizing high-fat foods to supporting healthier fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and dairy products. A diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables helps to balance caloric intakes with an individual’s energy needs and largely eliminates exposure to pesticides known to predispose people to insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome.
3. A decrease in the efficacy of life-saving antibiotics. There are now several strains of bacteria that are essentially untreatable in humans and more will follow without major changes in how antibiotics are used on farms. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-New York) introduced a bill in 2009 that would ban the subtherapeutic agricultural uses of human antibiotics – passage of this bill would help preserve the efficacy of life-saving antibiotics. Until such a bill passes, the purchase of organic animal products is the only way to stop the evolution of newly resistant bacteria on farms and ranches.
4. An increase in disease linked to inflammation. Nutrient-dense foods can help elderly people fight disease, aches and pains linked to inflammation while also promoting brain health. As we age, our bodies become more dependent on antioxidants in food, as opposed to those manufactured by the body. Antioxidant levels are highest in richly colored fresh fruits and vegetables, and organic farming increases average antioxidant concentrations by about 25 percent.
5. An increase in the spread of “super weeds.” Genetically engineered, herbicide-tolerant crops have increased herbicide use by over 380 million pounds since 1996, with 46 percent of the total increase in 2007 and 2008. Strong steps must be taken to reverse the dramatic increases in herbicide use, which is resulting in spread of “super weeds” throughout the 160 million acres of US genetically engineered corn, soybeans and cotton grown annually. If voluntary resistance management isn’t put into practice by the industry in 2010, the EPA should impose binding rules in time for the 2011 crop season.
6. The continued rapid decline of the honeybees. Five seed treatment insecticides are known to undermine bee immune systems and the ability of bees to find their way back to the hive. In Italy, a ban on these seed treatment uses during the 2009 crop season resulted in virtually no bee losses. The US should follow suit to assure ample harvests of foods dependent on pollination by bees.
7. Global warming. Farm and conservation program payments should be redirected toward proven ways to sequester carbon in soil organic matter, which will reduce America’s contribution to global warming while enhancing agricultural productivity, lowering farm production costs and helping to shrink “Dead Zones” in coastal areas. Few public policy changes offer such significant and diverse benefits at such a modest cost.
In years past, the American approach to agriculture and food has been the pursuit of high yields with the support of chemical, drug, genetic engineering and other “advanced” technologies. The American food system faces profound challenges that will grow worse if the nation fails to astutely and honestly identify the core problems eroding our health and the health of American agriculture. We need new technologies and systems that prevent problems and sustain high levels of soil productivity. Organic farming is a good example of just such an advanced, systems-based technology.