Once relegated to the fringes of society, organic foods are quickly gaining traction as the “it” product of the new millennium. But what makes food organic and why is choosing to eat organic important?
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, in order to be certified by the United States Department of Agriculture as organic, foods must contain all organic materials that are produced using ecologically friendly practices without synthetic chemicals, engineered materials, sewage sludge or exposure to radiation. Animal products must come from livestock that has had access to the outdoors, has not been treated with hormones or antibiotics and has been reared on organic feed.
Modern farming techniques employ a liberal use of both genetically modified seed and chemical treatments to ensure the most robust crop yield per acre of land. These chemicals then begin a slow march toward local water resources through natural run-offs in the land. These eventually make their way into our rivers, lakes and ponds resulting in toxic algae blooms.
Ohio in recent years has experienced an increase in such blooms which has resulted in both sicknesses and a lack of access for recreational use of waterways, including Lake Erie. According to the Ohio Department of Health, harmful algae blooms (HABs) can produce neurotoxins which affect the nervous system and hepatotoxins which can affect the liver. These toxins have the potential to impact the health of people who come into contact with water that has algae blooms in high concentrations. These blooms tend to look like foam, scum or mats on the surface of fresh water lakes and ponds. Sickness resulting from contact with contaminated water will vary depending on the type of algae one was exposed to and the nature of the exposure.
Grand Lake St. Mary’s in Mercer County is experiencing a crisis that threatens Ohio’s second largest lake’s very existence. The lake is experiencing toxicity levels that are hazardous to both human inhabitants and the surrounding ecosystem. Pollutant filled run-off from local commercial farming and industry is seeping into the lake at alarming levels, causing the lake to maintain a consistently high amount of toxic algae. This problem is further aggravated by the erosion and development of the natural shoreline. Plants on the shoreline act as a natural filter to pollutant run-off which helps to reduce the levels of industrial chemicals that reach the water. This one-two punch is making the lake, in the words of a local conversation group, “a lifeless, foul-smelling pool that threatens to drain the livelihood of all the area’s individuals, families, and businesses”.
Since organic farming uses no synthetic products in the production of crops, there is no chance of damaging chemicals reaching waterways. As consumers, we have the ability to choose where we spend our money. Every purchase becomes a vote. Every time we choose to eat organic foods, we are taking a stand. We are saying that our health is important, that the environment is important. Eating organic foods is not only making ourselves healthier by reducing our exposure to chemicals and hormones, but its making our homes, communities and planet healthier.