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Daily News Blog

04
Mar

Soil-Based Organic Agriculture Takes on the Climate Crisis, Economic Insecurity, and Health Inequity

 

(Beyond Pesticides, March 4, 2020) California produces the most food of any state in the U.S. – more than half of all domestic fruits and vegetables – but only 4% of its agriculture is organic. After releasing a report on the benefits of organic agriculture last year, the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) Foundation is continuing to offer a “Roadmap to an Organic California” with an extensive policy report. The document proposes a wealth of concrete strategies for California lawmakers to employ. Organic agriculture, the authors skillfully reason, can respond to three pressing issues in California: climate resilience, economic security, and health equity. Additionally, the report highlights the need for focus on organic integrity in order to sustain positive change away from toxic practices.

Climate Resilience

The climate crisis is already impacting California; heat waves, droughts, and devastating wildfires are occurring more frequently and severely. Organic agriculture is often forgotten as politicians consider solutions. CCOF proposes that policy makers help combat the climate crisis through supporting healthy, carbon-sequestering soil practices that are federally mandated in organic agriculture.

In addition to building farm resilience, healthy soil secures some of the state’s water supply. Because it is porous and sponge-like, well-maintained soil stores water. In a dry climate like California, the fact that organic crops have yields up to 40% higher than chemical-intensive during years of drought highlights the importance of organic agriculture as climate changes. Noting this value, there is a distinct need for increased research and technical assistance in organic practices.

With increasing financial hardships in farming and the high value of property in California driving sales, the state needs to make governmental efforts to help conserve farmland. “An acre of urban land,” the report emphasizes, “emits 70 times more greenhouse gases than an acre of farmland.”

                How to realize organic’s full potential:

  • Integrate organic into California’s climate strategy.
  • Invest in popular water efficiency programs.
  • Invest in organic research and technical assistance.
  • Conserve California’s farmland.

Economic Security

While California represents an enormous economy, the state struggles with exceptionally high poverty rates and food insecurity. “Low-income people in California are more likely to live in polluted environments, lack access to healthy foods, experience worse health outcomes, and have fewer job opportunities,” the report states. However, it contends, “Organic is an economic solution.”

A 2018 study in Renewable Agriculture and Food found that organic “hot spots” – areas where organic agriculture is clustered – are related to poverty rates that are 1.6% lower than average. Median household incomes in these hot spots are also higher, by $1,600. “Organic agriculture is a proven economic stimulus that strengthens communities,” says the CCOF report. The rising demand for organic produce and the fact that 39% of organic farms make direct sales in their locality (compared to only 5.5% of conventional) relates to more money circulating and being reinvested within local economies. An improved local economy creates jobs and opportunity for growth. As such, the report notes, there is a particular need to invest in farmworker rights – a frontline community that has been impacted by recent immigration policy. Labor shortages have led to crops rotting in the field because there are no workers to harvest them.

                How to realize organic’s full potential:

  • Foster a strong organic market.
  • Invest in farmworkers.
  • Integrate organic into economic development planning.
  • Support organic farmers to comply with regulations and maintain viability.

Health Equity

Low-income families and people of color disproportionately lack access to healthy environments and healthy foods. In California, child exposure to environmental hazards has been estimated to cost $254 million each year. Nationwide, the lack of investment in healthy foods costs $160 billion in health care expenses. These negative health outcomes are inequitable and avoidable.

Organic agriculture creates healthy, pesticide-free environments and more nutritious food than chemical-intensive agriculture. It avoids water contamination and does not poison farmworkers or their children.

                How to realize organic’s full potential:

  • Expand organic to all communities
  • Support children’s health with organic food and farming
  • Promote organic food as medicine

Organic Integrity

The question of organic integrity is foundational to organic growth and the public health, environmental, and agricultural benefits to be derived from its expansion and the transformation of mainstream agriculture, now dependent on chemical inputs and genetically modified organisms. It is this question of organic integrity, and the specifics that drive consumer trust in the USDA organic label, that advocates point to as threatening the future of the organic solution to the climate crisis. CCOF, by many accounts, has been identified as the first certification agency to certify hydroponic (soil-less plant production) as organic and then later affirmed by the National Organic Program. CCOF, advocates say, has been complicit as USDA violated the sunset process established as a foundational standard in the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) process for reviewing allowed synthetic substances in organic production. That process required that, on a five-year cycle, synthetics in organic be subject to a re-listing process (requiring the same supermajority vote that is required to initially place a synthetic on the National List of Allowed Substances) that scrutinized the science on adverse effects and the essentiality of the material, in light of new production practices and substances. While the report highlights how critical the integrity of the organic label is to the success of the organic movement and all it has to offer, it ignores this reality that is undermining organic integrity, according to advocates—missing the importance of unifying the interests of family farmers, consumers, and environmentalists. Nevertheless, the report suggests that lawmakers: 1) Fund the National Organic Program (NOP) and enforce strong organic standards, 2) Clarify organic standards around hydroponics and container-based systems, and 3) Develop a guidance document to bolster the soil fertility standard (how to maintain or improve natural resources and soil health).

Beyond Pesticides is a strong advocate for organic expansion through organic integrity (see: Keeping Organic Strong) and opposes the organic labeling of hydroponic production because it does not incorporate the foundation element an organic production system—soil. If organic agriculture is to be a solution to the climate crisis, carbon-sequestering soil is critical.

California has a chance to lead the nation in responding to the critical issues laid out by CCOF in this policy report. Beyond Pesticides supports advocates and groups heading up this work on the West Coast. You can join our national and local initiatives by signing up for our Action of the Week and Weekly News Update. For more on organic integrity, keep abreast with our new program, OrganicEye.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: CCOF

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