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Daily News Blog

24
May

Take Action: Ensure Regenerative Agriculture Incorporates Organic Standards in Order to Fight Climate Change

(Beyond Pesticides, May 24, 2021) Agriculture is a major contributor to climate change. In a recent article in Science, Clark et al. show that even if fossil fuel emissions were eliminated immediately, emissions from the global food system alone would make it impossible to limit warming to 1.5°C and difficult even to realize the 2°C target. According to the International Panel of Climate Change, agriculture and forestry account for as much as 25% of human-induced GHG emissions. The contribution of animal agriculture has been estimated at 14.5% to 87% or more of total GHG emissions. These estimates include emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ammonia. The carbon dioxide contribution largely comes from converting land from natural forest to pasture or cropland.

Tell EPA and USDA that “regenerative” agriculture must be organic.

“Regenerative” agriculture is widely considered to be a solution for reducing or even reversing these impacts. Unfortunately, a movement by promoters of chemical-intensive agriculture has fooled some environmentalists into supporting toxic “regenerative” agriculture. The so-called “regenerative agriculture” promoted by these groups ignores the direct climate impacts of nitrogen fertilizers, the damage to soil health caused by pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and the fact that pesticide and fertilizer manufacturing is dependent on fossil fuels—as key ingredients as well as for the heat and energy driving chemical reactions. It is important to see through this deception.

Regenerative agriculture must be organic.

Organic agriculture practices reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

Reducing Emissions of Nitrogen Oxides. Excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers in chemical-intensive agriculture is driving global nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions higher than any projected scenario, putting the world at greater risk of a climate catastrophe. According to research published by an international team of scientists in the journal Nature, failure to adequately address nitrous oxide emissions has the potential to impede the ability for the world to keep warming below the 2°C target established under the Paris Climate Agreement, necessitating further cuts in other greenhouse gasses.
 
A 2018 study from the University of Virginia and The Organic Center found that “reactive” nitrogen, in the form readily available to be taken up by plants, is conserved in organic systems. Jessica Shade, PhD of The Organic Center, noted that the research was “significant and timely because its findings show that many common organic farming practices—like composting and the use of manure fertilization in place of synthetic fertilizers—can recycle reactive nitrogen that is already in the global system, rather than introducing new reactive nitrogen into the environment, and thus have a much smaller environmental impact.”

Organic practices sequester carbon. Organic systems sequester significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere into on-farm soil carbon. A report from the Rodale Institute expounds on these benefits. It reads, “Simply put, recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term ‘regenerative organic agriculture.’ These practices work to maximize carbon fixation while minimizing the loss of that carbon once returned to the soil, reversing the greenhouse effect.”

Organic practices preserve natural lands and biodiversity. Natural forests are more effective than tree plantations in sequestering carbon. Preserving natural land increases biodiversity, which also reduces dependence on petroleum-based pesticides. Organic farms are required to “comprehensively conserve biodiversity by maintaining or improving all natural resources, including soil, water, wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife, as required by § 205.200 of the regulations and per the § 205.2 definition of Natural resources of the operation.”

It is crucial, as we move forward with a plan to harness agriculture in the fight against climate change, that we not be misled into promoting the same practices that have created the problem. As aptly stated by Jeff Moyer of the Rodale Institute, “We believe that in order to be regenerative, you have to start by being organic. It’s a little disingenuous to say you can regenerate soil health and sequester carbon and still use nitrogen fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. What you’re really saying is equivalent to saying ‘I want to be healthy as a person, but I still want to smoke cigarettes.'”

Tell EPA and USDA that “regenerative” agriculture must be organic.

Jeff Moyer, the CEO of Rodale Institute, and others will discuss regenerative organic agriculture at the National Pesticide Forum, starts this week with a pre-conference session on Monday and runs every Tuesday for a month after that. Schedule won’t work for you? No worries, sessions will be available on demand for your viewing convenience. Register now

Letter to Biden Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, Climate Ambassador John Kerry, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and EPA Administrator Michael Regan:

I am concerned that “regenerative” agriculture, which is widely considered to be a solution for reducing or even reversing climate change, will have negative impacts if not properly defined. Unfortunately, a movement by promoters of chemical-intensive agriculture has fooled some environmentalists into supporting toxic “regenerative” agriculture. The so-called “regenerative agriculture” promoted by these groups ignores the direct climate impacts of nitrogen fertilizers, the damage to soil health caused by pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and the fact that pesticide and fertilizer manufacturing is dependent on fossil fuels—as key ingredients as well as for the heat and energy driving chemical reactions. It is important to see through this deception.

The climate crisis and the devastating decline in biodiversity are escalating as a result of uncontrolled and unnecessary reliance on toxic chemicals. These threats to life require a meaningful holistic strategy to end our fossil fuel dependence and use of materials that release harmful levels of noxious gases (including greenhouse gases). The current carbon market proposals fall short.

The lack of a holistic approach allows continued disproportionate hazards to people of color and communities living near toxic sites. Alongside proposals to replace the combustion engine with electric vehicles, agriculture must—across the board and on an expedited five-year schedule—shift to organic practices. Organic practices both sequester carbon and eliminate petroleum-based pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Importantly, the data show that organic agriculture now operates without sacrificing productivity or profitability. While the vested economic interests in the petroleum and chemical industry cling to the status quo, there are good jobs and money to be made in a green economy.

We need a national plan to shift to 100% organic farming. Organic land management is more effective at reducing emissions and sequesters carbon in the soil. There is already a national program for certifying farms that meet organic standards. Organic operations must “comprehensively conserve biodiversity by maintaining or improving all natural resources, including soil, water, wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife.”

Undefined “regenerative” agriculture falls short by ignoring the direct climate impacts of nitrogen fertilizers, the damage to soil health and ecosystem services caused by pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and the fact that pesticide and fertilizer manufacturing is dependent on fossil fuels—as key ingredients and for the heat and energy-driving chemical reactions. 

We need a national land management plan.  Preserving natural land increases biodiversity, reducing dependence on petroleum-based pesticides, and is more effective in sequestering carbon. Biodiversity buffers against damage from climate change—for example, by protecting shorelines from storm damage.

Preserving natural lands and transitioning farms to organic production should be the cornerstones to combating climate change. I urge you to incorporate into a holistic approach, at the very least, the provisions included in the following:

*Climate Stewardship Act of 2019.

*The Agriculture Resilience Act of 2020.

*A pledge to conserve at least 30% of U.S. land and ocean by 2030 and 50% by 2050.

*The Resolution on a National Biodiversity Strategy.

*A $30 billion fund dedicated solely to fund the transition to organic agriculture, with a goal of achieving 100% organic farms by 2026.

Thank you.

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