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Volume 38, No. 2

Eat Organic Food and Combat Global Warming

"Organic farming may be one of the most powerful tools in the fight against global warming."1 Unfortunately, the wide spread use of chemical farming, combined with the removal of plant residue, results in the death of vast numbers of soil organisms and the consequent release of their constituent carbon into the atmosphere as CO2 exacerbating global warming. Worldwide the results are amazing:

The earth's 5 billion acres of degraded soils are particularly low in carbon and in need of carbon-restorative vegetative cover. Increasing degraded soils's carbon content at plausible rates could absorb about as much carbon as all human activity emits.2 [bold added]

"Findings from the Rodale Institute's 23-year Farming Systems Trial® (FST) comparing organic and conventional cropping systems show organic/regenerative agriculture systems reduce [the release of] carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas—positioning organic farming as a major player in efforts to slow climate change from runaway greenhouse gases increases."1 Organic farming sequesters carbon. On the other hand, "conventional" farming with its added pesticides and chemical fertilizers, releases carbon when the soil is being degraded with the consequent loss of humus and the killing of soil organisms with their constituent carbon. Comparing the two systems in their 23-year trial, the scientists at The Rodale Institute found that the conventional plots sequestered no carbon at all whereas: "Since 1981, data from the Farming Systems Trial has revealed that soil under organic agriculture management can accumulate about 1,000 pounds of carbon per acre foot of soil each year. The accumulation is equal to about 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre taken from the air and sequestered into soil organic matter. When multiplied over the 160 million aces of corn and soybeans grown nationally, a potential for 580 billion pounds of excess carbon dioxide per year can be sequestered when farmers transition to organic grain systems."1

Besides being a potent carbon sink, "organic systems use about one-third less fossil fuel energy than that used in the conventional corn/soybean cropping system."1 For the FST, Dr. David Pimentel of Cornell University has carefully calculated the fossil fuel expended in the production and transportation of the synthetic fertilizer and pesticides used in the conventional plots. Of course, none of these inputs are used or are necessary for the organic plots.

The crop yields for the two types of management have been essentially the same over the twenty-three years of the trial, except for dry years, when the organic plots "yielded 25 to 75% more than the conventional system"1 because the soil humus could retain moisture. This long and careful trial contradicts statements that organic management produces less. See also, "NOTES FROM AN ORGANIC FARMER" by John Bell Clark, PhD, NOHA NEWS, Winter 2002, pp. 7-8. Dr Clark got increased yields when the soil had recovered from the previous conventional chemical treatments. See also, National Research Council, Alternative Agriculture, 1989, where farming operations were investigated in different areas and with diverse crops and always with reduced and often eliminated inputs of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The researchers found: "Farmers who adopt alternative farming systems often have productive and profitable operations, even though these farms usually function with relatively little help from commodity income and price support programs or extension."

Innovative and carefully managed herding of animals can return bare, degraded land, even in fragile environments, to productive pasture resulting not only in a major amount of carbon sequestration but also in enhanced production of delicious organic meat from grass-fed animals.3 To accomplish this, many animals need to be herded into a small space, so that they trample up bare earth and press down any dead grass or small bushes. Thus, caked earth is broken up and also fertilized with feces and urine. The animals are quickly moved after only a few hours or a day and are not returned to that area until after good grass has had a chance to grow. Author, rancher, and environmentalist Allan Savory3 describes carefully how this system is used to restore land that in many cases had become completely barren and useless. Not only does this system restore land (and combat global warming) but it also provides much more excellent organic meat, for people to eat. (People cannot eat pasture grass.) Savory feels that before our ancestors killed off many of the herds of herbivorous animals and their predators, that the two acting together kept fertile much land that is desert today. The predators would scare the wild cattle and then the herd would stampede to another place. Now, Savory uses attractants, plus electric wire to confine the tightly packed animals, and then the animals have to be quickly moved to another area.

In contrast to this modern grazing management technique, much of our supermarket beef, pork, and poultry comes from animals raised in CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) where hundreds of animals are confined together, causing many problems including disease. The concentrated feces and urine from CAFOs give off vast amounts of greenhouse gases including methane, instead of being the essential fertilizer in well-managed pasture operations.

In the Farming Systems Trial (FST)1 nitrogen, as well as carbon, was sequestered in the soil whereas no carbon nor nitrogen were sequestered by the conventional chemical system. In explaining this difference, Dr. Hepperly points out that, among the living organisms in the soil, the networks of fungal mycelia are far more prevalent in organic systems and that they "produce a potent glue-like substance called glomalin that is crucial for maximizing soil aggregation" of "organic matter with clay and minerals."4

Thus, we have learned that by choosing to eat only certified organic food—produce, legumes, grains, and meat, not only are we enhancing our own health but also, by our choices, we are insisting on organic farming, which combats global warming in major ways. In the beginning of June, there will be a conference in Chicago with scientists who will show the health effects from tiny doses of pesticides and chemical fertilizers and will also speak of effects on global warming. Dr. Paul Hepperly will be one of the speakers. For details on Changing Course in a Changing Climate: Solutions for health and the environment, go to the Beyond Pesticides web site:

1"Organic Farming Sequesters Atmospheric Carbon and Nitrogen in Soils" by Paul Hepperly, PhD, The New Farm® Research Manager, The Rodale Institute
2 Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism, Little Brown and Company, 1999, page 205.
3Allan Savory with Judy Butterfield, Holistic Management, A New Framework for Decision Making, Island Press, 1999.
4See also, Paul Stamets, MYCELIUM RUNNING, How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, Ten Speed Press, 2005, and "FUNGI: ENVIRONMENTAL SAVIOURS, WONDERFULNUTRIENTS, AND SOME DEADLY POINSONS," NOHA NEWS, Fall 2006

NOHA* NEWS, Spring 2007

*The American Nutrition Association was formerly known as the Nutrition for Optimal Health Association [NOHA].

For informational purposes only - not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor an endorsement by the American Nutrition Association®. Use permitted for non-profit and non-commercial uses or by healthcare professionals in their practice, with attribution to Other use only with written ANA℠ permission. Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ANA℠. Works by a listed author subject to copyrights as marked. © 2010 ANA℠