Sustainable Produce in Your Sustainable Reusable Grocery Bag

Modern agriculture often relies on unsustainable practices to produce high yields. These practices include everything from using chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides to monoculture, which is the planting of a single crop in the same place year after year. These chemical inputs have been linked to human health problems such as cancers, neurological problems, and reproductive disturbances in both humans and animals. Monoculture can deplete soil of specific nutrients, which in turn causes farmers to apply synthetic fertilizers. In Washington State, a 2001 study found that apple orchards had lower soil quality, presumably because apple orchards themselves are essentially monocultures and undergo conventional farming practices such as spraying to prevent insect damage. There is also concern about the threat that conventional agriculture poses to wildlife populations due to the use of pesticides and herbicides, as well as the expansion of croplands into natural habitats.

Organic farming methods seek to avoid the environmental and health issues presented by modern agriculture. So what does that mean for someone meandering around the produce department for salad fixings? In our country, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees organic certification and labeling through its National Organic Program. The USDA has determined that produce can be certified as organic if it has been grown without the use of the following: synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers made from wastewater treatment sludge, or synthetic additives. In addition, the soil that the produce is grown in must be tested as free of the above. In other words, a farmer cannot simply till up ground that has previously been treated with a chemical fertilizer, plant a crop, and call his produce organic. In the case of animal products, the animals must be raised without hormones or antibiotics. Organic products must not be a genetically modified organism or have been subjected to irradiation.

Aside from being more healthful for the environment in that does not rely on chemicals, organic farming also prevents persistent organic pollutants (POPs), from entering the environment. Since organic farming does not contribute chemicals into water sources, it does not cause algae blooms which harm the fresh water supply and related aquatic wildlife. In addition, organic farms tend to be smaller and are thereby less intrusive to the adjacent natural areas, helping preserve biodiversity.

Organic agriculture also aims to maintain a balanced mineral content in the soil, which yields not only healthier soil but produce with a potentially higher nutrient content, although there is still some disagreement over whether organic produce is indeed more nutritious than conventional produce. However, there is evidence that organic produce has a much lower pesticide concentration than non-organic produce. In 2003, a study analyzed urine samples of school children eating a non-organic diet and found the presence of organophosphate pesticides. Organophosphates are known to cause neurological damage in humans and animals, and are commonly used in modern agricultural practices. After eating a diet of organic foods for five days, pesticide levels in the children’s urine dropped to nearly undetectable levels, only to become elevated again after resuming a non-organic diet.

By supporting organic farmers, consumers can have a definite impact on the amount of toxic agro-chemicals entering the environment, as well as the amount entering their own bodies. Other ways Earth-conscious consumers can help lower levels of toxic pollutants is by being aware of packaging waste when making purchasing decisions, always recycling, investing in reusable items such as cloth shopping bags, travel mugs, and personal water bottles, and using household cleaners and personal care products that are gentle on the environment.

Billy McCoy writes numerous articles aimed at educating consumers about the dangers of plastic disposable bags. Learn more about Eco-friendly products at the following page about green living tips such as using reusable bags and energy efficient light bulbs and appliances.

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