crop duster spraying agricultural crop

Chew on this – the nutritional value of food has dropped as much as 50 percent from what it was a generation ago.

Taking a bite into the ‘why?’

What’s in food is a reflection of what’s in soil, says soil scientist Paul Hepperly, PhD. former Research Director with the Rodale Institute. “If food nutrients are going down, nutrients in the soil are going down.”

Plants are under stress. The cause, said Elaine Ingham, President of Soil Foodweb Inc. is a lack of nutrition getting into the plant.

“All pesticides have some effect on the beneficial organisms in the soil required to cycle nutrients and make them available to your plant in plant-available form. When you use pesticides you’re killing those organisms in the soil. You’re shutting down the ability for plants to get the nutrients that are in (it).”

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer fed to plants increases the amount of soluble nitrogen in them, adds Hepperly. Plants then become susceptible to diseases and pests.

Crop duster
Crop duster. Image courtesy of Roberto Berlim

Digging even deeper

But the effects of pesticides on our food crops go deeper. The more pesticide-saturated food we eat, the more negative impacts we may experience to our health.  For example;

  • A pregnant woman’s chances of delivering a baby with spina bifida dramatically increase by drinking groundwater contaminated by excess nitrogen fertilizer. That’s why doctors recommend taking folic acid and eating green leafy vegetables to help prevent these defects.
  • Other health concerns are linked to low nutrition – mental illness, diabetes, allergies, hypertension, cancer, arthritis and cardiovascular disease. Add obesity, fatigue and senility to the list.
  • And doctors have seen celiac disease explode since GMO’s were introduced. Chronic low level inflammation is a precursor to a lot of chronic diseases.

“These are dosages below what’s toxic,” says Hepperly, but it “allows for abnormal development to occur.”

“A lot of this could be alleviated by farming organically,” he said. “You wouldn’t have the herbicides (and) they wouldn’t get into the water.”

“If you have chemical agents interfering with the normal biochemistry of a plant or an animal, you will alter the content of that food,” said Dr. Warren Porter, Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin.

“Good soil for plants is crucial for the production of good quality foods,” he said.

Genetically modified organisms

The effects of GMO feed on animals are telling.

One experienced farmer told Porter that cows fed organic food have a lifespan of ten to twelve years. However cows fed GMO-feed have a lifespan of only three years. The farmer also said when they transitioned to organic feed, not only did their cows lifespan increase, their vet bills were cut in half with the use of non-GMO feed.

A toxicology study of pigs by Judy Carmen showed an inflammation in the gut of pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet. GM-fed pigs suffered higher rates of severe stomach inflammation than those fed a non-GMO diet. And, humans have a similar gastrointestinal tract to pigs.

Non-GMO Sweet Corn
Non-GMO sweet corn. Image courtesy of Seth Anderson

Cultivating hope

There is however good news, say experts.

“It’s important for consumers to make intelligent choices,” says Hepperly. “Know where your food comes from. Make your own aerobic compost. Introduce life back into your soil.”

Major studies have compared the benefits of organic versus conventionally grown food (GM and/or crops saturated with pesticides). Research by Dr. Alyson Mitchell shows that as pesticides are withdrawn (as in organic agriculture), the quantity of anthocyanins (flavonoid antioxidants that function as the color pigments in fruits, cereal grains and flowers) increases, improving the foods flavor and nutritional value.

“When cover crops, more rotation plus manure and compost are included in the growing process this causes soil to improve. The products from that soil are more nutritious in relation to what was done in it. Plants are stronger in terms of nutrition,” says Porter.

Feature image courtesy of tpmartins

By Debra Atlas

As an environmental journalist, blogger, professional speaker and radio personality, Debra Atlas lights the way to let consumers discover exciting, useful green products that won’t make their checkbooks implode. A member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, she is a frequent contributor to environmentally focused publications and conferences.