What's Wrong With Local Foods?

  Have you been seeing more labels on food tagged as "local, sustainable,healthy, or natural?" This week we're going to touch on a popular topic from the Organic Bytes. Their latest newsletter includes an excellent article on what "local" food and farming really mean and the impact of non-organic local food and farming on public health, nutrition, soil, water, marine life, biodiversity, and climate. Here are some quick points from the article, "Local and Organic Food and Farming: The Gold Standard" by Will Allen, Ronnie Cummins, and Kate Duesterberg of the Organic Consumers Association.

Does Local Mean Safe?

Despite the increasing popularity of the eat-local movement, many people do not understand that "local" does not necessarily mean that food is organic or even safe. Chemically grown foods produced locally may be cheaper than organic and may aid the local economy, but they pollute the ground water, kill the soil food web, decrease the soil's ability to sequester climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases, broadcast pesticides into the air, poison farmworkers, and incrementally poison consumers with toxic residues on their foods. "Local" pesticides, GMOs, and chemical fertilizers are just as poisonous as those used in California, Mexico, Chile, or China.

Does "Pesticide Free" Mean Safe or Sustainable?

Often, growers at farmers markets will say, "I don't use pesticides, I only use chemical fertilizers." Sadly, what many people do not realize is that chemical fertilizers are extremely hazardous. A high percentage of these fertilizers seep into our wells and municipal drinking water, or else run off into our streams, rivers, and finally end up in the ocean. Two-thirds of the nation's drinking water is contaminated with hazardous levels of nitrogen fertilizer. Non-organic farmers and feedlot operators are literally poisoning us and our children with the collateral damage of chemical fertilizers. High nitrogen and phosphorous levels in rivers and oceans kill fish and other marine wildlife. When this enormous amount of excess nitrogen enters the ocean it causes dead zones and oceanic acidification.

"Local" Factory Farms and CAFOs: Destroying Public Health and Climate Stability

According to Wal-Mart and Food Inc.'s definition of local (anything produced within a 400-mile radius), meat, dairy, and eggs, reared on a diet of GMO grains, slaughterhouse waste and antibiotics, qualify as "local." According to the USDA, the majority of the nation's non-organic meat, dairy and eggs are now produced on massive factory farms, euphemistically called Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). ( 6) CAFOs are typically overcrowded, filthy, disease-ridden, and inhumane, not only for the hapless animals imprisoned inside their walls, but also for the typically non-union exploited immigrant workers who toil in these hellish facilities. According to the EPA, the legal definition of a CAFO is a farm or a feedlot where large numbers of animals are confined and reared: beef - 1000 head; dairy - 700 head; swine - 2500 pigs weighing more than 55 lbs; poultry - 125,000 broilers or 82,000 laying hens or pullets ( 7).

Food Miles and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Food miles are the average miles that food travels from the farm to the consumer. Since more than 80% of the U.S. grocery purchases are now processed foods, a huge percentage of the carbon or fossil fuel footprint of industrial agriculture comes from transporting factory farm crops or animals to the processing plant or slaughterhouse and then transporting these processed foods from the processing plant to the dinner table via the supermarket. By reducing the processed foods in our diet we can greatly reduce the food miles or carbon footprint for which our households are responsible, since the shorter the distance food travels, the lower the greenhouse gas emissions.

Chemical and Local versus Organic and Local

Some growers and brokers argue that local, chemically grown is better than fresh organic, because so much that is organic travels long distances from the two coasts. If they are talking about comparing supermarket fresh organic with fresh chemically grown local, we should still choose supermarket organic, because, whether they are used locally or nationally, pesticides and fertilizers are more dangerous and deadly to your health and the health of the environment than chemically-free organic foods transported from outside your local region.

The Gold Standard: Local and Organic

Local organic food and farming are the gold standard. Organic farmers gladly adhere to a set of regulations, use non-toxic products, and accept the need to be scrutinized by an independent third party inspector. Why? Because regulation of food safety is essential to guaranteeing consumers that the farmer has their health and well being at the center of his or her business plan. The organic regulatory process is neither easy nor happily anticipated by the farmer. But it is necessary! It is our covenant with our customers. There are no regulations governing "local" chemically grown or GMO-derived food. Anything goes! Nobody is inspecting the farm! Nobody is watching the store! As a customer, you must also be the regulator of non-organic food. Instead of depending on a regulator, you as a customer should ask the "local" growers what they used as a fertilizer source, how they controlled pests and diseases, and what chemicals they used to stimulate yield. When the local chemical grower tells you that local is better than organic, tell them that they should switch to organic so that you can trust their food to be safe, clean, inspected, and environmentally friendly. Local food is not the gold standard, and may not even be safe. Local-organic is the gold standard. Read the full article HERE.
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