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More Than a Health Choice

Although many people argue that organic foods are the best choice for health and environmental friendliness, for some, the most compelling reason to favor organic agriculture is the protection of human rights.

Organic farming is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as “A production system that is managed … to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”

This definition encompasses not only environmental friendliness and sustainability, but also the cultural practices of a particular region.

Organic food is better for public health because it contains no toxic pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics. However, exposure to toxic substances among those eating non-organic produce is far lower than that of agricultural workers.

According to Dr. Cathy Vakil (2010), studies have shown that agricultural workers tending crops where pesticides are used suffer increased rates of cancer and neurological problems, and their children are more likely to suffer from cancer, birth defects, and developmental abnormalities.

Indigenous people often bear the brunt of toxic pesticide and herbicide exposures. In South America, Central America, and Mexico, pesticides that have been banned in most industrialized countries are still used, and the local people who go to work on these farms are often not warned about pesticide toxicity or provided with any form of protective gear. As a result, they have suffered many illnesses and injuries, in some cases fatal.

According to the International Indian Treaty Council: “Clearly, the proliferation of [persistent organic pollutants] threatens to destroy the health, culture and society of Indigenous Peoples, and violates fundamental human rights currently recognized by international laws and standards.” In particular, the use of toxic pesticides violates The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that the health of children must be protected “through the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking water, taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution.”

Therefore, organic is more than simply a lifestyle or health choice; it is s statement about one’s commitment to universal human rights.


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