Because organic practices help safeguard the environment and protect habitats, organic production conserves and promotes species diversity.
- In fact, a report entitled "The Biodiversity Benefits of Organic Farming" comparing biodiversity in organic farming and conventional farming systems in the United Kingdom found that organic farms had five times as many wild plants in arable fields and 57% more species. The organic farms also had 25% more birds at the field edge, 44% more in-field in autumn and winter, and 2.2 times as many breeding skylarks and higher skylark breeding rates. In addition, they had 1.6 times as many of the invertebrate arthropods that make up bird food; three times as many non-pest butterflies in the crop areas; one to five times as many spider numbers, and one to two times as many spider species. They also showed a significant decrease in aphid numbers.
Source: "The Biodiversity Benefits of Organic Farming," The Soil Association, May 2000.
- A report from the July 2000 FAO Regional Conference for Europe showed organic farming enhances genetic biodiversity, including organisms living in the soil, wild life, wild flora, and cultivated crops.
Source: "Food Safety and Quality as Affected by Organic Farming," 22nd FAO Regional Conference for Europe, Porto, Portugal, July 24-28, 2000, Agenda Item 10.1.
- In addition, findings from a 21-year field trial initiated by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) in Switzerland showed organic farming enhances soil fertility and biodiversity. Begun in 1978 in Therwil, Switzerland, the DOK trial compares the consequences of organic, biodynamic, and conventional farming systems in a randomized plot trial. A report published in August 2000 noted, "Organic management promotes the development of earthworms and above ground arthropods, thus improving the growth conditions of the crop. More abundant predators help to control harmful organisms (pests)." It added, "Organic fields accommodate a greater variety of plants, animals and microorganisms."
Source: FiBL Dossier, Organic farming enhances soil fertility and biodiversity, August 2000.
Biodiversity is good for the planet:
- A study by researchers Peter Reich and David Tilman showed that diversity boosts plant growth.
Source: Nature, April 21, 2001.
- A Chinese experiment has verified that crop diversity fights disease. A study published in the Aug. 17, 2000, issue of Nature found that planting a mixture of two different varieties of rice greatly increased yields and reduced the incidence of blast, a major fungal disease that affects rice. In fact, farmers were able to stop using fungicides to control the disease within two years. The study was conducted in the Yunnan Province, China, and involved planting sticky rice dispersed in fields of standard rice. The hypothesis was that planting a mixture of varieties reduces disease because plants susceptible to the disease are physically separated from each other. Highly susceptible sticky rice plants were planted in rows with several rows of disease-resistant standard rice in between. The experiment now covers 100,000 acres and involves tens of thousands of farmers.
Sources: Dr. Christopher Mundt, population biologist, Oregon State University. Also, Zhu, Y., et al., "Genetic diversity and disease control in rice," Nature 406:718-722, Aug. 17, 2000.
- Findings from a wide-ranging ecological study of 14 grassland sites in eight countries published in the July 5, 2001, issue of Nature verified that plant communities fare better when consisting of complementary teams of species rather than being dominated by a single group. Researchers Michel Loreau and Andy Hector undertook the study showing the importance of biodiversity.
Source: Nature, July 5, 2001
The use of toxic and persistent pesticides is having measurable, damaging effects on biodiversity:
- Research at the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science has show negative effects of the commonly used herbicide atrazine on phytoplankton, the free-floating algae that form the base of the food chain for aquatic animals. Results showed protein levels in phytoplankton decreased as a result of exposure to atrazine.
Source: Pesticide-Biochemistry and Physiology, January 2007.
- Findings from three studies published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry provide insight into the documented global decline in amphibian populations. In the studies focusing on frogs and long-toed salamanders, researchers found that the use of agrochemicals, which pollute the habitats and disturb the natural breeding cycles of amphibians, was a major cause of the population declines.
Source: Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Vol. 25 (1), 2006.
- Canadian researchers have found that the toxic pesticide DDT still is having damaging effects on birds despite being banned in the United States and Canada for the past three decades. Andrew Iwaniuk, lead author of a study published in Behavioural Brain Research (online July 7, 2006, “The effects of environmental exposure to DDT on the brain of a songbird: Changes in structures associated with mating and song”) reported that robins’ eggs that had been exposed to the pesticide during development resulted in birds with up to 30 percent less tissue in certain areas of their brains. As a result, they were unable to sing complicated songs, defend their territory or build nests properly. Iwaniuk, who is with the Department of Psychology at the University of Alberta, estimated that at least 15 to 20 generations of robins have been adversely affected since the pesticide was first applied.
Source: Behavioral Brain Research (online July 7, 2006).
- A National Academy of Sciences report entitled “Status of Pollinators in North America” released in October 2006 found that populations of honeybees, hummingbirds and bats are declining in the United States and Canada, and that their losses potentially affect ecosystems, including the food supply. The decline of pollinators “is one form of global change that actually has credible potential to alter the shape and structure of terrestrial ecosystems,” said May R. Berenbaum, chairwoman of the committee studying the issue. Noting that pollinators are vital to agriculture, the report made recommendations to improve information gathering on their status and to take steps to protect their health for the long term.
Source: “Status of Pollinators in North America,” http://www.nationalacademies.org/.
- A global shortage of bees and other insects that pollinate plants is destroying crops around the world and could lead to far higher prices for fruits and vegetables, according to Dr. Peter Kevan and Dr. Truman Phillips at the University of Guelph in Canada. Pollinator populations have been hit hard by increased pesticide use in recent years, and much of their natural habitat, such as dead trees and old fence posts, have been destroyed to make room for more farmland, the researchers noted.
Source: "The Economic Impacts of Pollinator Declines: an Approach to Assessing the Consequences, "published in the online journal Conservation Ecology 5(1):8 (2001), www.consecol.org/vol5/iss1/art8 .
Organic Trade Association, August 2008.
The Organic Trade Association is the leading business association representing the organic industry in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Its 1700 members include growers, processors, shippers, retailers, certification organizations and others involved in the business of producing and selling certified organic products.
© 2008, Organic Trade Association.