While many think of organic farming as something new that has gained in popularity since the 1980s, it is actually very old and indeed the traditional or original form of agriculture – how farming was always done. As such, we can tap its roots deep into the annals of so-called ‘primitive’ civilizations, by tracking back some 12,000 years and beyond into prehistory.
British Botanist Sir Albert Howard is considered to be the father of modern organic agriculture, which can be dated back to the early twentieth century.
1. As an agricultural advisor in India, Sir Howard’s study of agriculture there convinced him of India’s practices as superior over the prevailing science of the time. This belief led to his book, an Agricultural Testament, published in 1943, in which he describes the concept he dubbed “The Law of Return”, a cornerstone of organic farming today.
2. The Law of Return, like what it implies, mimics a natural forest environment where the remains of all dead plants and animals are naturally returned to the soil enriching it with organic matter or humus. Minerals are recycled and made available to NEW plant and animal life through this natural process
3. So, in practice, The Law of Return, necessitates giving back to the soil what plants naturally deplete by always introducing available organic waste materials that represent a good balance of carbon and nitrogen – the decomposition and mineralization of that material is the work of NATURE. Sir Howard called this phenomenon “The Living Bridge”.
ORGANIC FARMING is all about growing food in a “living” soil that is biologically diverse, dynamically stable, and always nurtured by the grower. This concept is juxtaposed to nurturing the plant with food or “fertilizer” – CONVENTIONAL FARMING
What does GMO mean?
Genetically modified organisms are plants or animals that have had their DNA (genetic material comprising their genome) altered in a lab or through some human agency usually for an economic purpose.
Fundamentally, there are two kinds of GMO’s, Cisgenic and transgenic. The former applies to plants or animals that have had their genome changed with DNA from organisms within the same species. In contrast, the latter involves the addition of a gene from another species. In both cases, the behavior and/or function of the organism is altered to serve some human interest.
In nature, hybrids occur when one species naturally crosses with another, i.e. the female organ or part becomes fertilized (or pollinated) by the male organ or part. In some cases, these crosses in nature between organisms occur over centuries and even millenniums – corn is a good case in point, as it was once upon a time a grass and did not grow ears. By mimicking these natural events, plant and animal breeders can select for desirable traits in animals and plants using more conventional, yet modernized breeding techniques – F1 hybrids are an example.
Why do farmers use antibiotics?
Farmers originally used antibiotics to treat sick animals (e.g. pink eye, liver infections) – veterinarians administered meds parenterally (subcutaneously); however, when disease spread and large numbers of cattle needed to be treated, it quickly became cost prohibitive to use a needle. Instead, large producers mixed antibiotics with feed and water and treated herds orally. Eventually this practice led to the use of antibiotics as a prophylactic (preventatively). In the 1970’s, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) began administering these meds in massive quantities subtherapeutically (for weight gain).
What are the most common livestock illnesses treated with antibiotics?
Historically for beef, Wooden Tongue, Blackleg, Pinkeye, Foot Rot were among the most common. More recently, Anaplasmosis and liver abscesses have joined the ranks of the more frequently treated diseases.
For poultry, Fowl Cholera and Infectious Coryza top the list. There are numerous viruses that also inflict poultry.
For swine, Atrophic Rhinitis (a nasal disease), Brucellosis (an intestinal disease), Clostridium Perfringens (an intestinal disease) are among the most common. Like with poultry, there are viruses as well, some of which can cause severe diarrhea.
How are these illnesses born?
There are many livestock diseases, some of which are naturally occurring and others that are human induced. For example, ticks can act as a natural vector for transmitting anaplasmosis and other livestock diseases (e.g. Babesiosis). On the other hand, Mad Cow Disease is caused by using animal parts in cattle feed, a human choice.
Livestock diseases like parasites and Pink Eye can be be fly-born by flies laying their eggs on cow manure, soil born like Foot Rot caused by the bacterium Fusobacterium necrophorum, and food-born like Liver Disease and Bloat. Some studies even point to air-born diseases or the transmission of known diseases like Mad Cow through the air.
In most cases, the occurrence and spread of disease can be limited and contained through wise and disciplined practices that include – but are not limited to – diverse and natural feed, the frequent rotation of grazing cattle (mimicking the wild Buffalo), veterinarian practices (e.g. administering antibiotics using a squeeze shoot and a sterile needle), good soil management, and polyculture systems that rotate multiple farm animals from paddock to paddock.
Why do farmers and purveyors of ruminant animals (having a four-chambered stomach) feed them grain?
Most livestock producers raising ruminants today feed them grain because agricultural industry shifted from predominantly fiber (e.g. grass, legumes, brassicas) to cereals mainly after WW II. What caused this shift was a combination of events including the advent of synthetic nitrogen for production of corn et. al., the uneconomical practice of pasturing ruminants for weight gain, and predatory issues. During the second half of the 20th century, the pace of this feeding practice accelerated through the use of GMOs, the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics (for fat gain) and massive government subsidies in billions/year to grow corn.
Why should ruminants eat grass, not grain?
Ruminants should eat grass, not grain because that is what they were naturally designed to ingest. Their specialized four-chamber stomach is home to resident microbes (e.g. bacteria) that aid in the digestive process of converting fiber like grass into food molecules to nourish their bodies and the microbes that live there. Weight gain happens naturally and through healthy and sustainable grazing practices that begin with fertile and non-compacted soils and are enhanced through a diverse fiber-based diet.
When cows eat corn, 1) they do not feed their microbes with the right foods essential to their health and survival, 2) they suffer from excessive gases and bloating, and 3) their stomach becomes acidified (cows’ stomachs maintain a neutral PH unlike humans) causing leaky stomachs and pathological bacteria to enter bloodstream, which leads to liver disease and death.