Everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are good for us. Most people know we don’t get enough. But fewer people know that the nutritional content of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables has been declining steadily since the introduction of chemical farming (sometimes called industrial agriculture) after World War II.
Various studies using government data have documented significant nutrient declines in fruits and vegetables from 1930 to the present—declines up to 99% in one case!—in protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, copper, magnesium, riboflavin, vitamin C, and vitamin A, while data on other nutrients like zinc, vitamin B6 and vitamin E weren’t collected until more recently, so no comparisons could be made.
Why is nutrient content declining? Partly it’s due to traditional breeding techniques, in which fruits and vegetables are bred for better appearance, sweetness, faster growth, or ease of transport, often at the expense of nutritional quality. But a much larger reason is that industrial agriculture is killing our soils.
Like our intestines, soils are alive with microorganisms (microbes), and we destroy them at our peril. Hannah Bewsey and Katherine Paul of the Organic Consumers Association point out that one cup of healthy soil contains more microbes than there are people populating the planet, and that the microbial content of soil is nearly synonymous with its health, fertility and ability to produce nutrient-rich food.
Soil microbes feed on decaying plant and animal matter and transform it into nutritious food for plants. The microbes also affect the moisture content, pH, structure and density of the soil, and its “stability,” meaning its ability to hold and nurture plant life. We also ingest soil microbes with our food, adding to our own intestinal microbial diversity and strength. In addition, healthy soils retain more carbon. Beneficial for both microbes and plants, this also keeps more carbon out of our environment, reducing global warming.
But pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers destroy soil microbes in the same way that taking antibiotics decimates gut microflora.
Organic agriculture is built on the premise of building healthy soils. Its various techniques produce healthy, nutritious plants that are naturally pest-resistant. If needed, natural methods are used to reduce pests without harmful chemicals.
Industrial agriculture, on the other hand, depletes soil by killing it with chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers and with other short-sighted practices. Because the resulting plants are less healthy, they attract more pests, necessitating more chemical applications. Chemical fertilizers like NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) are used to feed depleted soil, but in the absence of healthy soil microbes, these can have damaging effects.
It’s been estimated that 40% of the world’s agricultural lands have been degraded by human use. Fortunately this land can be regenerated with appropriate organic techniques. For our own health and the health and sustainability of our planet, it is urgent that we move away from industrial agriculture and support local, organic agriculture and family farms.
Meanwhile, it’s important to eat lots of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, and to take at minimum a high-quality multi, like Beyond Health’s Multi-Vitamin, with extra Vitamin C. A good addition would be Beyond Health’s Bone Mineral Formula.