OR­GANIC VS CON­VEN­TIONAL FOOD: WHICH IS SAFER?

Agriculture - - More Research Needed -

A TWO-YEAR STUDY con­ducted by the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Molec­u­lar Bi­ol­ogy and Biotech­nol­ogy (BIOTECH) funded by the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture Bureau of Agri­cul­tural Re­search (DA-BAR) on “Food Qual­ity and Safety Eval­u­a­tion of Or­gan­i­cally Grown Crops ver­sus Con­ven­tion­ally Grown Crops in two types of soil” shows that there may be no dif­fer­ence at all. The project, im­ple­mented from Septem­ber 2012 to Au­gust 2014, was con­ducted in two farms: Kits Farm Zone 2 in San An­to­nio, Ba­color, Pam­panga and the Costales Na­ture Farms in Brgy. Ga­ga­lot, Ma­jay­jay La­guna.

The project aimed to as­sess the food safety of con­ven­tion­ally grown crops ver­sus or­gan­i­cally grown crops in terms of chem­i­cal con­tam­i­nants and in­ci­dence of mi­cro­bial pathogens. Both aim to increase agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity to ac­com­mo­date the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of the Philip­pines, but they have a huge dif­fer­ence in ap­proach. Or­ganic agri­cul­ture draws its roots from the eco­log­i­cal sci­ences, bio­di­ver­sity and eco­har­mony, while chem­i­cal farm­ing draws from tox­i­co­log­i­cal sci­ences and post-cau­tion­ary prin­ci­ples.

The project aimed to de­ter­mine the pres­ence/ex­ces­sive­ness of chem­i­cal con­tam­i­nants (pes­ti­cides and heavy me­tals) in con­ven­tion­ally ver­sus or­gan­i­cally grown crops; the pres­ence of mi­cro­bial pathogens in the edi­ble por­tions of or­gan­i­cally grown crops; and to com­pare the soil qual­ity of grow­ing crops in con­ven­tional and or­ganic agri­cul­ture prac­tices af­ter two years.

For the La­guna site, the crops planted were let­tuce, tomato, cu­cum­ber, and bell pep­per, while for the Pam­panga site, the crops planted were ampalaya, egg­plant, okra, and string beans. Be­fore the crops were planted, soil sam­pling and analy­ses were con­ducted in collaboration with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Pam­panga and La­guna sites. Chem­i­cal and mi­cro­bi­o­log­i­cal analy­ses of the con­ven­tion­ally and or­gan­i­cally grown crops were con­ducted at BIOTECH, Uni­ver­sity of the Philip­pines Los Baños (UPLB).

The project stud­ied the farm man­age­ment of both sites, fo­cus­ing on the qual­ity of the en­vi­ron­ment where the crops were to be planted. The ex­per­i­ment sites were tested to check if the crops to be planted would sur­vive be­ing planted in the kind of soil they had. Chem­i­cal con­tam­i­nants such as pes­ti­cide residues were as­sessed. Con­ven­tion­ally grown veg­eta­bles were sub­mit­ted for anal­y­sis to check the level of pes­ti­cide residue. In­ter­est­ingly, the study showed that there was low pes­ti­cide residue on both farms, per­haps the re­sult of the im­pact of the sam­pling sea­son, which was char­ac­ter­ized by heavy rains that may have rinsed the pes­ti­cide residue.

A com­par­a­tive anal­y­sis and mon­i­tor­ing of mi­cro­bial pathogens on the edi­ble por­tions of con­ven­tional and or­gan­i­cally grown crops was done to de­ter­mine if th­ese could har­bor mi­cro­bial pathogens which can cause dis­eases. The se­ries of tests on plants grown or­gan­i­cally showed that there were pos­i­tive pre­sump­tive tests on E coli O157:H7 and sal­monella.

How­ever, there was no in­ci­dence of mi­cro­bial pathogens in the con­fir­ma­tory tests. This points to the ex­tra pre­cau­tions the farm­ers had to take in the pro­cess­ing of com­post uti­liz­ing chicken dung and hog ma­nure to en­sure that no mi­cro­bial pathogens would be har­bored by the or­ganic fer­til­izer be­ing used in the farm.

The project will con­tinue with its field tri­als in Ma­jay­jay, La­guna, in­clud­ing a re­quest for the ex­ten­sion of the field ex­per­i­ment. It is hoped that the long-term ben­e­fi­cial ef­fect on the soil qual­ity with the use of the or­ganic agri­cul­ture ap­proach can be val­i­dated. The soil anal­y­sis was not pos­si­ble af­ter the sec­ond year be­cause of the typhoon Glenda, which caused mas­sive soil ero­sion in the area. A screen house to pro­tect or­gan­i­cally grown crops from pest in­fes­ta­tions will also be put in place and or­ganic fer­til­iz­ers, in ad­di­tion to com­post, will be used.

Is or­gan­i­cally pro­duced food safe? Ev­i­dently, this study has to be ex­panded for it to be a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sit­u­a­tion of or­ganic agri­cul­ture in the coun­try. This knowl­edge is im­por­tant in the Uni­ver­sity’s quest to con­trib­ute to­wards food safety and se­cu­rity in the coun­try.

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