Sad tradeoff: Crop yields expand, but nutrition is left behind

October 27, 2007

Farmers today can grow two to three times as much grain, fruit, and vegetables on a plot of land as they could 50 years ago, but the nutritional quality of many crops has declined, according to a new report from The Organic Center, a group based in Boulder, Colorado. “To get our recommended daily allowance of nutrients, we have to eat many more slices of bread today than people had to eat in the past,” notes report author and Worldwatch Institute food expert Brian Halweil. “Less nutrition per calorie consumed affects consumers in much in the same way as monetary inflation; that is, we have more food, but it’s worth less in terms of nutritional value.”

According to the report, Still No Free Lunch, food scientists have compared the nutritional levels of modern crops with historic, and generally lower-yielding, ones. Today’s food produces 10 to 25 percent less iron, zinc, protein, calcium, vitamin C, and other nutrients, the studies show. Researchers from Washington State University who analyzed 63 spring wheat cultivars grown between 1842 and 2003 found an 11 percent decline in iron content, a 16 percent decline in copper, a 25 percent decline in zinc, and a 50 percent decline in selenium.

Improving the nutritional quality of food on a per-serving basis is an important step in addressing worldwide health problems, the report notes. “Less nutrient-dense foods, coupled with poor food choices, go a long way toward explaining today’s epidemics of obesity and diabetes,” says The Organic Center’s chief scientist, Charles Benbrook.

Plants cultivated to produce higher yields tend to have less energy for other activities like growing deep roots and generating phytochemicals—health-promoting compounds like antioxidants—the report explains. And conventional farming methods, such as close plant spacing and the application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, often cause crops to absorb fewer nutrients and have unhealthy root systems and less flavor, and sometimes make them more vulnerable to pests.

Organic farming methods, on the other hand, use manure or cover crops to provide nutrition to crops, have more balanced mixtures of nutrients, and tend to release the nutrients more slowly, the report explains. According to Benbrook, this means plants “develop more robust root systems that more aggressively absorb nutrients from the soil profile, and produce crops with higher concentrations of valuable nutrients and phytochemicals.” Organic food may have as much as 20 percent higher nutritional content for some minerals, and 30 percent more antioxidants on average, than conventional fare, the report concludes.



6 Responses to “Sad tradeoff: Crop yields expand, but nutrition is left behind”

  1. augustus hadrian Says:

    America is a whore which suckles at the teat of it’s zionist-fascist master.

  2. There is also mineral and trace element depletion in our soils, this can be effectively remedied with applying rockdust. Hamaker’s book Survival of Civilization explains rockdust very succiently, as well as

  3. stephen coleman Says:

    In ag school I was taught that there is no nutritive difference between organic and conventional foods. However much research has proven that organic matter based fertilizers contain many minerals and micro- nutrients essential for plant and animal life. Some of these minerals are not supplied by any available commercial fertilizer. Cobalt and selenium are essential for animal life; these are supplied in well formulated animal feeds which in turn become manure and are recycled and taken up by crops.

    Most farmers would love to grow highly nutritious and quality food but the economics don’t help. The food cartel fix prices below long term production costs. The average farmer is now past retirement age, the average farm family has to have members working off the farms to help make ends meet. For many its not feasible to use or even obtain sufficient organic fertilizers. It is needed to break up the food cartels and to guarantee a decent income for farmers. Then we can begin to address obtaining high quality nutritious food for man and beast.

  4. m.astera Says:

    Then again, one could always get a real soil test and amend the minerals that are missing, using naturally mined and organic approved minerals. But for some reason that is never mentioned in any pro-organic rant.

    No, compost and manure are about it. One might want to consider that if the minerals needed aren’t in the compost or manure or the soil, they aren’t going to magically appear.

    Rock dust, fine. What kind of rock dust with that minerals, and does your soil need them? How about just a good complete soil test and then add what is missing? Many excellent farmers who grow incredibly high nutrient food do that, on millions of acres in the US and Australia. Better food than was grown fifty or a hundred years ago. This is science, not guesswork. And never mentioned in the organic press or websites.

    One more thing: Do not use dolomite lime unless you are very sure your soil needs an overload of Magnesium for some reason. Use sweet lime, ag lime.

    I’ve given away a huge amount of info on these subjects on the website

  5. Editor Says:

    Thanks for the post. I couldn’t agree more. Soil is the key to good, healthy, productive crops. Soil testing is critical. Great info on your website:

  6. NutritionGuy Says:

    When will we stop playing with nature ?

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