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Organic foods not more nutritional

In about the sixth grade, we all learned the “nitrogen cycle.” If you will recall, this was a cycle in which plants take nitrogen from the air or soil and use it to build their proteins.  Animals eat the plants and the nitrogen is then returned to the air.

Nitrogen comprises about 78 percent of our air but it is, however, totally useless to most plants. Nitrogen has a “high-energy chemical bond” that requires great force to open before it can be utilized by plants. In nature, this is done by lightening strikes and by special plants called “legumes.” Legumes have root nodules containing nitrogen-fixing bacteria that can also open the nitrogen bond.

The nitrogen cycle worked well on primeval landscapes, but selectively bred plants that produce copious amounts of substance require much more than the nitrogen cycle can provide. The requirements of a corn plant that produces huge ears of corn on a large stalk is vastly different from wild grass that produces spindly stalks and small seeds, for example.

By the late 1800s it had become apparent that the human population was expanding exponentially and some method must be devised to provide them with food and fodder. Manure, compost, leaves, etc are soil conditioners and provide very little nitrogen.  Nitrate of Soda was being used as chemical fertilizer and in explosives manufacture.  Mining it in South America was dwindling. Impending food shortage caused fear that food wars would soon emerge.

In 1904 a German chemist, named Fritz Haber, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for devising a process by which the nitrogen in air is combined with natural gas to produce ammonia. Ammonia is then used as a liquid fertilizer or is incorporated into the granular fertilizers that are common today. By having ample food for themselves and their livestock, it is estimated that over a billion people that are presently alive on Earth, owe their lives to the Haber process.

Recently, the term “organic” has begun to pop up more often in grocery stores. As best as I can understand, these foods are grown without “chemicals.” Usually they are not as healthy-looking and are quite a bit more expensive. Some foods, which come from leguminous plants, such as beans and peas, can be grown satisfactorily with little or no chemical fertilizer, but it just ain’t going to happen with tomatoes, wheat, potatoes, corn, etc. All cultivated, non-leguminous plants require chemical fertilizer to produce as expected.

A great deal has been said pertaining to pesticide residues remaining on plant products. I personally believe that the fear of these infinitesimal amounts of residue is the result more of urban legend than of real science. Testing these products is usually done by observing their effects on certain bacteria in test tubes (Ames Test). The results are quick, easy, cheap and fill vacant print space and air-time for many news media.

During these woeful economic times, I suggest that we get our money’s worth by not paying extra for puny organic foods.  To me, “organic” is an acronym for “Only Resulting Goods Are Naturally Insect Chewed.”

Ed Field

Natchez resident

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