Certified Naturally Grown: A New Way to Identify Pesticide-Free, Non-GMO Food
Eco-conscious shoppers now have an alternative to organic food that has been certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as Certified Naturally Grown (CNG). The equally pesticide-free method of farming is being used by a growing number of small farmers who cannot afford the expense of getting an organic certification from the USDA.
“Certified Naturally Grown is like the USDA’s National Organic Program in that our certified producers must follow similar standards, farm without the use of synthetic chemical inputs or GMOs, and farm to support biological diversity and ecological balance,” says Alice Varon, CNG executive director. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Naturally grown farming, considered to be the grassroots alternative to certified organic agriculture, requires a national certification by the CNG. The CNG conducts rigorous oversight to assure that all food labeled Certified Naturally Grown is grown without the use of synthetic chemicals or GMOs.
“Certified Naturally Grown is like the USDA’s National Organic Program in that our certified producers must follow similar standards, farm without the use of synthetic chemical inputs or GMOs, and farm to support biological diversity and ecological balance,” Alice Varon, CNG executive director, told Mother Earth News.
Some benefits of the CNG certification include the facts that it costs less and takes less time to get compared to the USDA’s certified organic program. The CNG’s certification and inspection documentation is also available online, thus simplifying the paperwork process for participating farms.
"The cost of the new USDA program—both in terms of money and paperwork requirements—is too much for many small farmers to afford," according to the CNG website. "This is even more true for farmers that grow a wide range of crops all at once, typical of the diversified family farms we serve, but not common among the large mono-crop farms typical of agribusiness operations. This is a shame, because growing many different crops at once is a safer and more ecologically sustainable practice. The soil is worked in different ways, and disease and pest problems are significantly reduced."
There are currently more than 700 CNG farms and apiaries in North America.
Awareness is growing among the public regarding the importance of eating organic, naturally grown food. However, many people may not realize the sheer quantity of toxic pesticides found in conventionally-grown produce.
In fact, a recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Washington School of Public Health and published in Environmental Health Perspectives shows just how much pesticides conventional produce contains. The government-funded report looked at individuals who ate similar amounts of fruits and vegetables, and found that those who reported eating organic produce had significantly lower levels of organophosphate (OP) pesticides in their bodies compared with people who ate conventionally-grown produce.
“For most Americans, diet is the primary source of OP pesticide exposure,” said lead author Dr. Cynthia Curl, who conducted the research while a PhD student at the School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences. Dr. Curl is now an assistant professor at Boise State University’s School of Allied Health Sciences. “The study suggests that by eating organically grown versions of those foods high in pesticide residues, we can make a measurable difference in the levels of pesticides in our bodies.”
Organic or naturally grown food not only contributes to healthier people, but it can help reverse climate change. According to the white paper, Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change: A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming, “We could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term ‘regenerative organic agriculture.'”
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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