There are 4 million babies born in the United States every year and by the time they reach 12 months of age, each one will have eaten an average of 600 jars of baby food. Though their appetites are much smaller than the average adult's, producing their food requires large quantities of agricultural chemicals as well as raw resources for packaging and energy for shipping.
But conventional crops still require huge infusions of pesticides and other chemical soil amendments. In the US, over 2 million tons of baby food bottles and jars were discarded in 2005 - only 15 percent were recycled. The remaining 1.8 million tons were dumped in landfills or incinerated.
The baby food market is dominated by three brands: Gerber, which controls 70 percent, Heinz, and Beech-Nut. Organic baby foods now represent 2.5 percent of the market and the industry is growing rapidly. In 2006, sales of organic baby food jumped by 21.6 percent.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, products labeled organic must be produced using nationally approved standards. Farmers who produce organic foods focus on the use of renewable resources and sustainable practices, including soil and water conservation. Organic food is produced without most conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, ionizing radiation, or bioengineering. Likewise, organic meats, dairy, poultry and eggs come from animals that were not administered growth hormones or antibiotics.
In the US, more than a billion pounds of pesticides are used each year by conventional farmers to get rid of unwanted organisms. Because pesticides contain powerful toxic chemicals like organophosphates, they often have a dangerous spillover effect on non-targeted organisms, including humans, as well as the environment.
Pesticides decrease soil biodiversity by killing off many organisms and persist in the environment for years after use. According to the US Geological Survey, pesticides have been found in every stream and in 80 percent of freshwater fish in the United States.
Baby food, made from ground up fruits and vegetables and grown in a conventional manner, has been found to contain pesticide residues. Twenty million American children 5 years old and under consume an average of eight types of pesticides per day. Children are at higher risk for pesticide exposure because their bodies are still developing and because they consume larger amounts of pesticide-laden food per body weight than adults. Exposure to pesticides has been shown to cause neurological, endocrine, reproductive, and developmental damage and disorders.
The recent rise in organic food sales is being fueled by concern for the environment, followed by concern for health. However, some experts criticize the preference for organic food, claiming it is actually detrimental to the environment. Norman Bourlag, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the "green revolution," argues that organic farming techniques produce lower crop yields than conventional methods and therefore require greater land use to produce an equivalent quantity of food. It has been similarly argued that the lower crop yields from organic farming require more energy per ton of food grown, increasing the carbon footprint of the food.
Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on high-input crops that have increased world food supply, but has been criticized because of the resultant increase in reliance on monoculture cropping and inorganic fertilizer use. His stats have also been challenged by a 2008 report by the Agronomy Journal, which concluded that many organic, low-input crops can yield as much dry matter as conventional crops (and sometimes more) given the right weed control conditions.
- organophosphates: Organophosphates are a type of organophosphorous compound. Their toxic nature has led to their use in pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, and as nerve gas. The neurotoxic compounds irreversibly damage the nervous systems of organisms exposed and are one of the largest sources of poisonings.
- Center for Science in the Public Interest - Cheating Babies: Nutritional Quality and Cost of Commercial Baby Food
- Empire State Building - Kids FAQ
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2005
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Protecting Children from Pesticides
- US Department of Agriculture - Soil Biodiversity
- US Geological Survey - Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Ground Water, 1992–2001
- Environmental Working Group - How 'Bout Them Apples?
- The Economist - Food Politics
- Agronomy Journal - Organic and Conventional Production Systems in the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trials: I. Productivity 1990–2002