The term ‘organic food’ refers to the product of a farming system that avoids the use of man-made fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives. The system also prohibits irradiation and the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Basically, organic agriculture is about going back to the way farming was hundreds of years ago. It is a way of farming that is, to a large degree, dictated to, and controlled by, nature – not the other way round as happens with modern agricultural methods. As a result, the land and waterways are less polluted, wildlife can flourish and thrive, and the animals live in more pleasant, natural and humane conditions.
With the current focus on health, organic food is becoming increasingly popular. Many people, however, find it can be a very confusing subject. Are the benefits worth the premium prices charged? Is it really more nutritious than conventional food? Is organic food really better for the environment? What do all the labels mean? What, really, is the truth?
Lets take a look:
One of the most touted benefits of organic food is that it’s exposed to fewer chemicals. In conventional farming, the use of chemicals, such as pesticides and fungicides, is widespread. So many people will be surprised to learn that they are also widespread in organic farming. There is, however, a difference. The pesticides used in organic farming are natural, as opposed to the synthetic pesticides used in conventional farming. While they are still toxic, the degree of toxicity is much less than with the synthetic pesticides. So, overall, the exposure to harmful chemicals is much less with organic food.
Organic food is much fresher than food grown conventionally and doesn’t contain preservatives to make it last longer, i.e. increase it’s shelf life. Also, organic food is often produced on small farms that sell it locally – it doesn’t need to be transported far and stored for long periods.
In most countries, organic crops don’t contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and organic meat comes from animals raised on GMO-free farms.
Organic meat and milk is richer in omega-3 fats and certain minerals than from animals raised conventionally. These omega-3 fats provide us with a range of health benefits.
Organic farming is more environment-friendly due to the methods it employs. For example, its use of compost, manure and crop rotation. This helps to keep soil healthy and rich in organic matter, nutrients and microbial activity. It also uses much less energy – this is a very important factor these days.
Many people take the issue of animal welfare seriously. Organic farmers are legally obliged to do the same by providing their animals with access to the outdoors and allowing them to roam freely. They are also prohibited from using antibiotics and synthetic growth hormones. Furthermore, they must ensure their animals are fed 100 percent organic feed and provided with clean, cage-free living conditions.
Organic foods are generally considered to taste much better than conventionally produced foods. This is due to a higher mineral content and the fact that they are free of additives and chemicals.
The first negative is that of cost – using chemicals and synthetic pesticides in conventional farming reduces the cost of production as they enable foods to be produced faster and more efficiently. Organic farms can’t use these products and so, inevitably, their rate of production is lower. Together with higher overheads, this makes organic products considerably more expensive.
Organic foods are not treated with chemical preservatives so they have a shorter shelf life than conventional foods do. This further adds to their cost.
Organic farming is big business and needs to sell its products. Exaggerated claims that it does this, that and the other are a favorite way of achieving this. One such claim is that organic food is far more nutritious than conventionally produced food. However, there is no real evidence that this is the case. While organic food does have a higher content of some nutrients, it is definitely not far more nutritious.
Unfortunately, many organic farms don’t take the issue of animal welfare as seriously as they would have us believe (and are supposedly obliged to by law). Yes, they let the chickens run free but it may only be for a few minutes rather than the hours it should be. All too often, the animals are forced to live in the same cramped, unpleasant conditions that conventionally farmed animals are. If they fall ill, they may not be given antibiotics because the farm would then lose its ‘organic’ status.
Animals on organic farms often have to endure the same cruelties, such as debeaking, castration and dehorning, as animals on conventional farms do.
To Buy or Not to Buy?
It’s a fact that not all conventionally farmed foods are high in pesticides. Many people will still want to avoid them for other reasons – for example, their environmental impact. But with regard to health, it is not always necessary to go for the more expensive organic versions.
The foods listed below are not high in pesticides for the simple reason they do not need to be. Buying organic versions is quite pointless.
- Sweet Corn
- Honeydew Melons
However, the foods below are high in pesticides, so buying organic is the recommended option:
- Sweet Peas
- Sweet Potatoes
- Water Melons
- Bell Peppers
- Hot Peppers
How do we know if a food is really organic though? Well, in most countries organic foods are clearly labeled as such. In the USA and the EU, at least 95 percent of the ingredients in a food product must be organically produced.
In some countries, the rules that govern organic food labeling are ambiguous. For example, food with a low organic content may be labelled as ‘made with organic ingredients’. It’s true but deceptively so!
Also, be wary when buying organic foods from market traders and the like – very often they’re anything but!