More and more households are choosing to buy organic foods over “conventional” foods—but what’s the difference, and is it worth the price?
What is organic?
Organic food is produced without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilisers.
(Pesticides include insecticides, which target insects, and herbicides, which target weeds. Fertilizers are used to enhance soil nutrients where they may be lacking.) The practices of organic agriculture aim to cycle resources, promote ecological balance and preserve biodiversity.
The problem with “conventional” agriculture.
While the terminology, organic and conventional, makes it seem as though organic is a special type of food we haven’t had access to previously, it’s actually quite the opposite:
10,000 years of agricultural production has been “organic,” without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. What we now call “conventional” agriculture didn’t exist until after World War II.
Insecticides are neurotoxins, developed from the same nerve gases used in World War II. They are incredibly toxic to handle, though their toxicity decreases in sunlight.
In general, the argument for using chemical pesticides is that they improve yield, and they break down quickly enough to not be deadly when consumed.
(Pesticides are so severely toxic that there are stringent federal guidelines regarding when they are allowed to be sprayed before harvest, in order to reduce their toxicity before human consumption.)
However, foods grown with chemical pesticides do retain pesticide residues that are ultimately consumed by whoever eats them.
These residues are in legally allowable amounts that aren’t harmful on impact, but they bioaccumulate over time to cause severe health effects.
Research shows that prolonged exposure to chemical pesticides (including their residues) leads to increased risk of cardiovascular and respiratory disease, reproductive damage and cancer. Additionally, the recent rise in gluten intolerance and autoimmune disease can be attributed to pesticide exposure through consumption.
The benefits of eating organic
One of the primary reasons people choose to purchase organically grown foods is concern about the negative health impacts noted above (from the consumption of conventional food). But there are also some other substantial health, environmental and social benefits to choosing organic foods and supporting organic agricultural practices:
Health benefits of eating organic.
By choosing organic foods, you avoid consuming insecticides and herbicides. This removes toxic, endocrine-disrupting, carcinogenic pesticide residues from your diet.
Many studies also show that organically grown produce contains higher nutrient profiles than their conventional counterparts. This is due to the quality of soil the crops are grown in: in general, chemically-treated land has less nutrient-rich soil, with fewer beneficial microorganisms, which leads us to:
Environmental benefits of organic farming
In addition to the human health consequences of pesticide exposure, pesticide-treated land harms beneficial soil microorganisms and other wildlife (have you heard about the pollinator crisis?). Runoff from chemically-fertilized cropland pollutes water sources, leading to algae blooms and killing marine life (for example, the Gulf Dead Zone from Mississippi River’s agricultural runoff).
Organic agriculture, on the other hand, utilizes practices that promote soil health, encourage beneficial microorganisms and pollinators, and protect our natural resources from toxic runoff.
Social benefits of organic farming
Exposure to pesticides is a significant health concern for farmworkers in the U.S., many of whom are economically disadvantaged and don’t have sufficient access to healthcare, nor the political power to advocate for safer working conditions. Organic practices are much safer for farmworkers and neighboring communities (which are impacted by toxic groundwater and air pollution from chemical pesticide application).
......., it’s something consumers are increasingly looking for on their packaging. But what exactly does it mean to be “certified” organic?
Click to here to learn: What it means to be certified organic
Organic farming practices can be used with or without formal certification. In fact, the organic certification process can be cost-prohibitive to small farming operations, so some farmers may produce and sell organically grown food but can’t afford to label it as such (this is common at farmers’ markets).
[.......,] it is not permitted to label a food product as “organic” if it has not been certified through a USDA-accredited organic certification process.
So, if you like eating seasonally and supporting small, local farmers, it can be a good idea to get to know the producers at your local farmers’ market and talk to them about their farming practices. It’s not necessarily safe to assume that if it’s not labeled organic it must not be—in some (perhaps many) cases, small farmers do use organic practices but can not afford to formally certify them as such.
Dirty Dozen: the top 12 foods to buy organic
Ideally, all the food we consume would be organic. But since that’s not feasible for many of us (due to cost, availability, or not really knowing the source of our food when eating out), your best bet is to start with the foods that are shown to have the highest amounts of pesticide residues.
Environmental Working Group publishes an annual report on pesticides in produce, listing the “Dirty Dozen,” or the top 12 foods to buy organic.
Dirty Dozen 2020
These are the top foods to purchase organic (because they contain the most pesticide residues):
Organic animal products
Toxins biomagnify up the food chain. That means, the amount of toxins an animal consumes per pound of food it eats will be more concentrated per pound of its own body weight. In other words, if a cow eats conventionally-grown feed that contains pesticide residues and then you eat the cow—you’re actually receiving a more concentrated dose of pesticides than what the cow initially consumed.
This is because animals, including humans, store toxins in our fat to keep them from harming our vital organs. These toxins build up over time and, thus, the concentration is higher in an animal that ate a plant (or an animal that ate an animal that ate a plant!) than it was in the plant in the first place. (The plant here being a conventionally-grown crop that contains pesticide residue—though the same concept applies in a slightly different way to seafood and mercury levels as well.)
So, if you consume animal products, it’s best to choose organic—animals that were fed organic food themselves.
And, at the very least, it’s important to choose organic for high-fat animal products, like butter and other dairy products, eggs, and fatty cuts of meat.
Source: Four Wellness Co
If you consume animal products, it’s best to choose organic—animals that were fed organic food themselves.