Is Organic Food Really Better?

7Every day organic food is becoming more and more popular… but why is this? It probably has a lot to do with the media constantly feeding us with news of cows being plumped up to produce more milk, which in turn makes them sick, and then they are treated with antibiotics which inevitably is present in the milk that we pick up from the local grocery store. We also hear about chickens where the coops are so small that they barely have room to stand and again are fed antibiotics which are present in the eggs that we eat, so from a health perspective as well as a humane perspective, a lot of us are increasingly jumping on the ‘organic train’. Some people also tend to claim that organic foods also taste better than ordinary food… so is all of this true? Is it really healthier? Is it really tastier?

First of all – What is organic food? According to the Environmental Protection Agency (RPA), ‘organic’ foods are defined as foods which are not treated with any pesticides, sewage sludge, ionizing radiation or bioengineering. However, food manufacturers can use pesticides in organic foods if they are derived from a natural source… Don’t confuse it with terms such as ‘hormone-free’ or ‘natural’ as these food labelling terms are not regulated by law. The US department of Agriculture (USDA) has created an organic seal and foods bearing the seal need to be harvested, grown and processed according to national standards that include restrictions on amounts of hormones, pesticide residue and antibiotics. The statements used to define ‘organic’ from the regulation authorities are, in my opinion, a bit long winded and ambiguous, so a good basic definition of the term is that it is food which should be grown without genetic modification and should not contain any synthetic pesticides or artificial additives.

So let’s talk about pesticides and fertilizer… one of the biggest misconceptions of organic farming is that they do not use fertilizer, herbicides or pesticides. This is not the case and even organic foods have some form of fertilizer and pesticides on it. Fertilizer is essentially a chemical nutrient and the organic version of fertilizer delivers exactly the same chemical load as the synthetic. Plant fertilizers consist of the same three elements: nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium and these three elements are used both in organic and ordinary farming.

Measuring fertilizer and pesticide levels is all well and good, but is organic REALLY healthier? The Quality Low Input Food (QLIF) organisation conducted a five year study on this topic and concluded that food grown organically generally has a higher level of nutrients contained within it, to food grown in a conventional manner. Also they found that organic foods contain less ‘bad’ levels of pesticides but the QLIF realise that more studies need to be conducted before any conclusive evidence can be found. They concluded that ‘further and more detailed studies are required to provide proof for positive health impacts of the organic diets on human and animal health’.

However, in complete contrast to this, a study conducted in 2007 by Newcastle University in the UK reported that organic produce had up to 40 percent higher levels of some nutrients (Vitamin C, Iron and Zinc), than conventional foods do. In addition to this, a study was conducted in 2003 by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that organically grown corn and berries contained 58 percent more antioxidants which are known to help prevent heart disease, with up to 52 percent higher levels of Vitamin C than those that are conventionally grown.

People who buy organic are for the most part seeking assurance that food production is healthier, safer, purer and more natural. It should also has less impact on the plants or animals that are being reared organically. But are organic foods really worth the expense? Is it really better to go organic? Marian Nestle PHD, a Professor from New York University states ‘ If you can afford them, buy them.’ She goes on to say ‘it really is a personal choice but how can anyone that substances such as pesticides, capable of killing insects, can be good for you?’ In contrast to this Keecha Harris, spokeswoman of the American Diabetic Association states that there is little to no evidence that organic foods are superior to traditional foods. She goes on to say that food does not have to be organic to be safe and environmentally friendly and recommends that people focus on eating food close to where they live, rather than whether it was organically farmed or not. Ms Harris states that food may be organic but if it has been trekked over from half way across the world, it leaves a much bigger carbon footprint, whereas if people buy foods from the local farmers market, whether it is organic or not, it will be farm fresh, thereby having a lot less impact on the environment at large.

So what does all this tell us? Well it tell me that not even the so called ‘experts’ can agree on whether or not to go organic. One thing they do seem to agree on though is whether you buy organically, locally or conventionally, it is important to have lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Many people just simply can’t afford to buy all organic foods so what is important is to have a healthy diet packed with fruits and vegetables, always remember to thoroughly wash your fruits and veggies before using them as this will also help get off any residue of pesticides or fertilizers, but overall… the health benefits of eating healthy foods generally outweigh the pesticide negatives.

Happy Eating People!!

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