What are the benefits of eating organic food? A lot of people say organic food is less polluted than conventional food and thus better for your health. Some say it is more nutritious, better tasting and in general safer.
In this article we will dig deeper into these claims and see where the benefit of organic food really lies.
Organic Food Has Fewer Chemicals
As a conscious consumer, what I expect of organics is a very limited use of chemicals. Actually, I’d rather have no chemicals at all, thank you. I read about the chemical revolution and health issues, how chemicals are all over my food and consequently in my body.
And I freak out. I only have one body and I want to treat it right.
So I opt-in for organics.
The scientific journal Nature Plants claim that organic produces “foods that contain less (or no) pesticide residues, compared with conventional farming.” When you dig deeper and go to couple of scientific websites, that’s not what they say.
Testing organic and conventional produce for pesticides, 40 different synthetic pesticide residues
were detected on organic produce, at levels similar to conventional food samples.
In both cases the amounts are too small to be a health concern.
USDA scientists collected just over 10,000 samples of 15 crops taken from ordinary retail food channels.
40% of the organic samples had detectable chemicals. This is lower than for conventional food.
23% percent of the detections were persistent environmental contaminants (which have been banned for decades). These contaminants are very hard to get rid of once in environment and they are of old, pre-EPA times, when there were no regulations yet, old sins. There is nothing organic of conventional farming can do about those long-lived, persistent organochlorine or organophosphate insecticides or their metabolites (e.g. DDT, monocrotophos…). These chemicals are found in both organic and conventional samples at levels in the low part per billion range (ppb).*
At the end of the day, 17% of organic samples is polluted by today’s farming. These 17% is for inorganic or synthetic chemicals only. Organic farming mostly uses organic chemicals which are much harder to detect and test. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the number for organic chemicals found on produce – I will keep digging and make an update once I find it. Never the less, the percentage would be much higher than 17% if we knew of organic chemicals as well.
*Note: part per million is level that might affect human. ppb is 1000-times lower than ppm, thus not dangerous.
Why such a high percentage of contamination?
One explanation could be spray drift or cross-contamination in harvesting bins. Another could be drift of airborne chemicals in the environment. The third could be breaking the principle of organic farming.
Organic Food is More Nutritious and Tastes Better
I dug and dug to get worthy information on better nutrition in case of organics. But I couldn’t find any.
There is a difference between nutritional levels of soil grown produce and produce grown in Hydroponics but this is not what we’re interested in right now.
In fact, research show that both, organic and conventional produce, have similar nutritional values. Both are high in vitamins, mineral etc. What you should pay attention to is how fresh to produce is.
Good example is Vitamin C. We did a laboratory testing of Vitamin C concentration in yellow capsicum when I was in high school. We tested 50 randomly picked capsicums from refrigerated storage unit on the farm and 50 freshly picked. Our experiment showed that the concentration of Vitamin C in refrigerated capsicums was 5 – 8 times lower that in freshly picked capsicums.
Organic and conventional produce, have similar nutritional values.
Fresh produce is more nutritious than stored, refrigerated produce.
What About Meat?
Antibiotics have been an important asset in agriculture for several decades. Animals can get sick, just like people, and when it happens we should treat them. But these drugs have been used as supplements to promote animal growth, a practice that can contribute to the spread of antibiotic-resistant infections, which kill 23,000 people annually. (Source: Cameron English)
I my opinion, this is where organic farming comes to value.
Humane treatment of animals, space to graze and live, no growth hormones.
Do you remember “Mad Cow” disease? Do you know why it happened?
It happened because of what conventional, big scale farmers were feeding their cows with.
Do you know what they were feeding they with? Bone meal, yes.
Do you know what bone meal is? Really is?
I know. We had a field work while I was studying at the University. In fact, we had many different field assessments where we had to go to poultry processing mill, waste treatment plant and it was never pretty. But this one took the biscuit.
To put it in neutral language and still get the message across – on that particular field day we went to a facility where any sort of animal carcasses were taken in. Road kills, natural death, euthanized pets (yes, dogs from veterinary clinics as well).. Any sort of animal carcass.
The carcasses were de-skined, de-boned and put in a large grinder, followed by furnace, followed by high pressure compactor.
After this process what comes out is “bone meal”, the product is ready for pick up. Who picks it up? Big scale beef farmers. It is a dietary supplement for beef although it has absolutely no nutritional value. It is animal ash eaten by animals eaten by us.
And this is how “Mad Cow” disease happened.
I am not saying every animal farming is like this. It is not. Also, because they banned this feeding practice.
There are many conventional farmers that treat their animals right and the meat is just as great as organic.
Organic Yay, Organic Nay?
There is no meaningful distinction between organic and conventional foods that the USDA tested.
Both are quite safe and you should not hesitate to buy and consume these foods that are well documented to promote health.
What you should be weary of is big scale farming in general. Their business model is concentrated on low input, high profits and not much else.
The best thing you can do, if possible, is to find a farmer directly and buy from him. This way you will know where your food is coming from, how it’s been grown, and how the animals were fed and treated and slaughtered.
Did you know that only 15% of the price goes to the farmer when buying in supermarkets?
Buying directly from a farmer is best for him as well. Most of the small scale farms struggles financially. They want to expand but 15% is just not enough. You can make much difference.
Find a local farmer you can trust and build a relationship,
get safe food and help improve his practices.
It’s a win-win.
If you don’t have the time or neighbourhood to find such farmer, don’t worry. There is a solution.