The organic food industry is booming. Everywhere you look there’s an organic food option. But navigating the maze of organic food labels, benefits, and claims can be confusing. Is organic food really better for your mental and physical health? Do GMOs and pesticides cause cancer and other diseases? What do all the labels mean? Hopefully this blog will help to answer some of those questions.
First off, let's define what exactly “organic” means. The term “organic” refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. While the regulations vary from country to country, in the U.S., organic crops must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers, and sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Organic livestock raised for meat, eggs, and dairy products must have access to the outdoors and be given organic feed. They may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal by-products.
Organic vs. Non-Organic
Grown with natural fertilizers (manure, compost).
Grown with synthetic or chemical fertilizers.
Weeds are controlled naturally (crop rotation, hand weeding, mulching, and tilling).
Weeds are controlled with chemical herbicides.
Pests are controlled using natural methods (birds, insects, traps) and naturally-derived pesticides.
Pests are controlled with synthetic pesticides
Organic meat, dairy, eggs:
Conventionally-raised meat, dairy, eggs
Livestock are given all organic, hormone- and GMO-free feed.
Livestock are given growth hormones for faster growth, as well as non-organic, GMO feed.
Disease is prevented with natural methods such as clean housing, rotational grazing, and healthy diet.
Antibiotics and medications are used to prevent livestock disease.
Livestock must have access to the outdoors.
Livestock may or may not have access to the outdoors.
Benefits of Organic Food:
How your food is grown or raised can have a major impact on your mental and emotional health as well as the environment. Organic foods often have more beneficial nutrients, such as antioxidants, than their altered counterparts and people with allergies to foods, chemicals, or preservatives often find their symptoms lessen or go away when they eat only organic foods.
Here’s a list of some of the pros of eating organic:
Organic produce contains fewer pesticides.
Chemicals such as fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides are widely used in conventional agriculture and residues remain on (and in) the food we eat.
Organic food is often fresher
Because it lacks preservative also organic produce is often (but not always, so watch where it is from) produced on smaller farms near where it is sold.
Organic farming is better for the environment
Organic farming practices reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and use less energy. Farming without pesticides is also better for nearby birds and animals as well as people who live close to farms.
Organically raised animals are NOT given antibiotics, growth hormones, or fed animal byproducts
Feeding livestock animal byproducts increases the risk of mad cow disease (BSE) and the use of antibiotics can create antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Organically-raised animals are given more space to move around and access to the outdoors, which help to keep them healthy.
Organic meat and milk are richer in certain nutrients
Results of a 2016 European study show that levels of certain nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, were up to 50 percent higher in organic meat and milk than in conventionally raised versions.
Here’s a list of some of the cons of eating organic:
Organic foods are more expensive
Organic food is known for being expensive. Some organic foods cost nearly twice as much as their inorganic counterpart.High demand for organic foods combined with lower yields than conventionally farmed crops creates a recipe for high prices. For many crops, organic yields are lower than those conventionally farmed because they do not use the pesticides non organic farmers use to help more of the harvest make it to market.
No difference in food-borne illness
Outside of antibiotic resistant bacteria in meat, organic food is not inherently safer and has the same risk as nonorganic foods for food-borne bacteria contamination. Fresh produce of all varieties are prone to listeria, E.Coli, salmonella, and other bacteria. Organic food recalls have risen in recent years, but they still only account for less than 10 percent of all food recalls. However, with less organic food produced than non organic foods, the amount of recalls is in line with the total percentage of organic food sold.
Shorter shelf life
Organic fruits and vegetables may spoil faster than conventional produce because they are not treated with waxes or preservatives that keep them on the shelves longer.