Organic is a term that gets thrown around an awful lot and seems to qualify almost anything as healthy. Organic chocolate…healthy. Organic burger…healthy. Organic tobacco…healthy. Or are they? Let’s find out….
I’ve searched high and low for a straight answer to this, and I can’t seem to find one. Organic produce in America, for example, has to meet different criteria than organic produce in Europe. Different products also have to meet different criteria, for example organic health and beauty products don’t have to comply with any standards – i.e any health and beauty product could technically call itself ‘Organic’.
For a product to be classified as ‘organic’ in Europe, the farmers or producers have to meet a set of standards set by the European Union. These standards are then checked and verified by ‘Organic control bodies’ in the respective countries, the UK has 10 potential control bodies. Farmers or producers in different countries must also be registered with the UK control bodies for the product to be sold as organic in this country.
Not as simple as it sounds. Here’s a simplified list of criteria:
– Natural fertilizers
– Restricted pesticides
– Ban on genetically modified (GM) crops
– Use of crop rotation to maintain soil fertility
– Emphasis placed on protecting the local wildlife and environment
– Access to fields and space
– Natural diet
– No routine antibiotics
– No hormones to alter growth
The assumption tends to be made that organically grown crops are more nutritious, but this isn’t necessarily the case. The largest review study was undertaken recently (Spangler et al. 2012) which essentially claimed that there is no conclusive evidence that organic foods are more nutritionally rich than conventionally grown. The one exception to this was milk which was found to have more omega 3 in organic varieties. Other review studies have backed this up –
Woese et al. 1997 – Concluded that no significant nutritional differences were seen between organic and non-organic
Bourn and Prescott, 2002 – “there is no strong evidence that organic and conventional foods differ in concentrations of various nutrients”
So if there’s no consistent evidence that organic foods are more nutritionally ‘dense’, why would you spend more money on them?
Another common argument is that it’s not necessarily what extra you’re getting from organic foods, but what you’re NOT getting…i.e pesticides.
Pesticides are substances applied to crops to repel and protect against pests. Contrary to popular belief pesticides are used on organic crops as well as conventional crops, although organic pesticides must be from natural sources. Pesticide residues are found on the majority of crops these days, but the level at which they are present by the time the food is ready for consumption, is of little health significance (Winter, 2012). Human exposure to pesticides after washing, peeling and cooking the produce is normally around 10,000 times LOWER than levels which are known to cause potential toxicity in animals (Winter and Davis, 2006). Occupational exposure to pesticides is where issues can arise, so unless you’re working on a farm or showering in pesticides, it shouldn’t really be a worry.
Firstly, livestock seem to get a better deal if they’re reared on an organic farm. The cows get more space to roam free and happy and the chickens get nice comfortable beds. As a direct benefit to us (the consumer) the feed which animals receive improves the quality of the meat or eggs. Grass fed beef has a much higher omega 3 content, as do organic eggs.
Pesticides used in conventional farming have been shown to damage the environment via air pollution, water contamination and degradation of soil quality. Organic farming uses a process called crop rotation which ensures the soil is never devoid of one nutrient by alternating the crops which are grown in that area.
If the saving environment is a major consideration when buying your food, buying local should be a priority; saving air-miles can only be good for the environment. This begs the question – does investing in organic foods from foreign lands kill some of the rationale for buying organic? I think so. Buy local, buy seasonal.
– Organic foods are NOT that much different to conventionally grown crops from a nutritional standpoint
– Pesticides are of little health significance by the time the food hits your plate
– Organic animals are happier animals
– Mother Earth hates pesticides