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What are the pros and cons of organic food? Is the higher price justified, and is there evidence that organic is better?
As someone who values savoring delicious healthy food while respecting the Earth’s resources, I’m excited to share with you some of the fantastic benefits of going organic – from boosting your health to supporting local farmers and safeguarding the environment.
Since rarely something is black or white, I decided to find what are the cons of producing organic food and see if the advantages outweigh the negatives.
Okay, let’s begin!
First off, what are organic foods?
Organic foods are foods that are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Organic farmers use natural methods to manage pests and diseases, conserve soil and water, and protect biodiversity.
Organic foods are also produced in compliance with strict regulations and standards set by government agencies and third-party certifying bodies.
Benefits of Organic Food For Your Health:
1. Fewer chemicals in your diet
Organic foods are grown naturally, with natural fertilizers like compost or manure, and without herbicides, synthetic pesticides, and fertilizers.
Given the absence of synthetic pesticides in organic foods, you will be at low risk of ingesting chemicals like glyphosate, which is one of the most widely used pesticides and is known as a potential human carcinogen.
While there is pesticide residue on both organic and conventional crops, organic foods have a lower exposure level, and it is more controlled.
While there isn’t yet strong evidence of how pesticides affect your health, there is a concern that these additives can accumulate in the body over time and potentially have harmful effects on your health.
So if you want to reduce the number of pesticides you consume, you can start getting organic foods.
EWG’s analysis tested 46 items (in the US) and found 12 fruits and vegetables that were the most contaminated with pesticides. If you want to be on the safe side, pick the following fruits and veg organic:
- Kale, collard, and mustard greens
- Bell and hot peppers
- Green beans
It is important to mention that while pesticide use in organic farming is very restricted, a small number of pesticides are approved for organic use – principally copper, sulfur, natural pyrethroids, and derris. However, they are only used as a last resort.
Organic farming seeks to protect the genetic integrity of living organisms, and this is why no GMOs are used in the organic production process. (1)
GMO food is a highly controversial topic. The fact is that selective breeding techniques have been used to alter the genetic makeup of plants for thousands of years.
More recently, genetic engineering has allowed DNA from one species to be inserted into a different species to create genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
An animal study showed that GMO foods caused more tumors in rats and they died earlier than a controlled group. Additionally, peer-reviewed research found that GMO soybeans accumulate formaldehyde, which is classified as a human carcinogen.
While we may not have all the needed information to conclude anything yet, the following concerns might be good enough to avoid GMO products and choose organic instead:
- There haven’t been any long-term clinical trials on humans to determine whether GMO foods are safe for human consumption.
- Tinkering with the genetic makeup of plants may result in three major health risks – toxicity, allergic reactions, and genetic hazards.
- Potential risks of genetic modification using viral DNA are antibiotic resistance, cancer, and suppressed immune function.
- Certain GMOs are harmful to the environment, as they increase pesticide/herbicide use – when GMOs are resistant to herbicides and pesticides, farmers use more of them.
3. No preservatives
Organic products are free from synthetic substances that are often used in conventional food to enhance shelf life, appearance & improve taste.
These preservatives are often linked to health concerns, making the absence of them in organic foods a reassuring choice for health-conscious consumers.
Additionally, the production of organic foods follows strict regulations and undergoes review by both government and independent experts.
This ensures that the substances used in packaging and processing organic items are safe and pose zero consumer risks.
4. Higher nutritional value
Antioxidants play a vital role in protecting our cells from harmful free radicals, reducing the risk of oxidative stress and chronic diseases.
Moreover, opting for organic foods reduces your exposure to potentially harmful pesticide residues.
Studies have consistently shown lower concentrations of pesticides in organic crops, further supporting the idea that organic food is a healthier choice for your plate. (1)
4. No food irradiation
Food irradiation is the process where food gets exposed to powerful radiation like X-rays and gamma rays. The goal is to kill off harmful microorganisms and extend the shelf life of food.
Food irradiation raises concerns about potential nutrient loss, the breaking of some chemical bonds in food, and the formation of potentially harmful compounds. There is also a lack of clear labeling which also points to controversy surrounding this technology.
Foods that have been irradiated, no matter how they are grown or produced, cannot be labeled as a USDA-certified organic products. So, if your goal is to eat good that didn’t undergo irradiation, choose organic veggies and fruits.
Benefits of Organic Food For The Environment:
5. Create and maintain healthy soil
To enrich the soil, organic farmers practice hand weeding, mechanical control, mulches, cover crops, crop rotation, and dense planting. They avoid synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that can harm the environment. (1)
No use of these chemicals, means no leaching into the soil and water, affecting our environment, aquatic ecosystems and even entering our drinking water. (1)
6. No sewage sludge
Sewage sludge is the wastewater treatment byproduct, which carries within it a cocktail of hazardous substances.
Once treated, farmers often apply it to their farms as a fertilizer, making its way into inorganic foods.
Organic food production, on the other hand, is committed to banishing sewage sludge entirely. This prohibition isn’t just a precaution; it’s a guarantee and ensures the safety of the final product.
7. Protects water sources from toxic runoffs
Toxic runoff from farms carries pesticides and agrochemicals into the nearby streams and aquatic environment, where they pose a significant threat, with fish being the most vulnerable. (1)
These chemicals are not only dangerous for fish, but they also cause algae blooms in the water bodies, consuming the oxygen levels in the water and blocking sunlight. (1)
The result is the creation of dead zones, affecting the survival of aquatic plants and animals.
Organic farming practices help to protect against nutrient leaching, water runoff, and soil erosion. (1)
8. Pollinator-friendly crops
Several studies have shown that certain pesticides used in agriculture are extremely toxic even at very low concentrations for honeybees, freshwater fish, and aquatic animals. (1)
Organic food production promotes biodiversity and environmental balance, nurturing an ecosystem where diverse species can thrive harmoniously.
By withholding the use of synthetic pesticides, organic practices create safe havens where bees and other pollinators, and wildlife can thrive.
Those responsible agricultural practices have a significant positive impact on pollinators and the broader natural world.
9. Support the local economy
Organic foods often have a slightly higher price tag than their non-organic counterparts. That’s because organic farming requires extra care and dedication.
Farmers put in the hard work, using natural methods to nurture their crops, steering clear of synthetic chemicals and genetically modified seeds.
It’s a commitment to promoting biodiversity, safeguarding the environment, and preserving the health of our delicate ecosystems.
Moreover, obtaining an organic certification comes with added expenses for farmers. They diligently follow rigorous standards and strict regulations to ensure that the food they produce aligns with the requirements for growing organic food.
By opting for organic foods, you’re not only treating yourself to wholesome, chemical-free nourishment, but you’re also supporting local communities and boosting the local economy.
10. Healthier farmers
The benefits of organic food also extend to farmers through the production process.
In developing countries, farmers’ lack of knowledge about safe pesticide use can harm their health. Unprotected handling and poor storage are common issues that cause health problems.
Opting for organic will lead to a decrease in agrochemical usage and an increase in the demand for organic food.
This will not only reduce the use of harmful pesticides but also will minimize the risks of pesticide exposure for both farmers and neighboring families.
11. Makes you value your food more
Picking organic might cost a bit extra, but it’s like a small investment in something bigger. When you spend a little more, you’re supporting a way of farming that’s better for you and the planet.
It’s like voting with your dollar for healthier, more sustainable choices, but also, you will ultimately start enjoying and appreciating the food you eat even more.
This simple act of valuing your meals will have a positive impact not only on your health but also on the local community.
By choosing better food you will be helping to create a healthier, more sustainable world!
12. Supports a healthy environment
Choosing organic farming benefits the environment in many ways. It starts from the ground – organic methods make the soil healthier, packed with nutrients that help plants grow better.
Organic farming also stops harmful chemicals from getting into our water, keeping rivers and lakes safe. And by growing different types of crops together, creates a balanced space where plants and animals can live together peacefully.
Another cool thing is that organic farming doesn’t add to climate change as much. It’s like a small step that adds up to make a big difference for our planet.
In essence, the choice to support organic farming is an investment in a healthier, more vibrant world.
Organic Foods Disadvantages:
While we can’t deny all the amazing benefits, I was curious to see what are the downsides and struggles when it comes to organic farming. After research, I found the following disadvantages of organic foods:
- Higher cost of organic produce – Organic foods are often more expensive due to increased labor and certification expenses for farmers. (1)
- The high price of certifications – Sometimes, because organic food certifications are very expensive, some farmers may not be able to afford the certification, even though they may produce their food organically.
- Pesticide use in organic farming – While it is very restricted, a small number of pesticides are still approved for organic use (principally copper, sulfur, natural pyrethroids, and derris). On a positive note, they are only used as a last resort.
- Lower yields – Organic farming might produce fewer crops on the same amount of land compared to conventional methods.
- Limited availability – Organic options can be limited in some regions and may not be as readily available as conventionally produced foods. (1)
- Varied standards – Organic certification standards can vary between regions and countries, leading to inconsistencies in labeling and practices.
- More land requirement – Organic farming often requires more land to produce the same amount of food, potentially contributing to deforestation or habitat loss in some cases. (1,2)
Are organic foods healthier than non-organic foods?
Organic foods are richer in antioxidants and certain micronutrients. Organic food also contains lower levels of harmful chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides. Based on this, organic foods may be a healthier choice for your diet in the long run.
Do organic foods have more nutrients?
Several studies have shown that organic foods generally contain higher levels of antioxidants and certain micronutrients. Also, organic foods are grown in healthier soils, which can result in better nutrient uptake by the plants.
Why are organic foods more expensive?
Organic foods are more expensive than non-organic foods because organic farming practices require more labor and resources. Organic farmers also have to pay certification fees and comply with stricter regulations, which add to the cost of production.
Do organic foods taste better?
Taste is subjective, and it depends on personal preference. However, some people prefer the taste of organic foods because they are grown in healthier soils and without the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides.
Whether you choose organic or not, here’s how to embrace a sustainable diet:
- Opt for local and seasonal foods from nearby farmers.
- Increase your intake of plant-based foods (the most environmentally friendly foods), especially vegetables and fruits.
- Minimize food waste, and if you can, compost any leftover scraps.
- Minimize processed foods, and heavily packaged and processed options.
Organic agriculture follows a set of principles aimed at producing high-quality food while harmonizing with natural cycles.
These principles emphasize maintaining soil fertility and biodiversity, conserving genetic diversity, responsible water use, renewable resources, and promoting local production.
The approach seeks to ensure a balanced relationship between crop production, wildlife, and a safe and healthy working environment. Plus, indigenous knowledge and traditional farming systems are acknowledged and protected.
Organic farming has many advantages but it is also important to acknowledge that it doesn’t solve all the environmental problems associated with producing food.
While it isn’t perfect and holds some downsides, and some things can be improved, it is in general a more circular and sustainable way of producing food.
What do you think about organic foods? Do you feel the pros outweigh the cons, or do you have a different perspective? Share in the comments below.