There are two sides to nearly every story and this holds true of organic foods as well. Organics advocates bombard us with the benefits of going organic and they certainly make some very valid points. Organic certification does provide the end consumer with certain guarantees about what they’re putting into, or onto, their body. However, those who are not so concerned about these issues can produce some equally valid reasons for believing that organic products may not be worth the extra expense or hype.
Let’s look at pesticides. Organic labeling is supposed to guarantee the consumer that the product has been grown and processed in a totally organic pesticide environment. However, a study done in 2002 indicated that organically labelled produce wasn’t always as non-organic pesticide free as it should be. Granted, the levels of these pesticides were much lower – around a third – of those found in conventionally grown produce and that’s an old study but it does prove one thing. Non-organic pesticides can still find their way into, or onto, organically grown produce. Therefore, don’t assume that just because fruit or vegetables are organic, you don’t need to wash them before eating, the same as you would conventionally grown fruit and vegetables! However, that organic label is still your best guarantee that the product will contain lower levels of chemicals than conventionally grown products.
Organic products are grown using only ‘natural’ chemicals for pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Non-organic believers though can tell you that many of these so-called natural chemicals are not as safe or as non-toxic as they’re purported to be. Regrettably, there is ample evidence to back them up. ‘Natural’ simply means that the chemical comes from natural ie plant based, origins and is predominantly unprocessed. It doesn’t necessarily make it safe, or even non-toxic. Plenty of plant-based chemicals are extremely toxic; they are after all the plant’s main line of defense against predatory species.
Another issue with ‘natural’ chemicals is that often they’re not as effective against pests and weeds as synthetic chemicals so more of them are required. At what point does repeated applications of lesser toxic, albeit ‘natural’ chemicals become just as unhealthy as fewer applications of more toxic ‘manufactured’ chemicals? Furthermore, just because a chemical is ‘natural’ doesn’t automatically mean it’s somehow better for the environment! Or for us!
Pathogens like Salmonella and E coli can be more prevalent in organically produced foods than conventionally produced foods. The reason is believed to be linked to the use of manures in organic farming. Manures are meant to be better for the environment than chemical fertilizers and better for those who eat the products grown in them too. However, those who have contracted Salmonella or E coli from eating contaminated organic products grown in contaminated manures may beg to differ! Conventional growers also use manures but these are usually irradiated and treated with anti-microbial agents to kill off pathogens like Salmonella and E coli. These treatment methods are not permitted with organic produce.
Organic farming is land hungry and less productive than conventional production, although this is changing as organic farming methods improve. The limited number of methods available for keeping pests and weeds under control as well as the requirement for organic fertilizers like manures has traditionally meant that growers need a lot more acreage under cultivation to produce the same yield that a conventional grower can produce. Then there is required acreage to run the animals and birds that produce these manures. As we know, the earth is rapidly running out of cleared land to allow agriculture to keep expanding as it has been doing. Therefore, increasing the land available for organic farming will eventually mean more land has to be cleared. This flies against the fundamental environmentally sustainable and eco friendly principles that are at the heart of organic agriculture philosophy. You could argue that swapping conventional farms over to organic production will resolve this but with a rapidly growing world population to feed, the fact is that organic production, with its lower yields, will never be able to keep up with the demand.
Organic fans will tell you that organic produce is more nutritious than conventionally produced produce. However, despite numerous studies on the subject, scientists have yet to find any proof of this whatsoever. And they’ve been trying for at least half a century! On the other hand, few people would disagree that they believe organic produce generally TASTES better! Blind tests though have indicated that without knowing which is which, many people can’t actually tell the difference! Furthermore, taste has no bearing on nutrition.
And finally we come to costs, probably one of the biggest deterrents in buying organic certified foods for those who aren’t necessarily fans of it. Organic products can cost anywhere up to 40% more than conventionally produced products. So when it comes down to a choice of buying a good selection of conventionally produced produce on a budget versus blowing that entire budget on a few select lines of organic produce, the choice is a no-brainer for many people. Eating conventionally produced fruits and vegetables is still better than not eating any at all.
Organic production however does have plenty of good points too. There is no doubt that correctly set up organic establishments provide diversity across the board. Organic shade grown coffee plantations are a perfect example of the type of eco diverse environment that can be achieved with an organic production site. Organic products are required to meet specific standards with respect to labeling, and artificial chemical content. And this is legislated in many countries. Therefore, as the end consumer, you do have more idea of what’s gone into producing what you’re eating. Is it any less toxic though? That’s a good question!
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