The debate over organic produce is a fierce one, and it extends beyond the scientists and environmentalists. You probably know somebody who insists only on buying organic, just as you will know somebody who takes little to no interest in the way the food they buy is produced.
That friend who only buys organic will most likely tell you that:
- Organic food is healthier.
- Organic produce tastes better.
- Organic farming is better for the environment.
For years these benefits have been generally accepted as true, yet a recent study seems to claim otherwise. This Guardian article explains that the results of studies on organic milk appear to suggest the presence of higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids, linked to reductions in heart disease.
Yet in reality, this only really translates to a very small amount of additional fatty acids, suggesting that eating organic food is not going to make that much difference to your health.
So what does the other evidence suggest? And could you save money by selectively buying organic produce, or just ignoring it altogether?
Organic Food and Health
When it comes to health, the organic-only crowd have the edge in the argument. But only just.
Organic crops have been shown to produce higher levels of antioxidants. This occurs as a natural protective mechanism against pest attacks (remember: organic crops are not sprayed with the same pesticides as conventional food). Such antioxidants are linked with reduced risk of chronic diseases, certain cancers, neuro-degenerative diseases (like Alzheimer’s) and cardiovascular diseases.
However, while there is definite evidence to suggest organic food contains less pesticide residue, the amounts found in conventional food are not high enough to be harmful.
So, while organic food may be slightly better for your health, conventional produce won’t in any way cause you harm.
Organic Food and the Environment
Organic food is said to be better for the environment as the lack of chemical fertilisers and pesticides improves soil quality and water quality as well as cleaning up conditions for farm workers.
The problem is that these environmentally friendly farming methods actually mean that yield is lower, which means less food is produced. To counter this, more land is farmed, affecting wildlife.
The organic-only campaigners also tend to be staunchly anti-GMO (genetically modified organisms), believing that they contribute to disease and poor health. However, GMO farmers have their own goals to protect the environment. Plants and crops can be made flood tolerant so that flooding can replace herbicides to kill weeds. Nuts can be engineered to not contain the protein which causes allergic reactions. Bananas can even be produced to provide a vaccine for hepatitis B.
So, while the environmental benefits of organic farming do exist, it isn’t the only way to improve farming methods.
The conclusion is a difficult one to make. If you went down the organic route, you certainly wouldn’t be losing anything (except for the extra cost on your supermarket bill).
If you’re doing it for health reasons, the best options include spinach, apples, green peas and strawberries. Organic dairy, wheat and corn are better for the shopper looking for environmentally friendly produce. And if you want to improve animal conditions on farms, look for organically raised beef and poultry.