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4 Reasons to Choose Organic

Posted by Cole Adam on
4 Reasons to Choose Organic

There’s a humorous saying that goes, “Try organic food, or as your grandparents called it, food.” There was once a time when all food was grown organically, but with the industrialization of our food system in the mid-20th century, farmers were told to “get big or get out.” The pressure to grow more food, combined with the discovery of numerous insect and weed-killing chemicalshas led to the widespread and increasing use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers over the past few decades. We now spray billions of pounds of pesticides on our food every year—a practice that hasn’t gone unnoticed or without consequence

The extensive use of synthetic chemicals in our food system has raised public safety concernabout growing food this way. In response, consumer demand for organically grown food (food grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers) has increased over recent years. But is organic food actually healthier? Personal opinions tend to vary, but when it comes to the science, organically grown food definitely appears to be the better option.

Here are four reasons to choose organic food:

1 | ORGANIC FOOD CONTAINS MORE OF THE GOOD STUFF 

A 2014 review study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that, on average, organic produce contained anywhere from 1969% more antioxidants compared to conventionally grown produce.  Antioxidants are beneficial compounds found mostly in plants that lower our risk of many chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases and many cancers. Other studies have confirmed that certain organic fruits contain more antioxidants, more vitamin C, more bacterial diversity (a good thing) and are better at inhibiting cancer growth in a petri dish. ₃₋₅

2 | ORGANIC FOOD CONTAINS LESS OF THE BAD STUFF

While organic agriculture often uses natural pesticides, it’s the synthetic versions used in conventional agriculture that are most concerning. These synthetic pesticides and herbicides, which are sprayed during food production, can remain on the surface of fruits and vegetables even after they’ve been picked and shipped to the grocery store. Levels of these chemical residues are expected to be within acceptable ranges set by the Environmental Protection Agency, but oversight is limited. Studies from the U.S. and around the globe suggest that, on average, organic produce contains fewer chemical residues, whereas conventional produce often exceeds “maximum residue limits.” ₂,₆₋₁₃ Washing produce well can reduce pesticide residue levels, but that may not be enough.

When people switch from eating conventional food to mostly organic food, pesticide metabolites (small molecules formed by metabolic reactions) in their bodies drop significantly—even after just one week. ₁₄₋₁₆ The health implications of this are not yet well established, but having higher levels of pesticides in our bodies has been linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma in adults and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children. ₁₇₋₁₈ While the research is limited, common sense would suggest that the fewer pesticides floating around in our bodies, the better.

3 | ORGANIC FOOD IS BETTER FOR FARM WORKERS + THEIR FAMILIES

In 1969, American labor leader, community organizer, and Latino American civil rights activist César Chávez said, “The real issue is the danger that pesticides present to farm workers. We have come to realize that the issue of pesticide poisoning is more important today than even wages.” This is because farm workers are the ones most exposed to these chemicals. As a result of long-term, low-dose exposure, farm workers and their families are significantly more likely to suffer from the following: brain tumors, leukemia, lymphomas, various other cancers, birth defects, impaired neurodevelopment, impaired immune systems, asthma, hormone disruption, reproductive abnormalities, respiratory issues, gastrointestinal issues and premature death from all causes. ₁₉₋₂₀

4 | ORGANIC FOOD IS BETTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Pesticides and herbicides are designed to kill. Although farmers may be targeting only one species of insect or plant when they spray crops with these chemicals, the effect is seen throughout the ecosystem. Non-target plants, animals, insects and even soil microorganisms are also affected or killed. ₁₉ The use of certain synthetic pesticides is thought to be a main driving force behind “Colony Collapse Disorder,” which is causing a massive die-off of bee populations. It’s also important to note that the harmful chemicals we spray on food crops don’t just disappear after the growing season. They persist in the soil, drain into local waterways, are blown into adjacent communities and are even capable of being blown up into the atmosphere where they can be transported and deposited many miles away. ₁₉ 

THE BOTTOM LINE

Overall, organically grown food is a better option compared to conventionally grown food. However, there are few things we need to keep in mind. First, when it comes to personal health, we should all eat more fruits and vegetables, regardless of how they were grown, as the health benefits far outweigh the potential risks from pesticide residue. ₂₁ With that said, as we have seen, there are health, ethical and environmental benefits to choosing organic whenever possible. Second, just because something is organic does not mean that it’s healthy. You can find organic ice cream, organic candy and organic bacon—none of which are healthy. Stick with minimally processed organic foods as much as possible. And lastly, while organic food may be slightly more expensive (although organic food costs are dropping each year as consumer demand grows), consider it a long-term investment for you, the environment and the people who grow your food. You can’t put a price tag on good health.

 

References:

  1. Pesticides Industry Sales and Usage 2008 – 2012: https://www.epa.gov/pesticides/pesticides-industry-sales-and-usage-2008-2012-market-estimates
  2. Barański, Marcin et al. “Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses.” The British journal of nutritionvol. 112,5 (2014): 794-811. doi:10.1017/S0007114514001366
  3. Reganold, John P et al. “Fruit and soil quality of organic and conventional strawberry agroecosystems.” PloS one vol. 5,9 e12346. 1 Sep. 2010, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012346
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  5. Wassermann, Birgit et al. “An Apple a Day: Which Bacteria Do We Eat With Organic and Conventional Apples?.” Frontiers in microbiology vol. 10 1629. 24 Jul. 2019, doi:10.3389/fmicb.2019.01629
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  10. Skovgaard, Marlene et al. “Pesticide Residues in Commercial Lettuce, Onion, and Potato Samples From Bolivia-A Threat to Public Health?.” Environmental health insights vol. 11 1178630217704194. 18 Apr. 2017, doi:10.1177/1178630217704194
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