Organic food is rapidly becoming more and more popular. Some even go as far as to the hail it as the solution to a huge variety of medical problems and the key to better health. With the rise of processed foods and genetically modified organisms, as well as a host of other unfamiliar substances finding their way onto our plates, it’s no wonder people are concerned though. Add to this the fear that pollution from industrial farms is contributing to climate change and the case for going organic seems even stronger.
But are organic foods worth it? Just because they carry the official USDA stamp labeling them as organic, should you really expend the extra time, effort and money involved in getting organic foods? Do organic foods contain any more nutrients than their conventionally grown counterparts?
What the Label Really Means
The United States Department of Agriculture is responsible for declaring a food as “organic,” and bases this decision on a number of factors.
Any animal products, like meat, eggs and dairy, have to come from animals that are completely free from all hormones and antibiotics. These animals must also have been fed a steady diet of all organic foods.
Any produce trying to gain the organic label has to have been grown without the use of conventional pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. The fertilizers must also be completely free of sewage sludge.
Organic crops also cannot be bio-engineered or irradiated.
Does It Actually Change Anything?
We all prefer the idea of our corn not being a genetic mutant grown in a field of sewage sludge and drenched in pesticides, but do these things really affect us?
In the hopes of answering that very question, in 2010 The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reviewed all the research and came up with an answer: We don’t know. Frustratingly, there just wasn’t enough evidence on either side of the argument to come up with a definite conclusion. And this includes whether or not there is any long-term harm from the exposure to chemicals involved in conventional farming or if the nutrition of the food is reduced.
But, for you, that may not be enough reason to give up your organic crusade. Many people may just never get used to the idea that every apple brings with it a cloud of chemicals. For those people, the Environmental Working Group has compiled a list of the most pesticide ridden food. These “dirty” foods should probably be bought organic.
On the positive side, though, there is also a group of foods that are safe to buy regardless of whether or not they bear the organic label.
Both full lists can be found here.
Taking the broad view, however, may affect your view of organic foods even further. The USDA notes that conventional farming techniques release potentially harmful chemicals into the environment and don’t properly use renewable resources.
Several chemicals used in conventional farming have also been linked to cancer and birth defects, as well.
The argument over organic food is a cloudy and frustrating issue but, in the end, the decision is yours. You may be able to get the benefits of organic foods by supporting your local farmers’ market. Or you might consider growing your own garden as a way to stay active and control your food supply.
Have you gone organic? Please share your thoughts in the comments.