Organic or not Organic?
Organic or not Organic?
Rebecca RothLately whenever I go to the supermarket I see fruits and vegetables labeled as 'organic'. Both the non-organic and organic fruits and vegetables look fresh and plump, but the organic foods cost almost twice as much. There are now organic drugs, drinks, fruits, bread, yogurt, and vegetables. The market for organic foods is growing by 20 percent a year (1). I hear my father telling me that some of his friends only eat organic fruits and vegetables and would never think of buying the foods if they were not organic. When I spoke to one of his friends and asked why she chooses to purchase organic foods, she strongly stated, "we are being poisoned by pesticides". When I looked through my nutrition magazines I noticed that they often mention the word 'organic'. So I ask myself are organic foods really better than their non-organic counterparts?
I do not buy organic fruits or vegetables. However, whenever I buy fruits, I always rinse them properly before eating. I feel that this removes the pesticides and the surface microbes. Am I mistaken, or should I in fact be buying only organic foods?
There are increasing concerns about food safety and the fact that many processed foods are made from genetically modified products. Organically grown foods mean that these organic foods have been grown on land that is absent of any chemicals for a minimum of 3 years. The crops are grown without the use of pesticides or any chemicals whatsoever. Organic foods are processed and packaged without the use of artificial preservatives, colorings, irradiation or any other additives(2).
One of the strongest arguments in favor of organic farming is that it supposedly does not pose the threat of pesticide and chemical run-off and the resulting contamination of watersheds and drinking water (3). North American studies indicate that organic farms tend to be smaller and more socially supportive, have a greater diversity of crops in rotation, and reduce health risks associated with pesticides, antibiotics and nitrates (4). Organic farming creates a richer, more sustainable soil through the use of cover crops, diverse crop rotations and organic composts. In order to infuse their soil with essential nutrients, organic farmers might first plant a "cover" crop such as clover, which naturally puts nitrogen in the soil. Cover crops also can attract beneficial insects that help control pests. Instead of growing the same crop in the same field year after year, organic farmers use crop rotation, which means they vary the types of crops that are grown in any particular field each year. Crop rotation helps to deter pests from returning regularly. It can be beneficial in slowing soil erosion, and it also varies the nutrient demands placed on the soil (3).
One French study analyzed twelve foods, and concluded that organic is ahead in terms of nutritional quality and micronutrients. In organic food one finds more micronutrients essential for good health: vitamins A, C, E, vitamins of the B group, and other elements such as zinc and minerals such as calcium. These findings, coupled with health concerns linked to pesticides, antibiotics, nitrates and additives occurring in non-organic foods, suggests increased government support for organic production could have significant health benefits in addition to the environmental benefits already proven (5). A recent article in the Journal of Applied Nutrition gave credence to the notion that organic foods have higher nutrient levels that non-organic food. In this study the mineral content of organic apples, pears, potatoes, wheat, and sweet corn were compared to commercial varieties. Overall, the organic foods showed much higher levels of nutrient minerals and much lower levels of heavy metals (6).
However, on Feb. 4, 2000, the ABC News correspondent John Stossel hosted a report on "20/20" that probably surprised many fans of organic foods. It made the case that organic food is not necessarily healthier than conventional food -- and might actually be dangerous (7). Manure used in organic compost may be more harmful than the health risks from pesticide residues. Manure may contain E. coli bacterium, which can spread harmful animal-borne diseases to humans. However, the USDA's proposed regulations for organics include temperature guidelines to kill any human pathogens that could be present in the manure (3).
Despite its benefits, organic cropping faces greater management challenges. The most troubling constraint to organic cropping is when soil nutrients removed from land are not replaced to maintain soil balance. Current organic standards limit fertilizer use, placing organic fields at risk of nutrient depletion. Studies have shown organic fields to have low levels of soil phosphorus and sulfur (4).
The pros in 'going organic' is that organic food is free from artificial chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics, growth-promoters and fertilizers. It is produced using environmentally friendly methods and is free from genetically modified ingredients (term used to describe foods that have had genetic material from other edibles artificially inserted into them using a process known as 'genetic engineering'. The idea behind this is to transfer the beneficial properties found in some types of plants or animals - such as resistance to attack by diseases, insects or herbicides - to other plants or animals that normally lack these properties). Organic foods reduce dependence on non-renewable resources and places emphasis on animal welfare. Some people think organic food tastes better than non-organic. Organic foods according to some studies show that they have more vitamins and beneficial trace elements than conventionally grown food and so may be more nutritious (8).
However, with all these pros come some cons. Organic foods are not mass-produced and traditional organic farming often produces lower yields than modern intensive farming methods. That is why organic food is generally more expensive than non-organic. For example, a half gallon of non-organic milk in New York City is $1.49, while the cost of organic milk is $2.99 The fruits and vegetables produced organically sometimes look less appealing than conventional produce that's been specially bred for the commercial benefits (8).
In conclusion, there are different views on whether organic foods are really helpful to us, or in fact may be harmful. Science is always subject to challenges based upon new observations. There are still many questions that I am not sure of the answer. For instance, can a processed food be called organic if it also contains some non-organically produced ingredients? If so, what percentage of ingredients should be organically grown and what percentage can be non-organically grown? Consumers may pay up to double the price for organic foods. What happens to those people who can not afford organic foods, are they really at a disadvantage? I believe that the organic food label is not enough to prove that it is better than non-organic foods. I mean what about the nutrition of the food itself? How about the soil in which the crops were grown? What about the post-harvesting handling of the foods? Soil management will vary from farm to farm. I guess this just proves that science does not have an ending loop or a conclusion.
In the future science will have to address these issues. As more studies are being done, our views about organic foods might change. In the past, we thought the egg was the perfect food. Now we know that although nutritious it contains high levels of cholesterol. Who knows what will be considered healthy eating in the future? At this point, organic foods seem to be beneficial.
WWW Sources1)The pros and cons of organic fruit production
6)Are organic foods really healthier for you?, Published in Organic Gardening Almanac
7)Report on organic foods is challenged, NY Times
Another Interesting Link
11/19/2005, from a Reader on the Web
I wanted to let you know that the article on Organic Foods, was very well written. It contained unbiased information, which is exactly what i was looking for, and contained many facts which were also helpful. I'm glad that you included the pros and cons of organic foods, and some support to those ideas. I am a loyalist to 20/20 howver, I did not see that episode, and I wish i did. Anyway, a job well done.
Additional comments made prior to 2007
I am a Massage Therapist from Indiana. In my nutrition class we learned a lot about organic food. The same as you mentioned in the article "organic or not organic" but one that a lot of people fail to mention is the fact that the wax that is sprayed on the produce that we are allowed to pick out(the commercially grown)is not digested in our bodies. Our bodies do not turn that into energy or fat and is actually turned into cholesterol and deposited in our arteries. That is one other reason why I choose not to eat regular fruits and vegetables. Thank you for your time ... Craig Havens, 9 June 2006
I enjoyed reading your article on organics. It was easy to read, and laid out facts instead of opinions ... Reader on the web, 19 June 2006
I used your article to help my friend with her health project on pros and cons of organic food. I found exactly what i was looking for. Thanks ... Chrispi, 25 October 2006
I would just like to say that the writer has gone about this complex issue with a great angle and has done well to both explain the facts and present both sides of a very interesting and ongoing argument. I am pleased to see that such good research and knowledge has gone into this piece and await another one as good as this with great anticipation. Well done ... Reader on the web, 15 January 2007
It's obvious that organic is better than eating pesticides, fertilizers and all that other crap. You can't believe everything you hear on the news or TV for that matter. How many times have they lied to us? Its really special for anyone to take advice from CNN and apply it to their health. That's fine for your family but don't try to teach others to do the same, your not responsible for their medical bills. It's obvious when you look at the Amish people who eat nothing but organic, that they have less illnesses, cancer, obesity....Its a good question about how do they determine whats organic? We joined a community support farm in the area. the organic veggies are actually cheaper than any in the store and the soil is plenty rich. You can get organic meat there or eggs and personally talk to the farmer to see how they run the farm. They will even let you help! The best part is that the farmer eats from the same fields as you do, so they are not going to try to pull one over on you! ... Alyssa, 17 January 2007
Thanks for the chance to write you. I just finished reading organic foods pros and cons and I found it interesting, but incomplete. The real reason I'm writing is because I want to find out whether or not eating organically grown will help in the slowness of my thoughts and memories. I had to have interferon treatments for HEP C about 5 years ago. Although my blood levels stabilized and medically my tests showed ok I never recovered from tiredness and mentally I'm slowing down. My wife buys the food here she tries to buy good stuff but it seems like something isn't working. I am a food demonstrator and come in contact with many products and people to give samples to. so many of them have complained that they experience similar symptoms as mine. It's beginning to frighten me...I feel there's danger here but I don't know how to fight it. I should start praying again, that never cost me anything but time. I hope you'll recommend something to me. Thanks ... Rick, 2 June 2007
First: there is a method of designating how much of a food is organic. If it says "USDA Organic", it is 100% organic. Only "Organic", it is 95% organic. Then there is another label (I forget what it says) that designates 75% organic foods. Look it up on the Mayo Clinic website. To me, the organic food fad is simply an elitist one that caters to people who are overconcerned with themselves. I am a skeptic and adhere to the dictum that "Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence." Organic food adherents claim that it is "better" for you (more nutritious? will help you live longer? help you fight disease?), but there is no compelling evidence to back that up. It may be more environmentally friendly, but the smaller supply, and currently greater demand, has forced the price way up, so it is purchased only by those who can afford it (i.e., elitist). Even if it IS higher in nutrients, so what? Take a multi-vitamin pill in the morning if you think you are not getting you RDA, and save a lot of money with non-organic food. Taste is a matter of personal choice. Life expectancies are rising in our country, but not because of organic foods ... Bruce Robbins, 25 November 2007