This is how my last visit to the groceries store looked like:
She: “Go take the organic apples, organic carrots, organic avocado, and organic watermelon.”
So I go and take the usual apples, carrots, avocado, and watermelon. She tastes them at home and says: “See? I told you they were better. This apple tastes like a real apple. It’s nothing like the artificial stuff we used to get.”
The irony, huh? I know that some people, who’ve been into organic food for a longer period of time, could really tell the difference. My point with this example is to show you that BIO turned into a trend. It’s an industry that profits out of people who don’t really know what organic means. When they find out, they will realize that organic does not necessarily mean better for their health.
I know that sounds like a controversial statement. So let’s dig into it to see if it’s really true.
What Does Organic Mean, Anyway?
We see the word everywhere, but not all of us really understand what it stands for. At least I wasn’t completely sure before I did my research. There’s some level of confusion that results from different regulations in different states, whose definitions of the term organic vary.
This is how BBC Good Food defines it: “Organic food is the product of a farming system which avoids the use of man-made fertilizers, pesticides; growth regulators and livestock feed additives. Irradiation and the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or products produced from or by GMOs are generally prohibited by organic legislation. Organic agriculture is a systems approach to production that is working towards environmentally, socially and economically sustainable production. Instead, the agricultural systems rely on crop rotation, animal and plant manures, some hand weeding and biological pest control.”
Sounds pretty healthy, doesn’t it? But there’s at least one problem there: GMO. Is it really that bad? It’s a complex issue. Personally, I take Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s word for a fact, so I was pleased to find his opinion on the matter. People have been modifying agriculture since forever, and that’s how we got our modern food. “We cultivated, or genetically changed, corn from whatever cavemen ate to these big ol’ sticks of corn that we now much on. This is essentially true for every food in the grocery store.”
Basically, there’s no such thing as non-GMO food. Period. Yes; we absolutely need to work on sustainable agriculture. But we also need seed. The real issue is not GMO, but pesticides. And organic food contributes towards that aspect of production. We can’t ignore that.
It’s a Matter of Discussion
First and foremost, I don’t want you to get me wrong. Yes; I know that organic is better than pesticides. But the issue is a bit deeper than it initially seems.
Look at this research paper, for example. Organic Food and Impact on Human Health: Assessing the Status Quo and Prospects of Research. Some studies have demonstrated the positive effects of an organic diet on the immune system, fertility system, growth, and weight.
But there’s a problem: “The variation in outcomes of comparative studies is very high, depending on plant fertilization, ripening stage and plant age at harvest, and weather conditions. Moreover, there appeared no simple relationship between nutritional value and health effects. It is difficult therefore to draw conclusions from analytical data about the health effects of organic foods.”
When you read an article that promotes an organic diet, they present a “fact” that such food gives you health benefits. That statement is a matter of a dispute, to say the least. Scientists are still working on their research, but the current situation shows that the relationship between organic food and health benefits is not as straightforward as we thought it was.
Next time when you read an article telling you to start an organic diet, question everything they claim. In fact, I invite you to question my own article, too. Question everything. Do your research. Practice mindful eating, instead of treating your stomach like an endless waste bag.
Get plenty of info before you decide to make such an important change in your life. We’re talking about shifting your diet, spending more money on food, and investing in your health. You better be absolutely sure before you decide to do that.
Why Organic Food Is Not Necessarily Better
1. The Higher Price Leads to Wrong Assumptions
I want you to take a look at another research paper: Who Are Organic Food Consumers? It’s not offensive at all; it’s just unbiased research that sheds light on the industry.
Here’s one of the most important details you’ll find there: “Hill and Lynchehaun (2002) suggest that because of the high prices associated with organic food, consumers perceive organic food to be higher quality than conventionally grown food, which informs their perceptions of taste.
Interestingly, Fillion and Arazy (2002) conducted a series of blind taste-tests between organic and non-organic orange juice and milk. They found that organic orange juice was perceived as tasting better than conventional orange juice; however, no differences were found between organic and conventional milk.”
This explains my girlfriend’s reaction. She was convinced that the fruits and veggies were better because the price was high and there’s a lot of buzz around the term organic. The trick I played on her was a kind of blind taste-test. Before you say it was insulting, we had a good laugh about it because she’s cool enough to get my jokes. The marketing tricks that producers play are the really insulting thing here.
So before you start paying the higher price because you’re convinced that organic tastes better, get this: it doesn’t! And it’s not healthy for your budget.
2. No; You Don’t Get Immediate Health Benefits
It’s just a placebo. Maria Grass, researcher for Best Dissertation, shares her own experience: “I started feeling a lot better when I shifted my diet to organic food. In fact, I felt more energized, awake, and healthier from the very first week. Surprise, surprise: it wasn’t the organics. After I did my research, I realized that part of it was my mind, but the bigger part was that I was eating more fruits and veggies and zero packaged food. I tried the same diet without ‘organic’ and I felt the same effects.”
That’s just a single experience and it might not be the case for everyone. But we still trust science, right? Well, the majority of scientific studies show no evidence of health outcomes from an organic-based diet. So if you start feeling immediate health benefits, you must realize that the organic food doesn’t take the credit for them. It’s the basic change of diet and your mind that tries to convince you that your money was well spent.
Organic Might Not Be Better for Your Health, But There Are Undeniable Environmental Benefits to Consider!
So no; your health is not really a valid reason for going organic. When we get straightforward results from science that prove that for a fact, we’ll agree on the matter. For now, it’s a discussion and it doesn’t go to the advantage of organic food.
The greatest argument that justifies the production and consumption of organic food is our environment. There are several arguments to support such actions:
1. Organic Production Is Less Cruel to Animals
People buy BIO because they want to put an end to animal cruelty. If they cannot, don’t want to, or are not ready to give up on meat for any reason, that doesn’t mean they should stop caring about the animals.
Organic meat comes from animals that haven’t been fed with hormones and pesticides. That’s good, although there’s no proof it’s better for our health. What’s better is the treatment of this animals, who get to live longer and in better conditions.
According to the Federal Regulation for the National Organic Program, the farms and ranches that produce organic meat must provide continuous organic management from the last third of gestation. The regulations obligate these farmers to provide livestock with access to the outdoors, direct sunlight, fresh air, and appropriately clean and dry living conditions. They get better food, too.
Do we even want to compare this to traditional farm animals? There, the animals don’t even have space to lie down, and they live in unimaginably bad conditions. Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history, and it’s amazing to see how people are still not aware of that fact.
Organic meat is better because the conditions where the animals live are controlled with stricter regulations. It’s not entirely cruelty-free (death is still part of the process), it’s an example of how all farms should be handled, regardless whether they produce organic meat or not.
2. Organic May Be Better for the Environment
Now, let’s mention the issue of our environment. Organic farms host more butterflies, birds, and bees. They provide higher overall biodiversity and have better water and soil quality. When compared to non-organic production, organic farms also emit fewer greenhouse gases. So yes; they are better for the environment, and that indirectly makes them better for our health, too.
Palm oil, in particular, is a major issue for our environment and for our own bodies. It’s everywhere, and it slowly consumes our planet. But eating organic doesn’t solve that issue. You could avoid it without going fully organic. You could also opt for manufacturers that use a sustainable source of palm oil, and that doesn’t mean you have to go organic. But keep in mind that “sustainable palm oil” often just a label that’s far from reality.
But we still have to look at both sides of the coin. Even the environmental benefits of organic production are questionable. Organic farms produce less food. When you realize that, the greenhouse gas emissions per unit are not lower when you compare them with non-organic production. Whoa!
Stuart Smyth, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Saskatchewan, highlights another important concern: “To me, it’s a real concern when I see a land that could be more productive entered into an [organic] system that in some cases only produces [a part] of its potential capacity.”
I told you it was complicated, didn’t I?
3. Organic May Be Better for the Agriculture Workers
Let’s be honest: organic production requires much more labor than the non-organic hide. The growers cannot use herbicides, so the workers remove weed by hand. It’s hard work, but it also means that people are getting hired and they are fairly paid for their labor.
Organic production provides enough work, so these people can live in a single place year round, without having to move from one area to another. Let’s not neglect the fact that these workers are not exposed to pesticides, and that’s a huge plus. People decide to buy organic because they want to support these workers and that’s a totally valid argument.
But we gotta be real here. The organic agriculture industry is just as guilty of low wages and labor abuse as traditional farming is. Although handing out short-handled tools is forbidden because it leads to permanent back injuries, Esparza was fined twice in a single year for violating that rule. The ideas behind the wellbeing of workers in organic production are amazing. We should support that. But we must also hold producers accountable and we shouldn’t take the label organic for granted. It doesn’t necessarily mean the workers are being treated well.
4. Organic Production Does Not Support Overfishing
You won’t believe how much fish people consume on a daily basis. Shrimp, salmon, tuna, and cod are currently at the highest demand. People take these fish from the ocean in huge quantities, and they do not create more fish to make up for the damage. Experts say that if we don’t change the global approach to overfishing soon, our societies might collapse within 30 years. Unfortunately, that’s not an exaggeration.
Since it’s impossible to turn every human on Earth vegan, the answer may be in sustainable aquaculture. Instead of using the ocean as hunters, we must get in the role of farmers. That’s what organic production aims for, and it’s definitely a good thing.
5. Let’s Talk about Milk, Too
The study I mentioned above showed that there was no significant difference in taste between organic and normal milk. But I found another study, showing us a different perspective on organic production: it shows that organic milk is actually healthier. The cows have been fed with grass, so the milk has higher quality in terms of fatty acid and protein. The usual, non-organic milk comes from cows on a corn-based diet, and it’s higher in omega-6 fatty acid. That could lead to inflammation and other health issues.
But what about hormones? The truth is that all milk contains them. However, traditional dairy farmers give the cows growth hormone in order to increase milk production. The FDA has a rather controversial stance on the issue. According to them, there’s no significant difference between milk that comes from cows treated with growth hormone (rBST) and milk from cows that haven’t been subjected to that hormone. So if you really don’t want higher levels of hormones that you don’t need in your milk, maybe it’s wise to get the organic type.
Oh wait, it turns out that organic milk has slightly higher levels of estradiol and progesterone than conventional milk. The complications never end in this discussion.
But the one argument that definitely goes in favor of organic milk is that the cows haven’t been treated with antibiotics. We can’t ignore that.
Can we come down to a clean, straightforward conclusion? It’s hard to do that. Organic food may be better for our health and for our environment in some aspects, but it’s not perfect. In some ways, it may even be worse than non-organic production.
Look; I’m happy that people want to eat well. Investing in our health is important, and our health definitely comes through the food we eat. But does this mean we should all go organic? It’s a multi-level discussion. In my opinion, organic production has a lot of potentials but it lacks stricter control and we should take the bio label for granted. What do you think?