Is Organic Really Better?

Colorful vegetables and fruits

“Optimum nutrition is the medicine of tomorrow.” ~Dr. Linus Pauling

Sometimes quite a bit more expensive and usually harder to find in average grocery stores, one can’t help but wonder whether organic foods are really worth the extra money and effort.

What does organic mean exactly? The philosophy behind organic farming is based on a respect for biodiversity and its protection, reduction of pollution and chemicals in the environment, and the promotion of healthy soil. Generally, organic food is required to be free from genetic modification, synthetic pesticides, irradiation, synthetic processing agents or ingredients, synthetic veterinary drugs, cloning and nanotechnology.

The Mayo Clinic provides a comprehensive summary of organic versus conventional farming:

Conventional

Organic

Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth. Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
Spray synthetic insecticides to reduce pests and disease. Spray pesticides from natural sources; use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
Use synthetic herbicides to manage weeds. Use environmentally-generated plant-killing compounds; rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.
Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth. Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.

Here are 5 main reasons why I say: Yes, organic is better!

1. Organic foods reduce our exposure to pesticide residues.  Chemicals in agriculture are used extensively around the world to grow crops. According to the Natural Sources Defense Council, pesticides are believed to cause cancer, skeletal abnormalities, damage to the nervous system, reproductive and immune systems and many other problems and diseases. Insecticides are neurotoxins that affect brain development. Chronic exposure causes reproductive damage and reduced fertility. Research also indicates pesticide exposure to increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and other life threatening disease.

2. The Natural Sources Defense Council also points out how chemicals used in agriculture are particularly dangerous for children. Case reports and epidemiological studies indicate an association between pesticide exposure and the development of certain cancers in children including leukemia, sarcomas, and brain tumors, and compromising of the immune system in infants and children. Evidence of the heavy toxin load in children can be seen in studies which have demonstrated how children who eat conventional food have higher levels of pesticides in their urine than those who eat organic.

3. Organic farming does not apply only to fruits and vegetable. Livestock are also adversely affected by many conventional farming methods, including the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Because farm animals are constantly given large amounts of antibiotics to fatten them up quickly and keep them somewhat disease-free in their often horrendous living conditions, the bacteria on these meats (which can be ingested by humans) are more resistant to multiple antibiotics causing a serious hazard to human health.

4. Organic foods contain more nutrients. Richer soil produces crops which have a higher level of their naturally occurring nutrients. Because they are more nutrient-rich, organic fruits and vegetables also taste better. I personally had the pleasure of diving, face first, into a perfectly ripe, organic watermelon a couple of times this summer. What ecstasy! The taste is definitely sweeter than those conventionally grown. Do a taste test and see for yourself!

5. Spending money is a matter of priorities. We need to ask ourselves this question: what’s more important: the best quality food money can buy or a pair of shoes, for example? If buying exclusively organic produce is not a priority for you, you may wish to buy organic only when the chemical agents used to grow those crops are particularly high. The Environment Working Group (EWC) produces a useful list called, “The Clean Fifteen Dirty Dozen: Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce”, which can be easily downloaded and used as a quick reference.

I encourage all of you to continue learning and researching where your food comes from and exactly how it is grown. With knowledge, we become empowered. With empowerment we can make the best choices.

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