During the last decade, our discourse about food has been consumed by the topic of cultivating organic products. Those who support this movement claim that organics are more nutritious and shield consumers from exposure to pesticides. These claims leave us with a broad question: are organic foods healthier than non-organic foods?
Before we jump into this debate, let’s address what criteria distinguish an organic product from one that is not organic. In order to brand their product with an organic label, growers must meet specific government requirements. According to an article published by WebMD, organic farmers must ensure that their products are “produced without conventional pesticides (including herbicides), synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation.”
Individuals who raise animals for consumption must also meet specific requirements. According to WebMD, “Organically raised animals must be given organic feed and kept free of growth hormones and antibiotics. Organic farm animals must have access to the outdoors, including pastureland for grazing.”
In essence, an organic product is one that is free of synthetic additives and is created using the most natural processes possible. Farmers depend upon the inherent abilities of mother earth to grow products instead of materials that are chemically engineered. This distinction is identified based upon the label a product receives from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). According to WebMD, “If a food has a ‘USDA organic’ label, it contains 95 percent organic ingredients, and a government-approved expert has inspected the farm where it was produced to make sure the farmer follows USDA requirements.”
According to a recent experiment by the University of Stanford, these regulations do not mean that organic food products are more nutritious. According to a news report by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), “The research, published in the journal of Internal Medicine, looked at 17 studies comparing people who ate organic with those who did not and 223 studies that compared the level of nutrients, fungus or pesticides in various foods — including fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, milk and eggs.”
From this study, researchers concluded that organic and non-organic foods are on the same playing field when it comes to supplying nutrients. According to a BBC news report, “Fruit and vegetables contained similar amounts of vitamins, and milk the same amount of protein and fat—although a few studies suggested organic milk contained more omega-3.”
The main criticism of this report is that it observed a relatively short time frame. According to the BBC, “None of the human studies ran for longer than two years.” This fact should give those considering the research a moment of pause. While this study is a valuable tool in solving this issue, it will require many more to reach a definitive conclusion.
On the other hand, the Stanford University study was definitive about the relationship between organic foods and pesticides. According to the BBC “organic food was 30% less likely to contain pesticides.”
A separate study performed by the Consumers Union presented similar findings. According to WebMD, “Researchers looked at a date from more than 94,000 food samples and 20 different crops. They found that organically-grown crops consistently had about one-third as many pesticide residues as the congenitally-grown versions.”
When it comes to the purchasing of these items, it depends on what the consumer values. If you want to reduce your exposure to pesticides, choose the organic products. If you would like to pay lower prices for food, choose the non-organic products. If you are an advocate for the human treatment of animals, choose organic products. If you think the organic movement is a liberal conspiracy, buy non-organic foods.
While I am not an expert on this topic by any stretch of the imagination, I have had some exposure to the production of organic products. Over the last three summers, I assisted a few of my friends with their subsistence farm in Connecticut. I participated in the general care of crops such as tomatoes, lettuce, string beans and cucumbers, to name a few. We fertilized the crops using an all-natural compost blend which consisted of elements such as eggshells, coffee grounds and other plant scraps. We used flowers such as marigolds to repel insects and small animals such as deer.
It was extremely gratifying to till the soil and tend to the bounty of the earth. The most gratifying element of the process was harvesting some of the crops such as the lettuce and tomatoes to make our dinners. I was continually astonished by the richness of the flavors in those plants. I always felt energized after consuming them and I consistently lost 10-15 pounds per summer and felt extremely robust. These experiences made me believe in the organic movement.