Organic food comes from a method of agriculture that enhances the whole farm eco system including soil micro-organisms, water management and biodiversity. Food is grown and products are made without the use of artificial chemicals. In recent years there has been a great deal of public concern over the safety and integrity of our food leading to a debate over the merits of organic food. The available scientific evidence supports the view that organically produced foods are significantly different particularly in terms of minimal toxins & a greater nutritional content. Choosing organic foods will contribute to greater overall health due to less pesticides, fewer food additives and better nutrition.
1. Less pesticides
Over 300 pesticides can be routinely used in non-organic farming and they are often present in the end product. In 2015 over 18,000 tonnes of chemicals were used in the UK to kill weeds, insects & control crop diseases, in the same year government testing found pesticide residues in 43% of British food. Multiple residues of up to seven different compounds are not uncommon on many foods, especially lettuces, strawberries & pears. 83% of pears tested had more than 1 pesticide. Recent research from Denmark has established that even small doses of chemicals can have significant negative effects if they are present together.
Organic farmers are permitted to use just 20 pesticides derived only from natural ingredients like citronella, and use is restricted to special circumstances.
The Royal Society recently recommended that exposure of pregnant women to hormone disrupting chemicals (which includes pesticides) should be avoided in order to protect unborn children.
Professor Vyvyan Howard a medically qualified pathologist, specialising in toxicology, and in particular the effect of toxic things on the fetus and infants, has shown through his research, that fetal development is disturbed by agricultural chemicals. He concludes "From the simple stance of hazard avoidance, organically produced food is the best option that we have."
2. Fewer food additives
More than 500 additives are permitted for use in non organically produced foods, compared with just 30 or so permitted in organic processing, and these are only substances absolutely necessary to the production of a particular product and includes natural flavours, colours and yeasts. Hydrogenated fats, artificial preservatives & additives are banned under organic standards. Furthermore all organic food is certified to be GM free; a substantial number of studies suggest that GM crops & foods can be toxic or allergenic and these effects are more likely to effect the fetus and babies than adults. Buying organic meat, eggs & milk is the only way to avoid GM as imported genetically modified maize and soya can be fed to non organic livestock. No GM crops are currently grown in the UK.
3. Better nutrition
Research from Newcastle University in 2014 found that organic crops were up to 60% higher in key anti-oxidants than non organic, including vitamin C and plant compounds known as phyto-nutrients. Significantly more phyto-nutrients are found in organic vegetables, a considerable amount more of lycopene has been found in organic tomatoes, for example & more polyphenols in organic potatoes.
A further study showed that both organic milk & meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega 3 fatty acids than non organic. There are also higher levels of minerals in organic produce
4. Greater vitality
Research in Switzerland from the Institute of Vital Energy and the work of Jensotto Anderson and his colleagues at the University of Copenhagen show that organic plants have more vitality than their chemically produced counter parts. There is a harmony of living substances in each plant, which ultimately give food its healthy benefits. Introducing chemicals and toxins in agriculture changes this harmony and destroys vitality. There is evidence that shows patients fed organic food recover more quickly than patients fed a non-organic diet.
5. Cost of organic
Choosing organic whenever you can makes sense, but organic food generally costs more and for some this is an issue. However, if we look through the lens of ‘true cost accounting’ we see cheap food is of course expensive.
The true environmental and health costs of chemical agriculture (pollution, soil erosion, ill health, animal suffering and more) are not paid for at the till.
True cost accounting is about taking into account the externalities as demonstrated by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in ‘Chicken Run’ with the example of a £2.50 chicken.
The externalities in producing the cheap chicken include the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from forests that were cleared to grow the soya and maize the chicken is fed; the cost of cleaning up the nitrates and pesticides used to grow the crops; the cost of treating infection, and even deaths, due to antibiotic resistance that arises from their routine use in intensive production chicken sheds; impaired human health, and the disappearance of the family farms that used to raise flocks of free range chickens on a smaller scale, creating rural jobs. All these costs serve to subsidise the price and make it cheap.
Keeping to a tight budget means you have to be savvy with your food shopping. Choose organic grass fed animal products and eat less of them. Shop at local food markets and get to know the people who produce your food, some farmers whilst not certified organic non the less have high animal welfare standards, stock that are grass fed and avoid the use of chemicals. Some vegetables and fruits are more likely to be sprayed with chemicals these include strawberries, spinach, apples, celery, grapes and pears. Those least likely to be contaminated include avocados, sweetcorn, cabbages, onions, frozen peas & asparagus. Join a box scheme which will deliver fresh, seasonal produce to your door and share wholesale orders with friends are other options. Patrick Holford in his book The optimum nutrition bible states that the months before conception and during pregnancy are the most critical period of life, and that scientists are increasingly discovering the profound effects of the mothers health & nutrition on the infant during this time and that adult disease patterns can be traced to infancy nutrition
Organic is not only about food you can source organic or chemical free bodycare products, nappies, clothing, bedding and herbal remedies. Residues of chemicals found in everyday products such as bodycare products and cleaning agents have been found in significant amounts in breast milk along side contaminants from food. See A – Z guide