For hundreds and hundreds of years we have survived and even thrived eating only naturally grown produce and there was no need to specify that it was organic. Only in more recent years has there been a shift to include the word Organic to distinguish between chemical-laden and regular produce. If you think about it, all organic produce should just be called regular produce and a label should instead be given to the food that was grown with the help of chemicals. But would as many people really buy the latter it if this idea was forefront in their minds. Unfortunately, this is another example of large businesses taking something that worked wonderfully and manipulating it for their own gain. Not to sound like too much of a conspiracy theorist, but if there isn’t anything wrong with growing and consuming organic produce, why fix something that was never broken to begin with? I am very fortunate to have grown up eating mostly organic produce, but only because at a young age my parents realized that I reacted badly to pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables. It makes sense that our bodies react to substances that are inherently poisonous to us. In case you aren’t buying organic already, here are 15 reasons to help you consider switching over.
Enjoyment aside, the main reason we eat is to provide our body with the nutrients it needs to function properly. In an ideal world we would get everything our bodies need straight from the earth without any added chemicals that could be causing us harm. Chemicals aside, are we getting more nutrients from organic or not? In a 2001 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, they look at already published literature to compare the nutrient content in five common organic vegetables versus “conventionally” grown ones. In organic carrots, spinach, lettuce, potato and cabbage there was significantly more Vitamin C, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus and less nitrates than the alternatively grown ones. We may sometimes need to pay more for organic produce but in the end we are getting more nutrients for our bodies, so it is worth the extra money. But what about the other reasons for eating organic?
According to the USDA “Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.” So what is going on non-organic food? There are over 600 chemicals registered for agricultural purposes in the United States; the total usage is approximately 16 pounds of chemical pesticides per person per year, which is billions of pounds per year. Some or many of these chemicals were approved by the Environmental Protection Agency before any long-term testing had been done. Many are being considered safe without even testing to see if they have long term cumulative effects on our health. The Food and Drug Administration also only tests about 1% of food for pesticide residue and rarely even tests for the most dangerous and toxic ones which have to be tested in a special way. I don’t know about you, but this wouldn’t make me feel very safe if I were to eating conventional produce.
Genetically modified organisms or GMOs are created by transferring a gene from one species to another, often from an animal species to a plant, creating something that wouldn’t normally be found in nature. There aren’t any laws that force companies to label their GMO produce, so the only way to be certain to avoid them is by buying Organic. If it is labeled organic it can’t be genetically modified. There is also the NON GMO Project which labels some products that aren’t GMO. Here is what all the fuss is about with regards to avoiding GMOs. We just don’t have proper evidence to say that eating GMOs is safe and we may not find out the exact risks until many years down the road, as with trans-fats. Corporations fought to get them in the grocery stores and now years later we know how horrible they are for us. Some scientists also worry that consuming these foods may pass on unnatural genes the bacteria in our digestive systems and we just don’t know what could occur from this as well. Japan even banned GMOs after a modified bacteria created a new amino acid that wasn’t found in nature; it caused metabolic and mental damage to hundreds as well as death in several. There is just too much uncertainty surrounding these organisms to take a chance.
12. Long-Term Benefits
Eating food doused with chemicals can have immediate or long-term effects on our bodies. Let’s take a look at benefits of avoiding these chemicals. Pesticide exposure has been found to negatively impact the cognitive development of children whereas eating organic mitigates this risk. Pesticides should especially be avoided during pregnancy and in the child’s early infancy. Organic food has been found to have lower levels of Cadmium, a known carcinogen which negatively impacts human health, than conventionally grown crops. Unfortunately, Cadmium is not safe at any level and is retained by your body and builds up over time unless you take specific measures to remove it but this is not common knowledge. There are several negative effects that cadmium can have on the body, eating organic will help avoid some of these. Other pesticides and chemicals have cumulative negative impacts as well, whereas eating organic gives your body a break from having to process the poisons and with time some damage that has already been done can repair itself.
The use of pesticides not only causes problems in our bodies when ingest them but it is also devastating to the environment, and this isn’t always easy or possible to clean up or remediate. By definition, pesticides are substances that are meant to kill and are toxic to living organisms. Herbicides kill weeds, insecticides kill insects, fungicides kill fungus and so on. They are now commonly used around the world, both indoors and outdoors. Pesticides pollute the air we breathe and accumulate in the water systems that supply our drinking water. It also devastates the land we rely on to grow our food. They harm insects and microorganisms as well as worms that live in our soil and are beneficial to maintaining soil health. Somewhat fortunately, there is an emerging field of biology called phyto-remediation that grows specific plants on contaminated soil. These plants absorb the toxins to reduce the level of harm they may cause us. This is a relatively inexpensive process but it does take time. Not using the toxins in the first place would be a much better solution.
10. Soil Biodiversity
As previously mentioned, different pesticides kill creatures and organisms that live in our soil. Soil biodiversity refers to the species, genes and entire communities of life that exists in the soil. They are essential to the nutrient value of our food, thus to our health as well as the health of our children. What happens beneath the earth is still largely a mystery. Scientists have only identified about 1% of the microorganism species living in the soil even though it represents more than 25% of all living species on earth. These organisms play an important role in the soil thereby affecting our crops; they aerate the soil which allows water to get through to the plant roots, they also provide nutrients to plants and store carbon which affects the system as a whole. Soil in its natural form is also better able to control pests because it contains a variety of predator species and nutrients. Organic farming has been found to increase the species richness in the soil by 30%; organic farming has a more positive effect on biodiversity than conventional farming, hands down.
9. Support Farmers Directly
There is an unfortunate reality plaguing agricultural business. Most commercial and conventional farming doesn’t actually make enough money on its own to turn a profit. The way these farmers are able to make a living is by receiving government subsidies. The problem here is they are being subsidized to grow mainly GMO crops like corn, that will be turned into high fructose corn syrup instead of nutritious food for people to eat. In order to get by, these farmers have to rely on American tax dollars that amount to billions of dollars but there are hidden costs in this system that aren’t taken into consideration. Cornell University looked at hidden costs when considering the actual price of a head of iceberg lettuce versus the price when including the hidden costs. Purchased, it is 49 cents but with the hidden costs it was closer to $3.00. The study added in the costs of federal subsidies and pesticide regulation and testing as well as the costs of hazardous waste and cleanup. All of this is a big price to pay for food when it isn’t even organic; if it were, there wouldn’t be so many hidden extras. If we as consumers, all demanded organic, this system would have a chance at rebuilding and we would support our farmers directly instead of them having to get paid through tax subsidies.
If there is one company that is synonymous with evil these days, Monsanto is that company. It made a shift from being a chemical company and then bought up seed companies to reincorporate itself as an agricultural company, namely to enter into bio genetics research which is where GMOs come in. Monsanto started in the GMO realm with their patented Glyphosate-resistant or “Round-Up Ready” soybean. This genetically engineered plant could be sprayed with an endless amount of Monsanto’s Round-Up pesticide which contains Glyphosate, an herbicide that kills other unwanted plants, but not this particular soybean plant. This product alone doesn’t make a company develop a reputation for being evil, but their lawsuits against small farmers like Canadian Percy Schmeiser have not helped their case. Monsanto sued this farmer, claiming patent infringement. They argued that he was growing Round-Up Ready Canola on his property and was refusing to pay their licensing fee. The farmer claimed that the genetically modified seed had unknowingly blown over the fence onto his property. He also stated that he wasn’t infringing on their patent agreement because he was not intending to use Round-Up on his crops. The small farmer lost the case and Monsanto has forever garnered the reputation of being a corporate bully.
7. Higher Antioxidants
Another reason organic produce is superior is they have higher levels of polyphenols which are plant-based antioxidant compounds. These antioxidants have been estimated to be between 19 and 51% higher in organically grown produce than conventional ones. These antioxidant compounds have been linked to disease prevention such as with cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative conditions and some cancers. They have also been found to slow the aging process. These antioxidants are necessary because they help mitigate the oxidation of free radicals that cause damage to our bodies. Our bodies are only able to produce certain types of antioxidants and the body’s ability to do so declines as we get older, so getting these antioxidants for outside sources is important. Eating organic, real food is a natural way to fight disease and aging. Not only are these antioxidant micro-nutrients present in higher quantities in organic fruits and vegetables, even more so if they are eaten close to harvest time. Therefore, eating organic and locally grown produce is our best option for our health and well-being.
6. Agricultural Diversity
If you’ve ever heard of the potato famine in Ireland, you already know a little about the devastation that the lack of agricultural diversity can cause. A million people died of starvation in Ireland when their potato crops were knocked off by a blight. Their crop only consisted of a few varieties of potatoes so there was no genetic diversity which could have potentially kept some of the crops safe from disease. Over the years, in modern agriculture, farmers have been collecting seeds from only the most desirable of plants; basically a forced natural selection. This does make farming easier because farmers can perform the same tasks for their crop at the same time, it takes away a lot of the guess work. But at the same time, it leaves our food open to being wiped out. There is roughly 75% of genetic diversity of agricultural crops that has been lost, this might also be causing some health issue we are seeing on the rise these days, but this is left to be determined.
5. Support This Industry
The future is looking optimistic when it comes to organic farming. With more information readily available, consumers are becoming more aware and smarter when choosing what to put on their plates and in their mouths. The demand for organic produce is so high that large chain stores like Costco just can’t get enough. Last year, they had $4 billion in annual sales just from organic produce, beating out Whole Foods. U.S. Farmers just can’t keep up. Costco and Whole Foods are now starting to lend money to organic farmers so they can buy up more land and machinery and Wegmans is working with farmers directly to help them transition from conventional to organic farming. Gone are the days when big corporations are fighting the healthful trends, now these grocery giants are actually helping in ways no one really would have expected. Costco has such an incredible market share that they may make a real difference in how produce is farmed in the U.S. This program is a step in the right direction and hopefully we will see a lot of change in the industry with other giants getting involved. Let’s all get on board and do our bit to support this industry by buying organic.
4. Save the Bees
The often feared unsung heroes of agriculture aren’t farmers, but bees. These hard working striped insects are our allies, but common agricultural practices are putting entire colonies at risk. Many have already suffered an unfavourable fate. Without bees, we would starve to death. Now, this may sound dramatic, but we need bees to transfer seeds and pollen from flower to flower in order to fertilize them, so it can produce food. Otherwise, our food crops would die off. Since 1990, in the U.S. alone , the honey bee population has already decreased by over 25%. What is happening? Colony Collapse Disorder is a serious issue, and pesticide use is contributing to this problem. There are pesticides that have been banned all over the world, because of their toxic effect on bees, but they are still being used in the U.S. Some pesticides that have previously been deemed as safe for bees have never been studied in conjunction with other pesticide exposure. Unfortunately, exposure to multiple pesticides is killing off bees and their queens, something that colonies can’t always survive. Widespread organic agriculture would definitely help the bees survive which in turns helps our food supply.
3. Other Advantages
Eating organic produce has other benefits to our health that are often not considered or known. With the epidemic of obesity plaguing nearly one-third of the world’s population, people may be pleased to know that researchers have found a link between eating organically grown food and reversing obesity and type 2 diabetes. The rise of food allergies is also an issue; a link has also been found between increased allergic reactions and foods coated with pesticides. Being exposed to some pesticides is associated to more sensitivity to foods. Our bodies are constantly under attack from so many chemicals on different fronts. It is important to try to reduce this exposure and eating organic is one way to do this.
The demand for organic produce is making it easier and easier to find. Most major grocery chains have a small section dedicated to certified organic produce, but some carry only organic fruits and vegetables as do many independent shops. Of course, you can buy from local farmers directly at farmer’s markets or through a subscription service. Since I buy almost exclusively organic, I get my food from a variety of the above. During the summer I get a very hefty bounty of local organic vegetables every week from a farmer who also supplied my parents while I was growing up. During the colder months, I purchase my produce from mostly small local shops, even if the produce is being shipped in from further away. I am pleased to be choosing what I believe is the best option for optimal health and the environment.
1. Better Taste
If better health and helping the environment don’t get you excited because you enjoy food and the rest is just noise, perhaps you would be interested to hear that organically grown produce actually tastes better. Even at a very young age I became aware of this fact and I am not the only one. I have never been able to bite into a non-organic apple without instantly noticing that it had been treated with chemicals and was likely coated in other substances too. If you’ve been eating conventional produce for a long time you may have been missing out on the real full flavour of vegetables and fruit. If your taste buds have grown accustomed to processed foods and sugars, you are also missing out, but that is another story altogether. Since plants are treated with pesticides throughout their growth cycle you can’t just wash off the chemicals and call it a day. Washing them may remove the wax coating that is added for the grocery store effect but the chemicals are also in the soil and in the produce. /the only way to avoid them altogether is to eat organic or grow your food yourself if you can.