posted 2012-10-24 11:43:25

The Bottom Line in Health

Determining the value of “Organic”

Judah Schulman

The worldwide demand for organic food has skyrocketed in recent years. According to the Datamonitor Group’s publication Organic Food:Global Industry Guide, the organic food market will be worth almost $100 billion by 2014. Organic farms are now commonplace around the world, and have become necessary to sup- ply the health-conscious consumer’s de- mand for healthy food. Unfortunately, the high cost of these products has deterred many consumers from regularly shop- ping organic, and the prices steer people towards buying processed and potentially harmful foods instead.

Here is what you need to know about organic foods so you can make healthy choices without emptying your wallet.

Pesticides in the Food Chain

Pesticides, which simply refer to substances added to or sprayed onto foods before they reach the consumer, are impossible to detect with the naked eye. The U.S. Department of Agriculture routinely tests conventionally grown produce, finding levels of pesticide residue that are considered unsafe and that could eventually lead to neurological injury and even certain cancers. A research study at Stanford University concluded that organic food contained significantly lower levels of pesticides than non-organic food. Also, previous Stanford research suggest- ed lower levels of pesticides could help prevent ADHD and autism in children. And according to studies run by Harvard University, Washington University, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, by eating organic produce, you can reduce your exposure to pesticides by as much as ninety percent.

Human Sewage Sludge

Ever wonder what happens to the waste we flush down our sinks and toilets? Surprisingly, the U.S. government condones the use of this waste as fertilizer, meaning that some of it actually ends up back in our food. It is legal for non-organic farmers to use human sewage sludge from municipal water treatment plants to fertilize their fields. Sludge can contain whatever is flushed down the toilet by morgues, private residences, industrial parks, or any other businesses and institutions within the surrounding area. Since organic certification bans the use of sewage sludge, organic farmers rely on compost or cover crops (plants grown during the off season and dispersed across the soil) to fertilize their crops.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Since the 1990s, farmers have been growing crops with Genetically Modi- fied Organisms (GMOs). The DNA of these engineered crops allow the plants to withstand high doses of chemical pesticides, improving the plants’ chances of survival, which of course, leads to an increase in overall profits. Organic certification explicitly bans the use of GMOs, which, according to the Alliance for Natural Health, can lead to digestive diseases, an increase in food allergies and even psychological conditions such as schizophrenia. The Center for Food Safety estimated that these dangerous GMOs are present in roughly seventy percent of non-organic foods. But despite their potentially negative side effects, GMOs have a contingent that supports their continued use; sadly, this contingent is mostly made up of large agribusinesses with their own interests in mind, often claiming that a produce market without GMOs would not be sufficient enough to supply the global demand for food.
Drugged Livestock

Antibiotics are commonly used by humans to fight bacterial infections. However, they are also frequently used in the global meat industry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that eighty percent of all antibiotics used in America go toward feeding conventional livestock. The antibiotics help to prevent disease in the livestock, while also increasing the animals’ body fat. Recent reports from the FDA also suggest that traces of antibiotics found in packaged meat could be making humans gain weight. Fortunately, organic certification bans the use of antibiotics and feeding animal byproducts to live- stock, requiring that animals eat food grown without pesticides or GMOs.

The Nutrition Battle

Are organic products more nutritious than their non-organic counterparts? In the Stanford University study mentioned earlier, no consistent differences were seen in the vitamin content of organic products versus those of non-organic products. Furthermore, the researchers in this study were also unable to identify specific fruits and vegetables for which organic appeared to be the consistently healthier choice.

The Bottom Line:

Unlike other food labels that simply claim to boost your energy, improve your ability to focus or give you more strength, organic is a certification that has substantial meaning. It ensures that food has been grown or raised without the use of GMOs, pesticides or unsanitary fertilization. Organic farmers, unlike conventional farmers, are subject to annual and random inspections to guarantee they are following the strict rules of the National Organic Program. While the costs for organic foods are usually higher than those for non-organic foods, the organic foods are not necessarily more nutritious. However, organic products contain fewer harmful components than conventionally grown foods, and should be consumed whenever possible.