Is Eating Organic Really Better?
Does eating organic really make a difference to health?†
I hear this question often because I always recommend eating organic produce and naturally raised meats to my nutrition clients. Here are some common questions I hear and my responses based on extensive research.
∑ How is organic farming different from conventional farming?
Simply stated, conventional farmers are largely reliant on chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides) to ensure a good crop. Organic farmers use natural fertilizers and crop rotation. They control insects with insect predators and they limit weeds by mulches, cover crops and hand weeding1.
∑ Is organic produce really more nutritious?
Nutrient values and taste are typically superior in organic crops.† A European Union study in 2007 found that organic produce had 40 percent more antioxidants than conventional produce. The best evidence of benefit comes from animal studies. Animals raised on organic crops are more fertile, a standard measure of overall health2.††
∑ Donít we need chemical fertilizers and pesticides to ensure a good crop?
Chemical fertilizers actually destroy the microbes in the soil that make it fertile.† Depletion of soil nutrients leads to erosion and eventual crop failure. Conventional agriculture offers short term gain at the expense of long term fertility 2.
∑ Is it true that organic food also has pesticide residue?†
Organics are much less likely to contain such residue according to tests conducted in the US by both government agencies and consumer groups 3.† Organics are not completely free of pesticide residue which, once in our soil and water, can have a 40 year life span 4.† The Environmental Protection Agency has been trying to reduce the use of pesticides since 1996.
∑ Canít I just wash pesticide residue off my produce?
Pesticide residue can be reduced by washing produce but it cannot be completely washed off because it is often inside the tissues.† Some fruits and vegetables are less likely to have pesticide residue. The lowest pesticide levels have been found in: asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, kiwi, mangos, onions, papaya, pineapples, peas5.†
∑ Is there evidence that pesticide residue is harmful to our health?†
Studies have determined that North Americans carry toxic pesticides in their bodies above acceptable levels. Children are at greater risk because of their lower body weight6.† Other studies have shown that pesticide exposure has negative health effects such as suppression of the immune system, hormone disruption and cancer 6 7.† A link has also been found between pesticides and miscarriages in women1.††††
∑ I want to buy organic but it is not always available. What can I do?
It is true that organic food is not always available and often prices are prohibitive.† Consumers do have some power to change this by creating more demand for organic.† Until then here is my best advice. Organic local produce is the best option. When organic food is transported long distances, it may not be any better than buying locally grown food.† For children and pregnant women, the organic option is always best to avoid exposure to pesticide residue. ††
1 Real Food for a Change, Wayne Roberts, Rod MacRae, Lori Stahlbrand, 1999
2 Real Food for a Change, Roberts, MacRae, Stahlbrand†
3 In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan, 2007
4 Secret Ingredients, Stuart Laidlaw, 2003††
5† Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce,† www.FoodNews.org††
7 Is Food the Next Public Health Challenge? Toronto Food Policy Council, Sep 1997, www.city.toronto.ca/health/tfpc††