[By Sharon Ho]
The organic-food business is booming. According to market research firm The Hartman Group, roughly 70 percent of Americans buy organic food occasionally and nearly one quarter buy it every week.
Most people who choose to ‘go organic’ do it because they think organic produce tastes better, and/or believe that it’s safer, more nutritious, completely natural, better for animal welfare or better for the environment. However, some of these views are popular misconceptions and are not actually true.
So in order to help people decide whether or not organic food is for them, the team here at Readysetbeauty have compiled the following guide on the pros and cons of buying organic food — as well as suggestions on which organic food is the best to buy.
What is organic food, anyway?
Although organic food can be produced with certain synthetic ingredients, they are generally grown without synthetic pesticides, artificial fertilizers, irradiation (used to kill bacteria), or biotechnology. Animals on organic farms eat organically grown feed, aren’t confined 100 percent of the time (as they sometimes are on conventional farms), and are raised without antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones.
Reasons FOR buying organic food
1. Organic farming is friendlier to the environment. In the US, up to 10 million tons of chemical fertilizer per year are poured onto fields to cultivate corn alone. Unfortunately this has led to toxic runoffs that are poisoning the beleaguered Gulf of Mexico .
2. Organic food contains less antibiotics and hormones. Cows that are raised in industrial conditions are dosed with antibiotics and growth-boosting hormones, leaving chemical residues in meat and milk. A multicenter study conducted in the US showed that American girls as young as 7 are entering puberty at double the rate they were in the late 1990s, perhaps as a result of the obesity epidemic but perhaps too as a result of the hormones in their environment — including their food.
3. If you are concerned about how animals are treated, then choosing organic food is a good idea. Organic farming ensures that animals are fed a natural diet and kept in free-range conditions. Feedlot animals on the other hand are raised in mostly miserable conditions, jammed together on factory farms and filled with high-calorie, corn-based feed that fattens them up and moves them to slaughter as fast as possible. It can take up to two and a half years to raise a grass-fed cow, while a feedlot animal may face the knife after just 14 months. Numerous scientific studies have found that there are also material advantages to humane treatment. Cattle that eat more grass have higher ratios of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6s, a balance that’s widely believed to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and arthritis and to improve cognitive function. Take the cows out of the pasture, put them in a feedlot and stuff them with corn-based feed, and the omega-3s plummet.
4. Organic processed food also contains no hydrogenated fat, whereas non-organic processed food does. Hydrogenated fat has been linked to heart disease — so choosing organic options can help to protect your heart.
5. There are lower levels of pesticide residues in organic food, as only a small number of chemicals are allowed in organic food production.
6. Genetically modified (GM) crops are not allowed under organic standards.
Reasons AGAINST buying organic food
1. Organic food may go ‘off’ more quickly than non-organic produce. This is because organic fruit and vegetables do not contain artificial preservatives and are not irradiated.
2. Organic food is much more expensive to buy than non-organic food. In Singapore, a whole organic hormone-free chicken costs $37 from an organic store compared to $7 from the supermarket. A dozen eggs cost $9.95 for organic versus $2.75. Half and half milk $17 against $2.65.
3. Many people believe that organic food does not allow the use of any chemicals. Contrary to popular opinion, organic food production does allow a limited number of chemicals to be used.
4. According to the UK Food Standards Agency, the French Food Safety Agency and the Swedish National Food Administration, some scientific research has found that organic food is no safer than food produced by conventional means. .
5. Eating organic food is often thought to be healthier than eating the equivalent non-organic produce. However, the Consumers’ Association (UK) has concluded that there is ‘no consensus’ on reports linking organic foods to health benefits. Moreover a 2009 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition led to a firestorm in the organic food world. It found no difference between organic and conventional produce with regard to all but three of the vitamins and other food components studied, and conventional produce actually squeaked past organic for one of those three vitamins
Buying organic food
1. Go for organic spinach, lettuce, cabbage and potatoes, as they have higher levels of vitamin C, magnesium, iron and phosphorus than their non-organic equivalents.
2. Choose organic vegetable soup. Researchers have found that organic soup contains almost six times as much salicylic acid as non-organic. Salicylic acid helps to combat bowel cancer and the hardening of the arteries.
3. Go for organic apples. Some non-organic apples are sprayed up to 16 times with 36 different pesticides — and many of these pesticides are hard to remove even if the food is washed thoroughly.
4. Choose organic meat. We eat more than enough protein, so by cutting down the amount we eat it will compensate for the higher cost of organic meat. A review of the Soil Association organic standards and farm assurance schemes by Compassion in World Farming found that organic standards provide the highest levels of animal welfare — so if you do go for organic meat, you will be safeguarding the welfare of animals.
It is likely that sales of organic food will continue to rise for the foreseeable future. Whether or not you decide to ‘go organic’, what’s important to remember is that balance is the key when it comes to the overall content of your diet. A totally organic diet may not necessarily provide you with the optimal balance of nutrients. It is the choice of different foods from the five different food groups that constitutes a healthy diet, whether the foods you choose are organic or not.