There is a lot of debate about whether or not people should purchase organic foods when they fill up their shopping carts. Some articles and many news sources claim that organic foods are more nutritious, better for you, free of toxins, and even that they can reduce cancer rates, but what does the science have to say about the benefits of organic foods? While there’s certainly some debate over the topic I will attempt to clear up any misconceptions and give you a solid understanding of the potential risks and benefits of buying organic or conventional foods.
What is organic and what does it mean for food?
Organic foods are regulated by the USDA and are certified organic by the USDA. Processed foods like bars or premade meals can display different labels depending upon the amount of organic ingredient present: 100% organic, organic, or made with organic ingredients. Organic foods must not use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers and there are some other strict regulations on the usages of the USDA organic label on foods. There are typically three main reasons that people look for the organic label on their foods: no synthetic fertilizer, no synthetic pesticides, no GMOs. Organic farms are supposed to undergo rigorous testing and check ups to ensure they maintain the USDA organic standards.
What are conventionally farmed foods?
Conventional foods have less strict regulations on what they allow into their growing process. Conventionally farmed foods are able to use regular pesticides and fertilizers and can allow GMOs into their production. Conventional foods are STILL regulated in the amount of residues they are allowed to have present in them from pesticides and fertilizers, and these levels are set well below the point of toxicity with human consumption, in other words, they are still required to be at safe levels for consumption. Conventionally raised livestock farmers can also use antibiotics and growth hormones pretty much as they wish
2014 study confirms benefits of organic foods: explained.
A groundbreaking study was performed in 2014 that concluded: organic foods had lower levels of toxins than organic foods (but some pesticide and fertilizer residues were still present even in organic produce), organic foods had significantly higher levels of antioxidants (molecules that are thought to provide some benefit for the body, but this theory is not conclusive.). This study was the largest study of its kind and received a huge public focus, but many scientists have questioned the methodology used in obtaining its results.
To start off, the levels of residues and heavy metals found in the organic foods was lower than the levels in traditional foods, but the levels found in the conventional foods were still found to be in an acceptable and safe level according to the USDA standards. Additionally, there is no conclusive evidence that antioxidants have a significant role in human physiology. Many scientists have also questioned the legitimacy of the study and the method that was used to obtain their results. This study, was again, not truly conclusive at determining a major difference in organic and conventional foods.
Other studies on organic and conventional foods.
ALmost all other independent studies performed on organic foods have found that the nutritional density of organic foods showed no significant difference between conventional foods. While organic foods did show some lower levels of synthetic residues, they were not tested for the pesticides and fertilizers allowed in organic farming that are still toxic to humans in certain amounts.
A few more things to consider…
One thing worth considering is the phenomenon of bioaccumulation. Bioaccumulation is the tendency of toxins to accumulate (or build up) through smaller and into larger organisms in the food chain. It is the idea that the higher up something is on the food chain, or the longer it lives, the more toxins that there will be built up within it’s body. A perfect example is ocean fish. Larger fish (like tuna and swordfish are generally much higher in mercury levels than smaller fish like sardines and anchovies, for this reason, it is recommended to only eat large ocean fish 1-2 times per week, and pregnant women are encouraged to avoid eating these large fish during pregnancy completely.
Though there are not any conclusive studies on the bioaccumulation of pesticides in livestock, it does stand to reason that cows who eat large amounts of conventional produce could build up levels of toxins that could be harmful to people, but the USDA does implement quality controls to ensure the foods we eat are safe.
So should you buy organic foods?
I don’t think the research supports the idea that organic foods demonstrate a major advantage over conventionally farmed foods, that being said, I still chose to buy most of my foods organic. Certain foods still contain larger amounts of pesticide residue over others (foods like apples, peaches, greens, and berries) and I try to avoid any extra exposure to toxins when possible. I think my decision is largely based on a gut feeling that foods should be grown as nature intended them to be grown, but perhaps this is just outdated thinking on my part, after all, the nature of progress is change, and conventionally raised produce certainly offer advantages to society- things like lower costs and higher yields may justify any of the costs of conventional farming.
So the answer is up to you- there is no clear answer here in my opinion. Many may claim that this article is heresy, but those same people probably haven’t taken the time to actually look at the studies on the topic. The only thing that can be shown thus far, is there is not much clear evidence that organic is better, safer, more nutritious, or healthier than conventional . Organic produce does seem to have higher levels of antioxidants (these are not proven to have any beneficial effect in humans), and lower levels of pesticide residue in general (but the levels in conventional produce are still well below a dangerous level). So the choice is yours, the verdict is still out on this one. As time goes on, I am sure we will see more and more studies on the topic, and perhaps scientists will be able to clearly differentiate the two farming techniques, but for now, only you can decide… Should you buy organic food? What do you think? Feel free to comment below or give us a shout on social media and let us know what you think.