Is organic food safer option?

Q1) What is organic food?

The term “organic” refers to the way agricultural products are grown, the process of how certain foods are produced. Organic foods have been grown or farmed without the use of artificial chemicals, hormones, antibiotics or genetically modified organisms. In order to be labelled organic, a food product must be free of artificial food additives. This includes artificial sweeteners, preservatives, coloring, flavoring and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Organically grown crops tend to use natural fertilizers like manure to improve plant growth. Animals raised organically are also not given antibiotics or hormones. Organic farming tends to improve soil quality and the conservation of groundwater. It also
reduces pollution and may be better for the environment. The most commonly purchased organic foods are fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Nowadays there are also many processed organic products available, such as sodas,
cookies and breakfast cereals.

While the regulations vary from country to country, in the U.S., organic crops must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers, and sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Organic livestock raised for meat, eggs, and dairy products must have access to the outdoors and be given organic feed. They may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal by-products.

Inorganic Foods:

Inorganic Foods use synthetics during the production process. These synthetics commonly include chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Additionally, producers can also modify inorganic food items at a molecular or genetic level. This allows producers to cross-breed crops to produce hardier strains with higher quantities. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration regulates inorganic food items and determines the acceptable levels of synthetics that finished food products can contain.

Now before we proceed further we need to clear few concepts and we need to have a proper metric to weigh the benefits of organic food and to conclude whether they are a safer, better and preferable option.

Understanding GMOs:

The ongoing debate about the effects of GMOs on health and the environment is a controversial one. In most cases, GMOs are engineered to make food crops resistant to herbicides and/or to produce an insecticide. For example, much of the sweet corn consumed in the U.S. is genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup and to produce its own insecticide, Bt Toxin.

GMOs are also commonly found in U.S. crops such as soybeans, alfalfa, squash, zucchini, papaya, and canola, and are present in many breakfast cereals and much of the processed food that we eat. If the ingredients on a package include corn syrup or soy lecithin, chances are it contains GMOs.

GMOs and pesticides

The use of toxic herbicides like Roundup (glyphosate) has increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced. While the World Health Organization announced that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” there is still some controversy over the level of health risks posed by the use of pesticides.

What are the possible risks of pesticides?

Most of us have an accumulated build-up of pesticide exposure in our bodies due to numerous years of exposure. This chemical “body burden” as it is medically known could lead to health issues such as headaches, birth defects, and added strain on weakened immune systems. Some studies have indicated that the use of pesticides even at low doses can increase the risk
of certain cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumors, breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Children and fetuses are most vulnerable to pesticide exposure because their immune systems, bodies, and brains are still developing. Exposure at an early age may cause developmental delays, behavioral disorders, autism, immune system harm, and motor dysfunction.

Pregnant women are more vulnerable due to the added stress pesticides put on their already taxed organs. Plus, pesticides can be passed from mother to child in the womb, as well as through breast milk. The widespread use of pesticides has also led to the emergence of “super weeds” and “super bugs,” which can only be killed with extremely toxic poisons like 2,4 Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (a major ingredient in Agent Orange).

Now the real question is,

Is organic food pesticide free?

Contrary to what most people believe, “organic” does not automatically mean “pesticide-free” or “chemical-free”. In fact, under the laws of most states, organic farmers are allowed to use a wide variety of chemical sprays and powders on their crops.
It means that these pesticides, if used, must be derived from natural sources, not synthetically manufactured. Also, these pesticides must be applied using equipment that has not been used to apply any synthetic materials for the past three years, and the land being planted cannot have been treated with synthetic materials for that period either. Most organic farmers (and even some conventional farmers, too) employ mechanical and cultural tools to help control pests. These include insect traps, careful crop selection (there are a growing number of disease-resistant varieties), and biological controls (such as predator insects and beneficial microorganisms).

The sad truth is most of the large organic farms use pesticides liberally. They’re organic by certification, but you’d never know it if you saw their farming practices. “They’re organic by the letter, not organic in spirit… if most organic consumers went to those places, they would feel they were getting ripped off”, Michael Pollan, best-selling book author says.

So if what’s preached is actually practiced, then Organic food will do wonders not only to our body but to our environment as well.

Scientifically proven health benefits of eating organic foods

● More healthy fats

Eating organic products like milk and meat means that you have 50% more omega-3 fatty acids than if you consumed conventionally produced products. This was concluded in a study done in 2016 in the British Journal of Nutrition. The study tested organic milk and found that it had less saturated fat than non-organic milk. This is mainly down to differences in how organic livestock are raised, since a grass-fed diet and spending more time outdoors resulted in healthier milk and meat.

● More antioxidants

A recent study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry also revealed that organic onions had a 20% higher antioxidant content than onions that were grown conventionally. They also found that other instances of higher antioxidants in organic food in some cases.

● No antibiotics or synthetic hormones 

Most livestock farmers feed antibiotics to their livestock to protect them from illness, especially if the farmer is raising animals in unsanitary or crowded conditions. The FDA has limited the use of antibiotics for livestock, but there are still loopholes in the legislation. Except for poultry all livestock can be injected with growth hormones, so they produce more milk and gain weight

● Fewer pesticides and heavy metals

Grains, vegetables and fruits that were labeled as organic are grown without using artificial fertilizers or synthetic pesticides. These chemicals although deemed safe in some quantities used in conventional farming are harmful if they are given repeated
exposure or prolonged exposure. A meta-analysis in 2014 in the British Journal of Nutrition revealed that crops grown organically were less likely to contain any pesticide, since they were grown with different fertilization techniques. They were also 50% less likely to have cadmium, a heavy metal that accumulates in the kidneys and liver.

Environmental Benefits

● Organic Farming Builds Healthy Soil

To grow healthy food, you must start with healthy soil. If you treat the soil with harmful pesticides and chemicals, you may end up with soil that cannot thrive on its own. Natural cultivation practices are far better than chemical soil management. A large nine-year study by USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), shows that organic farming builds up organic soil matter better than conventional no-till farming.

● Combatting Erosion

Not only does organic farming build healthy soil, but it helps combat serious soil and land issues, such as erosion. A major study comparing adjoining organic and chemically treated wheat fields showed that the organic field featured eight more inches of topsoil than the chemically treated field and also had only one-third the erosion loss.

● Organic Farming Encourages Biodiversity

In general, the more biodiversity there is on a farm, the more stable the farm is. Organic farming encourages healthy biodiversity, which plays a critical role in how resilient, or not, a farm is to issues like bad weather, disease, and pests. Additionally, reduced biodiversity may directly correlate with a rise in infectious diseases, which of course, isn’t good for people or the planet.

● Organic Farming Supports Water Conservation and Water Health

Dwindling water supplies and poor water health are very real threats. When our water supply is at risk, people and the planet end up suffering. Organic farming also helps conserve water. Organic farmers, in general, tend to spend time amending soil correctly and using mulch – both of which help conserve water. Cotton, an in-demand crop, requires a lot of irrigation and excess water when grown conventionally. However, organic cotton farming needs less irrigation and thus conserves water.

The Bottom line

Even though organic products are thought to be better for the health and the environment, they are more expensive than conventional ones. It is mainly down to personal choice if they are worth the extra cost, but if you can afford organic products then that is a great thing for you. It will not only benefit you but will also support all those farmers, who practice organic agriculture and farming.

It isn’t necessary that you start buying organic straight away. You can make small changes in your diet, like buying organic dairy, eggs, and meat products at first. Elderly people, young children, pregnant women, and those suffering from allergies will benefit from consuming organically produced food. However, a strictly organic diet can also be unhealthy, as you could eat too much meat and sugar, without consuming enough vegetables. 

Consumers are advised to make rational decisions when they are buying organic produce, and there are further studies being conducted on organic food. If you’re trying to reduce your exposure to pesticide residues, then adopting organic food is the right choice, but if you’re buying them just because everyone is telling you to do it, then you may not experience the full benefits of organic food.

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