When we go to the supermarket, there is a decision we have to make between purchasing regular or organic fruits, vegetables, meats, and other produce. Although some people are unclear about what the difference between the two options are, the sales for organic produce has been increasing in recent years as people learn more about it. According to the executive director of Organic Trade Association, Katherine DiMatteo, “We’ve had a strong 20%-a-year growth rate since 1990” (WebMD). So why are people becoming more enticed to buy organic? Well, before there was a difference between regular and organic, the consumer couldn’t be sure about the quality of the product. Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture set national regulations for the way in which organic food is grown, handled, and processed. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture “To meet the set standards, organic crops must be produced without conventional pesticides (including herbicides), synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Organically raised animals must be given organic feed and kept free of growth hormones and antibiotics.” (WebMD) Due to the strict regulations it is believed by many people that organic foods taste better, are more nutritional, are safer to consume, and are better for the environment.
Advocates of organic food tend to believe that organic food tastes better. Although this claim may just be a matter of opinion, organic food is typically sold locally and is usually fresher than produce at stores that have been transported far distances. As a result, the organic produce may have more flavor. Another claim is that organic produce has more nutritional value in the levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. One study shows that organic foods may contain at least higher levels of antioxidants. Research conducted by Newcastle University found that “concentrations of antioxidants such as polyphenolics that were 18- to 69-percent higher in organic food. Eating organic fruit, vegetables and cereals provide consumers 20- to 40-percent more antioxidants, which would be equivalent to eating between one to two extra servings of fruit and vegetables a day”(Zuraw). In fact, multiple studies have been done on specific organic foods such as milk and tomatoes, which have both been proven to have more antioxidants, vitamins, and other beneficial nutrients. This makes these two products healthier when bought in the organic form. “This may be due to the fact that foreign chemicals are not negatively interacting with the different vitamins, minerals, and organic compounds that are so essential for the positive impact of fruits and vegetables” (Oranic Facts). So purchasing organic produce can be more nutritional in some cases.
Another benefit of organic produce is that people believe it is healthier to consume because of the way it is grown, handled, and processed. In the case of fruits and vegetables, conventional farmers use harsh pesticides in order to protect the crops from the environment. Organic farmers instead make sure the environment is safe by using insect traps or careful crop selection, so they don’t have to use many chemicals on their produce. According to the USDA, “A large-scale study done by the Consumers Union. Researchers looked at data from more than 94,000 food samples and 20 different crops. They found that organically grown crops consistently had about one-third as many pesticide residues as the conventionally grown versions” (WebMD). Many people like the fact that organic has so little pesticide residue, because studies have shown that pesticides can have potentially harmful effects. A study by scientists at Harvard University found ”Pesticides have been linked to a wide range of human health hazards, ranging from short-term impacts such as headaches and nausea to chronic impacts like cancer, reproductive harm, and endocrine disruption” (TAC). This is because pesticides are composed of unnatural chemicals that don’t interact well with the human body, so when a person consumes or is exposed to them often it is not surprising that it could cause health issues.
When it comes to organic produce such as meats and dairy, “regulations ban or severely restrict the use of food additives, processing aids (substances used during processing, but not added directly to food) and fortifying agents commonly used in nonorganic foods, including preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colorings and flavorings, and monosodium glutamate” (Mayo Clinic). With non-organic produce, the consumer doesn’t always know what is put into their food. According to a study “Organic meats like chicken and pork are less likely to harbor “superbugs”—that is, bacteria that are immune to several types of antibiotics, making it more difficult treat infections in both animals and people” (Radcliffe). This is why people might be more drawn to organic, since it seems to be a cleaner and more natural version of produce.
Lastly, organic produce also benefits the health of the environment. Since conventional farmers use harsh chemicals such as fertilizer or pesticide on their crops, it accumulates in the soil, air, and water systems. “Pesticide use can damage agricultural land by harming beneficial insect species, soil microorganisms, and worms which naturally limit pest populations and maintain soil health; Weakening plant root systems and immune systems; reducing concentrations of essential plant nutrients in the soil such nitrogen and phosphorouss” (TAC). These issues can have long term negative impacts on the environment and society. Since organic famers do not use the harsh chemicals on their produce, they are not contributing to the pollution that some non-organic farmers do.
Although one of the biggest concerns with buying organic produce is the high costs, it seems that there are a lot of benefits to buying it. It is a matter of opinion whether organic is worth paying more for, but the fact that organic food has been shown to be better tasting, more nutritious, safer to consumer, and better for the environment seems like it is worth the cost. So, next time you are in a dilemma whether or not to buy organic, remember that it is typically the safest, cleanest form of food you can get and maybe that will help you choose.