People are starting to see there's really something to the adage, "you are what you eat." Many are becoming increasingly aware of what they consume, avoiding chemically-produced food, and preferring to go organic. However, just like all things, we might want to consider the issues with organic foods.
Organically grown vegetables are put in highly artificial environments. Plants are cultivated in soils abundantly modified with natural fertilisers such as composts and manures along with chemical fertilisers in order to maintain good yields, product quality, and profitability.
Although there are no long-term studies to measure the effects of these methods on humans, high levels of nitrogen and carbon significantly change gene expression. Van Djik et al. (2012) found that there were remarkable differences between conventional and organically produced potatoes, with organic potatoes showing higher evidence of stress-related genes.
The Mayo Clinic and the USDA claim that there’s no scientific evidence that organic food is nutritionally better than conventional food or of better quality. Additionally, organic foods may have a lower shelf life because they don’t contain preservatives.
From the economic point of view, common concerns with organic food are cost and availability. Organic foods are typically more expensive than their conventional counterparts because the industry is relatively small, production costs are high and supply is insufficient. As a result, in times of high food prices, some families don’t have the choice but to rely on cheaper food.
Most importantly, if you live in Europe it’s easy to avoid genetically modified (GM) foods since laws require labelling. In the U.S. and Canada, food manufacturers aren’t required to label GM food. The products that are most likely to be genetically modified in order to be more resistant are: soybeans, corn, canola, sugar beetroots, cotton, dairy and papayas. This is critical because some farmers may unknowingly be getting GM corn to feed their cattle. For instance, Albert Straus was alarmed to find that 6% of the organic corn feed he received from suppliers was contaminated by GM organism. Given the fact that GM crops become more dominant in the U.S. there’s little that an organic farmer can do to prevent a spill over of GM organism into his organic production process.
On the other hand, Paul Collier argues that organic farming will only feed the elite; to tackle global hunger GM is essential. Collier says that the GM ban in the E.U. has retarded productivity and terrified African governments, which led to limited market discoveries pertinent to the crop that Africa produces. Finally, agricultural adaptation and innovation can help tackle the effects of climate change on productivity.
To conclude, one cannot deny the benefits of organic foods such as relatively fewer uses of chemicals/food additives and protection of the environment, but unless you are self-sufficient and you’re growing your own foodstuff in your backyard, organic food might not be as appealing as it may seem.
You could prioritize your organic purchases based on the “Dirty Dozen” that is a list of veggies that have the highest and the lowest pesticides residues. For example the twelve most contaminated foods are peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers and strawberries among others. The twelve least contaminated are onions, avocado, sweet corn (because genetically modified so more resistant, maybe?) and bananas to name a few.
In addition, you could select a variety of foods from a variety of sources in order to get a better mix of nutrients and to reduce your likelihood of exposure to a single pesticide. Also, don’t forget to wash and scrub fresh fruits carefully under running water to help eliminate dirt, bacteria and other traces of chemicals from the outside.
Finally, my favorite is to buy seasonably. This will give you the opportunity to get the fresher, tastier, better in value and better for the environment products that aren’t grown under artificial conditions! Here is an interactive guide to what’s in season and when. Bon appétit!