What do you know about organic food?
Or, at least, what do you think you know about organic produce?
Anyone who knows me well will know that I feel very passionately opposed to organic produce. In this post I hope I can persuade you of the myths surrounding organic produce and the global impact of choosing to eat organic food.
1. Non-organic produce will not harm you
The bottom line is this: everything in large amounts could kill you. For example, 1 kg of salt would kill a baby. This doesn’t mean you would not use any salt in your diet, just that you only use a little. The principle of pesticides is the same: the levels in which they are present in non-organic produce is so minimal that it has no effect on your health. Year after year, research has shown that there is no risk to your health if you consume non-organic produce with pesticide residues.
Your body is designed to filter out toxins: it’s why we’ve got livers and kidneys and other incredibly effective hormone pathways. The miniscule amount of pesticide that may or may not be present in your basic broccoli is no challenge for your body.
The American Council of Science and Health states that in fact one cup of coffee is far more toxic than one year’s worth of pesticide residue.
2. Organic farming is far worse for the environment
Organic farming is actually worse for the environment than conventional farming because of the amount of land that organic farming needs compared to non-organic. Similarly, the fact that organic farmers are not using herbicides to control weed growth means they have to till the land more frequently, thus releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere. The best way you can protect the environment would be to eat conventionally farmed foods and reduce your meat intake. Save the planet: eat non-organic.
Are you the sort of person who hates to leave the tap running whilst you’re brushing your teeth? Well, organic farming is also worse for the environment because it uses much more water than non-organic farming. So, save water by eating non-organic.
3. Organic farming is not efficient enough to feed the world
1 billion people go to bed hungry every night. This will only increase as the population grows: each day the world’s population increases by 220,000.
One study found that organic farms of potatoes produce roughly half the number as non-organic – which means 50% less food for these hungry people.
I could quote plenty more facts about how our population is growing at an incredible rate, or how many of the world’s population is in poverty and famine. I cannot highlight this issue enough: we must match supply with demand if we do not wish global famine to affect even more people. Suffice to say: we simply cannot afford to have any food wasted through inefficient farming if we want to maintain any sort of food security for our future population.
4. Organic farming uses pesticides anyway
All farmers need to control diseases. Organic farmers will eschew traditional pesticides in favour of so called natural alternatives like copper and sulphur – which are far less highly regulated than traditional pesticides and actually, if you think about it logically, therefore more likely to do you harm. In fact, 4 of the 10 pesticides widely used in agriculture are also those used by organic farming and pesticide residues have been found in organic foods too. Frighteningly, there are more health risks associated with “natural” pesticides because they haven’t been rigorously tested to ensure there are no long-term health effects. Furthermore, because they are borne of natural selection, they are in fact more toxic than synthetic pesticides which have been produced for a specific purpose. Cyanide, for example, is a “natural” toxin
Pesticides are like a vaccine for the crop (I am a doctor and believe thoroughly in vaccinations!!). Pesticides makes the plants less likely to get a disease that could kill off the entire crop. Don’t be afraid of chemicals: what do you think makes your body run from day-to-day?
Ever wondered why it’s more expensive to buy organic food? It’s because it’s more expensive to produce, partly attributable to the fact that you lose a large proportion the crop. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that it’s better for you simply because you’re paying more (Think Greg Wallace in Eat Well For Less? for inspiration.)
The most efficient farming strategies takes into account cultural, biological and chemical methods to help maximise crop yield and to ensure long-term sustainability. In fact, increasing crop yield also helps to decrease poverty for farmers because they have more produce to sell. Talk about Fairtrade!
More issues than Vogue?
Don’t be fooled by the glamorous media portrayal of organic food as a healthier and more natural alternative: global famine is the bigger issue here.
There are so many more points to be raised: organic farming’s negative impact on bees and biodiversity; the increase in child labour in Africa as a result of increasing demand for organic produce (and these farmers cannot afford pesticides); the fact that you’re more likely to become unwell – specifically from E. coli from manure – from organic produce because it hasn’t been properly treated. The FDA released uncomfortable data about organic food product recalls: they found that all recalls were because of contamination from hepatitis A, salmonella and Listeria.
It’s important for us all to be informed about the choices we’re making day-to-day. I hope I have encouraged you to think differently about organic farming, even if simply to make you more aware of the facts.
Don’t let organic lobbyists scare you into their fantastical world of eating “natural”- it has been an incredibly effective advertising campaign for the organo-gurus in the world who draw on the emotional association we have with food.
Don’t be a nervous or passive consumer who allows the (organic) wool to be pulled over their eyes.
To read more and for a list of references, simply look below. Many of the articles for suggested reading present arguments which are not always straightforward; when reading any scientific article, always have a critical yet open mind.
References and resources:
20 reasons not to feed your family organic
Is organic agriculture better than agriculture using new technologies?
Targeted action for biodiversity is also needed in organic agriculture
Gains to species diversity in organically farmed fields are not propagated at the farm level
A new threat to bees? Entomopathogenic nematodes used in biological pest control cause rapid mortality in bombus terrestris
Organic pesticide increases risk to bees
Indian study finds organic vegetables often contain pesticide residues
European Commission: organic farming not enough to meet food security
The lower productivity of organic farming
The Yield Gap for Organic Farming
Organic farming: not truthful, often misleading
Why consumers pay ore for organic foods? Fear sells and marketers know it
Organic Marketing Report
(Academics Review is an independent non-profit organization and does not solicit or accept funds from any source for specific research)
Can we feed 10 billion people on organic farming alone?
Organic agriculture in the twenty-first century
Pesticide-free? A myth…
Over half of all the pesticides used are approved for organic farming
Inconvenient truth: there are pesticide residues on organics
The role of organic pesticides in California
Study shows that organic agriculture can pollute groundwater
Your organic cotton t-shirt might be worse for the environment than regular cotton.
Organic farms use more land and do not decrease carbon footprint.
Is organic food worth the cost?
Organic food not automatically better, study finds
Organic is only one ingredient in recipe for sustainable food future
Many shades of grey – the context-dependent performance of organic agriculture Publications of Verena Seufert
Is organic farming better for the environment?
Organic farming needs more land than conventional methods
New York Times: Recalls of organic food on the rise
FDA: 2015 recalls, market withdrawals and safety alerts
Why former organic farmer, food inspector turned against big organic to embrace GMOs
Organic farming can feed the world if done right, scientists claim
See the list of “dirty dozen highly toxic pesticides approved for use in organic farming
Why do EWG “Dirty Dozen” lists exempt organic pesticides?
Press article: Organic agriculture can help feed the world, but only if we eat less meat and stop wasting food
The problems with a large-scale switch to organic farming
Organic farming is bad for the environment Plus statistics from FAO (2010) / WEO 2010 / UNICEF 2010