The organic food industry has become huge. In the United States alone, in 2013 sales of organic foods exceeded $30 billion mark. Organic food sales are growing more that 20% a year over the last 10 years and that outpaces sale of non organic foods, which grow 2%-3% per year. These numbers are echoed in most of the western countries around the world. So obviously, the perception is there that eating organic is better for you. The question remains as to how accurate this perception is. What exactly is organic food?
To get the USDA organic seal, foods need to have been grown, handled and processed by certified organic facilities. These facilities must be wholly organic. Meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products need to be produced from animals that have never been given antibiotics or hormones and who have been fed organic crop. Organic crops must be grown free of conventional pesticides, free of fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, and without bioengineering or use of ionizing radiation. The USDA is careful to note than an organic seal does not mean that a food is healthier or safer than its conventionally grown equivalent.
As for safety – a study of preschool children in Seattle found that kids who ate conventional diets had significantly higher levels of urine pesticides than the kids who ate organic. But higher urine pesticides haven’t been connected to real health outcomes, although intuitively it seems like a good idea to minimize consumption of toxic chemicals. Even though we don’t have any conclusive proof that eating organic is better for you, when it comes to fruits and vegetables, we know which fruits and vegetables use more pesticides and which use less. Here is a list of fruits and vegetables, which according to the Environmental Working Group have more pesticides
• Sweet Bell Pepper
• Kale/Collard Greens
The same groups say that the following list uses the least amount of pesticide:
• Sweet Corn (Frozen)
• Sweet Peas (Frozen)
• Kiwi Fruit
• Sweet Potatoes
• Honeydew Melon
When it comes to organic meat, the criteria are different. Organic livestock is raised in a more humane, more sanitary way and the production of organic meat has less of an impact on the environment than traditional meat production. Here are just a few of the other differences between organic and non-organic meat.
In order to stimulate growth and prevent the spread of disease, non-organic cattle and livestock are given antibiotics and growth hormones. These hormones can remain in the manure of the animals and lead to the contamination of groundwater. Organic animals, on the other hand, are not given any hormones, antibiotics or growth stimulants. Instead, farmers use a well-rounded diet of organic materials to promote growth and fight off infection in their livestock.
Traditional farms use a variety of pesticides and chemicals to encourage the growth of their crops and ward off insects. Animal are exposed to these chemicals when they graze on the land. Organic farms use natural materials to promote crop growth. Therefore, by purchasing organic meat, you can decrease your exposure to harmful chemicals and toxins.
Organic meat may not contain more nutrients or fewer calories than meat produced by a traditional factory farm. However, proponents of eating organic say it contains fewer toxins and is better for the body and the planet.
In weighing the pros and cons of going organic or not, the jury is still out and right now, the cost versus the benefit may not be worth it. Organic or not, eating a well rounded diet full of fresh produce, whole grains, and lean proteins is essential for good health and will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”