I’ve often wondered what the big deal about organic food was. Most people are either religious about organic food or they don’t know enough to have an educated opinion. I fall in the latter category. I’ve always found it frustrating that I consider myself an above average healthy person yet I feel completely uninformed when it comes to the organic food debate. I decided to do some research and share what I found.
There are a number of angles to consider in the organic debate from environmental impact to animal cruelty to nutritional value to food toxicity. What I found was that regardless of what position you take on the ethical or environmental issues, conventional methods of farming turn your body into a chemistry lab.
First it’s important to understand the difference between what is referred to as organic food and what is referred to as conventional food.
- Organic food is regulated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which restricts the use of non-organic pesticides and fertilizers.
- Organic produce cannot be genetically modified.
- Organic livestock are raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones.
- Organic livestock are generally fed a healthy diet, and raised in much more humane conditions.
- Conventional farming involves heavy use of fertilizers and chemicals to maximize crop yield.
- May be genetically engineered to get that perfect color, shape, or flavor.
- Often genetically modified to have a resistance to a particular pesticide that will kill all other organisms but not the plant itself.
- Livestock is raised in conditions so dismal that the animals need to be pumped full of antibiotics just to stay alive.
Moral and environmental issues aside, what I wanted to know is: is food produced through conventional farming methods equally nutritious to organically grown food? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition maintains that there is no evidence to suggest that organic food offers more nutrition than conventional food. Leading organic farm activists passionately disagree.
There isn’t too much conclusive evidence to suggest that organic food is more nutritious than conventional food, however the average American consumes about 150 pounds of food additives each year. These range from food coloring to preservatives to flavoring to chemical residue on produce. That’s a lot of chemicals to eat. All that stuff can’t be good for you.
The amount of chemical fertilizer used in the US is daunting. Over 10 million tons a year is dispensed just for corn alone, with 23 million tons for all crops. When all the fertilizer that is used across the Midwest washes into the Gulf of Mexico, it creates a dead zone of almost 6000 sq. miles where there is no oxygen and thus no sea life. Those same chemically treated crops not only enter our supermarkets, they’re fed to our livestock as well.
Cows eat grass. Except that in the commercial farming system they don’t. They’re fed corn. It’s a lot cheaper and it fattens the cows faster because cows can’t digest corn as well. The animals are kept in giant feeding lots where they live shoulder to shoulder in their own feces. They’re constantly pumped full of chemicals to ensure that they don’t die from disease. So we have animals that are eating genetically engineered corn that’s been heavily treated with chemicals while the animals themselves are heavily treated with chemicals so that they don’t die from eating a diet they weren’t designed to digest in living conditions that would kill them if they weren’t so heavily medicated with antibiotics. Yeah, I’ll take a Double Quarter Pounder with extra pharmaceutical sauce please.
Beef has a bad reputation for raising cholesterol and clogging arteries. But organic grass fed free-range beef is actually good for you. It’s high in beta-carotene, omega-3, Vitamin E, and good saturated fat. Corn fed beef actually changes the quality of the meat, making the fat much worse for you. The same applies to most conventional farming.
From Paul Chek, author of one of the best books on diet and exercise out there, How to Eat, Move, and Be Healthy:
A study of 110 urban and suburban children in Washington state found that children who ate primarily organic foods had significantly lower organophosphorus pesticide (nervous immune system disruptor) exposure than children on conventional diets. Out of the children tested, only one did not have measurable levels of the pesticide in their urine. This child was on an all-organic diet.
There are many experts on both sides of the organic food issue, but one thing is not up for debate – conventional farming uses tons of chemicals that our bodies are not designed to process. Do your own research as far as nutritional content and make peace with any ethical or environmental issues on your own terms. The modern food industry turns your body into a chemistry lab. Next time you struggle with whether or not to buy organic, ask yourself how much your long-term health is worth.
[ photo: flickr / wordridden ]