Organic foods are much more readily available today than they have ever been. It’s easy to find organic varieties of your favorite snacks, drinks, and cuts of meat. Organic foods are generally a bit more expensive than conventionally farmed foods. However, the price hike is normally worth it. We’ve found six good reasons why you may want to look for the words “organic” or “pesticide-free” on your groceries the next time you shop.
What Does the Term Organic Mean?
According to the National Organic Program of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):
“Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified too.”
Sometimes, organic farmers do have to use pesticides, but they aren’t the typical chemical pesticides conventional farmers use. Approved organic pesticides include copper, bicarbonate, kaolin clay, vitamin D and hydrogen peroxide.
When you see the certified organic label on foods you buy, you can trust that the farm producing the food is being inspected by badge-wearing, USDA officials on a regular basis.
Main Differences Between Organic and Conventionally Farmed Foods
We’ve created a couple of comparison charts to show some of the main differences you’ll find in organic vs. conventional foods.
|Organic Produce||Conventionally Grown Produce|
|Must use natural fertilizer (manure, compost)||Can use chemical fertilizers|
|Must use natural weed control measures||Can use chemical weed killers|
|Must use natural pest control measures||Can use chemical pesticides|
|Required to protect natural resources||Protection of natural resources not required|
|No use of genetically GMO products||Can be genetically modified|
|Must implement crop rotation||No crop rotation required|
|Organic seeds must be used if available||Any seed (including GMO) is allowed|
|Organic Livestock||Conventionally Farmed Livestock|
|Must have access to outdoor areas||Can live entirely indoors|
|Cows and other ruminant animals must have access to pasture during the grazing season||Ruminant animals are not required to have access to pasture at any time of the year|
|Balanced nutrition and exercise to prevent disease||Disease prevention with antibiotics and medications|
|No routine antibiotics allowed||Routine antibiotics are allowed|
|No artificial hormones allowed||Some livestock receive artificial hormones|
|Must eat certified organic food||Food is often GMO and not what the animal(s) would eat in nature|
|Prevent parasites with cleanliness practices and grazing management||Chemical pesticides are used to prevent parasites|
6 Reasons to Go Organic
1. Environmental Impact
Environmentalist George Tyler Miller wrote a textbook called “Sustaining the Earth: An Integrated Approach.” In the text, he wrote, “Over 98 percent of sprayed insecticides and 95 percent of herbicides reach a destination other than their target species because they are sprayed or spread across entire agricultural fields.” Pollinating insects, birds and frogs are often killed or poisoned when insecticides and herbicides are sprayed on crops.
In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that around 72 million birds are killed annually because of pesticide spraying throughout the U.S.
Pesticide drift is another environmental concern. Pesticide drift occurs when pesticides are unintentionally diffused into the air. Our water is also affected by pesticide runoff. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, pesticides pollute every stream and more than 90 percent of wells across the U.S. Groundwater and rainwater has been found to contain pesticide residue as well.
The widespread use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers has tainted our air and water. Animals, helpful insects, and our environment have been negatively affected by the application of toxins in conventional farming.
If the demand for organic and pesticide-free food continues to rise, there will be a huge decline in the use of chemical sprays and treatments for crops. Buying and eating organic foods contributes to creating a better environment for future generations.
2. Decreased Fertility
A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine took data from 325 women who were trying to conceive children. The researchers found that women who ate three or more servings of conventionally farmed, high-pesticide produce each day were 18 percent less likely to conceive a child and 26 percent less likely to give birth to a child than women who ate one or fewer servings. Miscarriages were more common in the group that ate more conventional produce as well.
The researchers, who did not expect to find any link between pesticides and fertility, recommended that the women who wanted to become pregnant to avoid conventional produce and opt for organically grown fruits and vegetables instead.
3. Risk of Cancer
Lisa Garber, at Natural Society, said, “The dreaded diagnosis of cancer has been linked in over 260 studies worldwide to agrochemicals.” Garber also cited a study out of the University of Southern California that uncovered a link between pesticides and prostate cancer. Researchers examined a sampling of a few hundred older men — some who lived within 500 meters of a valley where pesticides were regularly sprayed on crops and some who didn’t. The men who lived in the vicinity of pesticide spraying were largely more likely to have developed prostate cancer than those not living in proximity to the pesticide application.
A similar study on the Pesticide-Induced Disease Database found that children who lived in agricultural areas where pesticides and herbicides are sprayed were more likely to develop Hodgkin’s lymphoma, malignant bone tumors, and Ewing’s sarcoma.
It stands to reason that we shouldn’t be eating foods covered in toxic pesticide residue. Ty Bollinger, the author of “The Truth About Cancer,” says, “The major danger of pesticide use is the amount of chemical residue in and on our food. The residue is left behind on the crops sold to supermarkets and food manufacturers. People purchase and ingest the food. The chemicals kill beneficial bacteria in the digestive system and wreak havoc on the immune system.”
Avoid this added risk for cancer by choosing organic produce and organically raised livestock. It may be a little more expensive, but it’s far less costly than a visit to the oncologist.
4. No Genetically Modified Organisms
Many researchers agree that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are harmful to humans to consume. First of all, because GMO crops are herbicide-resistant, farmers have to use a larger concentration of the toxic herbicides on the plants to eliminate weeds.
GMO produce is also harmful because it can leave behind toxins in the body. Researchers at the Institute for Responsible Technology said, “Genes inserted into GM soy, for example, can transfer into the DNA of bacteria living inside us and that the toxic insecticide produced by GM corn was found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn fetuses.”
GMO crops are also a threat to biodiversity. The modified crops have harmed the natural habitats of monarch butterflies. The extra herbicides used in GM crops are harmful to birds, flying insects and small animals that live in the water. They are also part of unsustainable farming practices.
Organic produce is not allowed to be genetically modified. Organic foods, in general, must be free of any GMO products or processing. To be sure you’re not getting genetically modified food, shop organic.
5. More Antioxidants
A large-scale 2014 study out of Washington State University found that crops farmed without chemical herbicides and pesticides were inclined to produce more polyphenols and phenols that naturally fight pests and disease.
The researchers found that in some cases, organic produce had a 69 percent higher concentration of antioxidants than conventional produce. At the minimum, organic crops had 18 percent more antioxidants. The research team said that when people switch to organic produce and grains, they get around 40 percent more antioxidants in their diets.
6. Better Taste
Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides don’t taste very good. The flavor of organic fruits and vegetables is more bold and pure. The Washington State University study also found that people preferred the taste, mouthfeel, and aroma of organic produce, compared to conventionally farmed fruits and vegetables.
Try a side-by-side taste comparison with an organic apple and a conventionally farmed apple. Chances are that you’ll notice a difference. The same goes for berries, which are heavily sprayed in conventional farming. Once you start eating organic produce, you’ll be able to taste the pesticide residue on conventional fruits and vegetables.
When you’re shopping for groceries, look for the words “pesticide-free” or “certified organic” on the label. For produce, pay attention to the price look-up (PLU) codes on the stickers. PLU codes are four or five digits long. Organic produce will have a PLU code that begins with a 9. Conventionally grown produce has a PLU code that starts with a 3 or 4. For instance, the PLU code for organic bananas is 94011. The PLU code for conventionally grown bananas is 4011.
So, for your health, your taste buds and the environment, consider spending just a few extra dollars to buy organic foods. Check out farmers’ markets and local pesticide-free farm stands to get the best bargains — and go organic.
10 reasons to avoid GMOs. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://responsibletechnology.org/10-Reasons-to-Avoid-GMOs/
Alton, L. (2016). 9 diseases linked to pesticides. Retrieved from: https://www.naturalhealth365. com/pesticides-toxic-chemicals-1868-html
Bollinger, T. (n.d.). Pesticides and cancer: the “love affair” continues. Retrieved from: https://thetruthaboutcancer.com/pesticides-and-cancer/
Hennessey-Fiske, M. (2011). USC study tackles pesticide-prostate cancer link. Retrieved from: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/aug/31/local/la-me-pesticides-cancer-20110831
Miller, G. (2004). Sustaining the Earth: An Integrated Approach. Thomson/Brooks/Cole. pp. 211–216. ISBN 978-0-534-40088-0.
Pesticides in produce linked to reduced fertility in women. (2017). Retrieved from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/pesticides-produce-fertility-women/
Sorensen, E. (2014). Major study documents benefits of organic farming. Retrieved from: https://news.wsu.edu/2014/07/11/major-study-documents-benefits-of-organic-farming/#.U8AkH41dXA3
The list of organic pesticides approved by the USDA. (2018). Retrieved from: https://www.agdaily.com/technology/the-list-of-pesticides-approved-for-organic-production/
USDA national organic program. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/organic-productionorganic-food-information-access-tools