Organic food was something relatively unheard of up until the last decade. And then the markets suddenly filled up with expensive organic produce now sitting on the shelves right next to their normal, cheaper peers, and harassing people as they questioned, unaware of what organic was, why should they pay extra for it?
Ten or so years forward and not many people still can tell the difference between organic and non-organic foods, and more importantly, they keep on asking to this day: Why should they choose organic?
What is Organic Produce?
To some people, organic food is a scam, and to an extent they are correct: organic is a normal state of produce – produce as we used to know it before Monsanto’s roundup became a thing and genetic engineering came to help reverse the damage as well as attempt to solve the world hunger problem. So why indeed should we pay extra for organic?
To be completely honest, I don’t know. It always seemed ridiculous to me. But since this is the way it is, the best we can do is look into the matter: what is organic and what good is it?
To answer the question what organic is, it seems logical to define non-organic first. And to answer it simply: non-organic produce is produce that may or may not be genetically modified and treated with pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and other chemicals to speed up ripening and enhance taste as well as other properties. In other words, the “normal” food may not be normal or natural at all.
Organic food is none of that. It is not treated with synthetic chemicals, pesticides and herbicides, and it cannot be genetically modified to resist herbicides like Glyphosate (Roundup). Organic is simply the most natural way to grow produce.
Is it legit?
This is by far the most often concern. How do I know that this product is organic? Can you just not put a label on it and sell it as organic? Can’t farmers get certified and then move away from growing food organically?
Well, yes and no. At present, the organic status is tightly regulated. It is fairly easy to check if the producer is indeed certified or not. Moreover, it takes a great deal of trouble to get certified as organic producer. Depending on the country, it may take a few years and a fortune to get certified as organic. It also means inspections on an annual basis in order to maintain the status of organic farmer. This partly explains the prices of organic products.
From what I see (and this is solely my opinion), you wouldn’t go through all the trouble if all you want is earn some extra money.
Why is Organic so important?
There are a few reasons why, and they include human health, the health of our planet and biodiversity.
Planet and Biodiversity
The major reason pesticides are used is pests that eat and contaminate the crops. It may seem logical to use them for this reason – in a world where hunger kills approximately 9 million people each year, we can’t afford losing crops to insects and rodents. But synthetic pesticides are toxic, and not only to the species they were designed to work against. Bees are the biggest pollinators and help preserve the diversity of flora, but they are affected by pesticides as well. Pesticides are toxic to all living organisms and lead to decline in biodiversity and endangerment of species, which in its turn leads to climate changes, which further affects the biodiversity. It is a vicious cycle.
It is not clear whether organic food is more nutritious or about the same, but one thing is known for sure: to grow nutritious food we need fertile soil, rich in nutrients. When crops grow, they take the nutrients from the soil to sustain their growth. After the crops have been harvested, the soil needs time to replenish the nutrients that have been taken – and this is where conventional farming went wrong.
Ever since I came to Ireland 11 years ago I have been mesmerised by blooming rapeseed fields. Every spring we pass them on every little trip we take. They are always at the same spot; the seas of tiny yellow flowers rustle in a gentle breeze, inviting me to stop for photographs. For the past 6 years I cannot stop wondering: how much of nutrients are left there in that soil? I doubt there is much.
When it comes to organic farming, most governing bodies have a rule of biennial crop rotation that has to be abided. Following the rule, farmers cannot grow the same crop in the same field for more than 2 consecutive years and are forced to rotate the crops to allow the soil to replenish its nutrients. This rule, however, does not exist in conventional farming, meaning that we potentially get crops of lesser nutritional value.
One of the most widely used pesticides is Chlorpyrifos – an insecticide that was first developed as a nerve gas during the World War II. Chlorpyrifos is toxic to the environment and is very toxic to aquatic life. In people, it may cause nausea, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, gastrointestinal upset, blurred vision and more serious symptoms. In children, it may cause respiratory paralysis, neurological and mental health problems. Unfortunately for us, it is easy for us to get exposed to Chlorpyrifos through vegetables, fruit, and even water and milk. It may even be used indoors to prevent cockroach infestations and other pests.
A herbicide Glyphosate, also known as Monsanto’s Roundup, is another problem. Glyphosate has been the most popular weedkiller ever since 1970s. With the rise of its popularity, Monsanto developed glyphosate-resistant seeds through genetical engineering so the farmers could treat their fields with glyphosate and not worry about losing their crops.
A recent study in California concluded that 100% of all Californian wines contained glyphosate. This nasty herbicide even showed up in organic wines, although the concentration in organic wines was the lowest – 0.7 ppb (parts per billion) vs 18.7 ppb and higher in non-organic wines. At the rate at which roundup is currently being used, cross-contamination is becoming more of a problem and nothing is virtually safe.
Glyphosate linked to various health problems, such as cancers and neurological disorders. It kills the gut bacteria, which is so important for proper immune function, and it has been shown to contribute to antimicrobial resistance. It it also thought to be a major contributing factor to infertility, while during pregnancy it is able to cross placenta and affect the foetal development, causing birth defects and miscarriages. Another study recently concluded that exposure to pesticides may cause high blood pressure in children.
Just like antibiotics treat bacterial infection but also destroy the good bacteria within the body, pesticides affect all living organisms, no matter good or bad. Yes, we need to protect our produce in order to feed the world and do it safely, but are pesticides really the way? They do the job alright, but at what cost?
And yes, non-organic produce does not necessarily mean it’s been genetically modified or chemically treated, while organic does not eliminate all chances of exposure to the toxic chemicals because of the growing issue of cross-contamination. But nevertheless, choosing organic means cutting our chances of being exposed to these harmful chemicals and increasing our chances of being healthy and keeping our planet healthy, too. You either pay for better food or pay the price. The choice is yours.
Nature is beautiful. Choose Nature.
Chlorpyrifos and neurodevelopmental effects – Biomed Central
Widespread Contamination of Glyphosate Weedkiller in California Wine – Moms Across America
Pesticides and the loss of Biodiversity – Pesticide Action Network Europe
How does the Organic Trust ensure the integrity of organic foods? – Organic Trust Ireland