Organic Versus Nonorganic?

Organic food has been on the rise in popularity over the past 5-6 years, with a new wave of health conscious consumers wanting to know about the benefits of organic v nonorganic. The sweeping public opinion that organic food is healthier than conventional food is quite strong and is the main reason for the increase in its demand. So the question stands, is organic produce worth the extra price we pay or are we just wasting our money?

First of all, there is only a small amount of scientific evidence to show that organic food is better in quality than conventional food. Scientific research conducted this far on various organic food items has not been able to give strong evidence about the superiority of organic food over non-organic food. This is more so because a bulk of scientific research is based on funding provided by the governments and industry.(Which always leaves a bad taste in my mouth) Something to always take into consideration when searching for answers, where are your answers coming from?

There is much debate about “the nutritional value” of organic versus conventional foods and the “nutritional benefits” of organic versus conventional foods. These are not the same thing! For a crop to qualify as “organic,” the grower is not allowed to protect it with synthetic chemicals or feed it with certain nitrogen fertilizers. However, do organic foods have more micronutrient levels than conventional foods? Again, there is huge debate!

One of the major complaints that organic food consumers cite when choosing organic over non-organic is the presence of pesticides. In order to keep crops from being attacked by the natural world, including bugs, pesticides are required. Although they do a good job at keeping certain pests away from the crops, they also are composed of powerful chemicals like organophosphorus. This is an unnatural mineral compound that is not required by humans, but more than 80% of this material in our bodies comes from eating pesticide-coated foods. Organophosphorus has been connected to a number of developmental problems, including autism and ADHD, so organic food lovers do have a pretty strong argument in this case. To be fair, many people do choose to go organic to make sure that their children grow up healthy and unaffected by the toxins of the world during their developmental years.

A 2009 study, which was commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), was the first systematic review of the literature on organic food versus non-organic food. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine concluded: there was currently no evidence to justify selecting organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority. The 2012 study literature review from Stanford University School of Medicine also concluded that: apart from “weak evidence” of higher phenol levels in organic produce there was no significant evidence pointing to nutritional benefits linked to the consumption of organic foods.

In 2014 however, an international team of experts led by Professor Leifert, Professor of Ecological Agriculture at Newcastle University has shown that organic crops are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants than conventionally-grown ones. Higher antioxidant concentrations and less cadmium and pesticide residues in organically grown crops.

According to Prof. Leifert, his results differed as he had access to many more up to date studies, he added: “The organic vs nonorganic debate has rumbled on for decades, but the evidence from this study is overwhelming – that organic food is high in antioxidants and lower in toxic metals and pesticides.” However, the study did not go far enough and investigate the nutritional benefits of organic food, it just compared the composition of organic food against conventionally grown food.*

Confused yet?

Some people strongly believe that organic food tastes better than conventional food, as it is grown using natural means of production. Another fact to consider, organic food is often sold locally, resulting in the availability of fresh produce in the market, which usually does taste better than produce that has been frozen, shipped, and transported across long distances.

The fact still remains as harmful chemicals are not used in organic farming, there is minimal soil, air, and water pollution; thus ensuring a safer and healthier world. Now that can’t be ignored.

There are plenty of arguments for buying organic produce, one being why organic food cost more than conventional food does?

The answer, organic food production is generally labour-intensive and involves the use of organic fertilizers and organic pesticides, which are more expensive than chemical fertilizers and pesticides. That is why it costs more.

To help us confused consumers strike a balance, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases an updated Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.*

The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, is released every year, a tradition that started in 2004. In case you’re not familiar with the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, here’s a little background, as explained by the EWG. The Dirty Dozen is a list of the 12 fruits and vegetables that contain the highest concentrations of pesticides, which the EWG recommends buying organic. The Clean Fifteen is a list of 15 fruits and vegetables that contain the fewest concentrations of pesticides, which the EWG believes are the safest foods to buy conventionally. The list for 2019 as seen bellow:

organic strawberries

The 2019 Dirty Dozen

  1. Strawberries                                                                                                                
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

The 2019 Clean Fifteen

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Frozen sweet peas
  5. Onions
  6. Papayas
  7. Eggplants
  8. Asparagus
  9. Kiwis
  10. Cabbages
  11. Cauliflower
  12. Cantaloupes
  13. Broccoli
  14. Mushrooms
  15. Honeydew melon

This proves to be a very useful guide for those who can only afford or only have access to conventional produce, the EWG wants to make sure you do not let these lists limit your consumption of fruits and veggies. All research agrees on the health benefits of a diet that includes fruits and vegetables, and eating fresh produce – organic or conventional, as budget allows – is essential for health,” the EWG noted. If you want to reduce your intake of pesticides, only buying organic versions of the Dirty Dozen foods is a good place to start. Just make sure to take the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen as a guide, and don’t let the lists influence you to limit your overall consumption of fresh produce. Get ya veggies into you guys, organic or not.

*References: Melchett P (2014) Organic farming and growing impacts on food quality – the Newcastle study – https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/clean-fifteen.php