In the world of health and fitness, a lot of terms get thrown around. One of them, as we know, is the term ‘organic’. In the western world there is an increasing demand for ‘organic’ produce by up to 30% each year! This is usually approached from many angles – environmentalists say its better for the earth, naturopaths say that it’s healthier. Dieticians, however, disagree, saying that it really doesn’t make much of a difference. What is one to believe? That’s what we are covering today.
When it comes to topics like this, the first thing to get right is the actual definition, so that we know what we’re talking about. Organic produce, by definition, has been planted and farmed without artificial fertilisers and pesticides. This means that it is, in theory at least, devoid of synthetic chemicals. Animals are treated humanely, which in itself is subjective because they end up being killed anyway.
Depending on where we’re talking about, there are different certifying bodies. In Australia, seven of them are accredited by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and a place is licensed if it has grown its crop in line with guidelines for at least three years. Of course, all certified produce contain the grower’s name and certification number.
Now let’s talk about how it matches up with the health claim. Of course, the main claim is the reduction of exposure to pesticides and herbicides. These synthetic chemicals allegedly increase cancer risk and in theory and high doses, it is believable. However, there is no scientifically rigorous evidence that it does. The jury is out on this one. Another line of reasoning is that organic farming principles retain minerals in soil, which subsequently makes foods healthier. This, however, has not been demonstrated scientifically either.
One thing that can be argued more definitively, however, is the biodiversity argument. Organic farming uses a more traditional approach compared to conventional farming, which is that the type of crop grown is rotated often, resulting in a more enriched soil. Furthermore, organic farming also uses less machinery and therefore less energy too. There are also other better practices such as reduced soil erosion.
The next point to address, and this might be the most important point, is the taste test. Some people swear that organic produce tastes better. However, blind taste tests have demonstrated otherwise. Needless to say, produce will almost always taste better when it is grown in season, regardless of whether or not it is organic.
Another factor to consider is the cost. Of course, in western countries, we often complain that organic food is expensive and that it does not keep for as long a period. And this is undoubtedly true. After all, in order to gain the accreditation, the farmer has to go through many more labour intensive steps and have a lower yield.
So what are some useful tips for those who insist on buying organic produce. The first and most obvious one is to buy in season from farmer’s markets or local produce wholesalers. This is often cheaper too. Plus you get the satisfaction of supporting a local small business. Keep in mind that this often requires a certain level of research.
So, what is the verdict? Well, to be honest, it is clear as mud. I, for one, will choose not to jump on the bandwagon as the argument for organic food is not convincing enough. But, to each its own, right?
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