A Case for Organics
In my publications I always specify the use of organic ingredients and, in case you are not already convinced, here’s why:
It’s been said, “there is no significant nutritional difference between organic and conventionally grown produce.” It has also been said that, come year 2000, the functioning of the world as we knew it would shut down. If we adhered to everything we were told we might still be sitting in a bathtub with a look of fear plastered across our faces.
I am not astounded to see new studies, like this one, show that organic foods do have higher nutrient contents. Yet, while it is good to see the spread of this information, I wonder whether a quick glance at the bigger picture should have told us this right off the bat. What is healthy (or nutritionally superior) should NOT rest on nutrient levels alone, but on growth process and possible chemical contamination, as well as indirect impact on the health of people and the environment.
This is not to say that nutrient levels are not important, but no matter how much calcium, vitamin C or antioxidants you ingest, the impact of harmful pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics and steroids used in the production of non-organic foods will not be counteracted.
“Pesticides are bad news,” Nina Planck explains in her book Real Food. “Organophosphates and methyl carbamates, widely used insecticides, can cause acute poisoning… Chronic and long-term effects of pesticides include cancer, infertility, and hormone disruption.” Planck cites a direct study from the EPA that acknowledges over 170 pesticides as possible, probable or known human carcinogens.
In Peter Singer’s The Ethics of What We Eat, the case for organics is made plain and simple. Singer cites data from the Consumer Union research on 94,000 food samples that found, “73 percent of conventionally grown foods and 90 percent of conventionally grown apples, peaches, pears, strawberries, and celery had pesticide residues, as compared with only 23 percent of organically grown samples.” Singer also discusses how the use of synthetic fertilizers is linked to a significant loss in soil nitrogen and carbon. Of the nitrogen added back to the soil in conventional agriculture practices, around half ends up in runoff that impacts other ecosystems. To top it off, organic crops, on average, use 30 percent less energy per unit of food production and organic dairy production uses up to 75 percent less.
According to Elson. M. Haas, MD and Buck Levin, PhD, RD, there are about 12,000 chemicals that contaminate our food system, with over 400 different pesticides registered for use in the United States. 850 million pounds of pesticides are used on food crops, and this number is growing. Ready to switch to organic foods yet?
Non-therapeutic antibiotics, given to animals raised for food whether they need it or not, should be tacked on to the lists of concerns. Antibiotic usage in livestock accounts for up to 70 percent of total antibiotic production in the United States and, according to a publication of Environmental Health Perspectives, “has led to the persistence of these antibiotics in the environment and the possibility of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.” In organic practices the slack use of antibiotics to promote weight gain and to compensate for overcrowded, unsanitary conditions is not allowed.
Even if organic foods were not proven to contain more nutrients, the absence of antibiotics, steroids, pesticides and other chemicals makes the choice an easy one to make. Learning how to best make use of the organic produce in season in your area will help make organic food more affordable as well. Buying what is abundant will cost you less, be fresher and more nourishing than foods shipped in from other climates and decrease the environmental impact of your meal.
Check back this Thursday for more organic consumer resources, and some cooking tips to help you make the most of your organic and seasonally fresh goods.