Kitchen Myths

Facts and fiction about food and cooking, by Peter Aitken

Organic food is better for your health

I am all for organic food and buy it whenever I can (as long as the price is not too outrageous). But, I do so out of concern for the environment and for the farm workers. There is, to my knowledge, no scientific study that shows harm to people from eating non-organic food (if you know of one, please let me know). In fact, a close examination of the organic food movement shows some strange inconsistencies. For example, nicotine, naturally occurring in tobacco, has long been known to be toxic to humans, but it is permitted as an insecticide on organic food because it is a “natural” product. The same is true of other toxic natural pesticides such as rotenone and pyrethrum. Yet, synthetic pesticides with demonstrably lower toxicity are banned. Go figure!

It’s also a myth that organic foods retain more of their nutrients—the best evidence says that this is not the case. It’s also been claimed that organic foods are produced with higher safety standards and are less likely to have, for example, e. coli contamination. Nope.

Another myth is that organic food comes from small, family-run farms and buying it helps support the individual farmer as opposed to the huge corporations. Nope again. The big corps have jumped on the organic bandwagon in a big way, which is a good thing, but organic is no longer the province of the small farmer. In fact, at our local (and excellent) farmers’ market, a majority of the vendors, all small local farmers, do not sell produce that is officially organic because of the hassles and expense of getting the organic certification.

So, buy organic by all means if you want, but do it with a knowledge of the facts.

14 responses to “Organic food is better for your health

  1. Timberati December 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    I agree , in general. Buy organic if you wish. But, I am not so sure that it is better for the environment. Organic farming needs more land. It is less efficient, about 30% less, than conventional farming. To counter the lower efficiency claim, organic’s proponents will point to the Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial which compared three methods: conventional, livestock-based organic, and legume-based organic. According to Rodale, yields for corn and soybean in these trials are “the same across the three systems.”

    However, the organic plots produced the same yield because they used extra land elsewhere for feeding animals to provide manure, or for the legume-based system, took the plot out of corn or soybean production and grew nitrogen-fixing legumes instead. Obviously, organic farming needs more land to grow sustainable yields for the world. Worldwide, crops require 80 million tons of nitrogen to feed our current population. Generating that amount of nitrogen organically would require about six billion head of cattle for their manure, plus the land to grow and feed the cattle.

    Fossil fuels allow conventional farming to use less land than organic methods. “By spending not much energy to make fertilizer and run machinery — and trivial amounts of energy to ship the stuff we grow from the places it grows best,” writes Stephen Budiansky, a former editor of the scientific journal, Nature, “we have spared and conserved hundreds of millions of acres of land that otherwise would have had to be brought into agricultural production. That’s land that protects wildlife, that adds scenic beauty.” That means we spare wetlands, grasslands, forests, and rainforests from being cleared for agriculture.

  2. Timberati December 24, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Yep, as the Roman philosopher Cicero might have said, “Res ea non est quae prandium gratuitum aquet.” (There’s no such thing as a free lunch.)

  3. Twm Davies January 10, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    indeed. organic is a deceiving word – in the uk it’s defined by the ‘soil association’ which masterfully detracts from the fact that this is a self regulating industry.
    There are ‘restrictions’ on the use of pesticides and fertilisers to a certain list of chemicals, but who really knows how much credence a ‘soil association’ approved organic badge has.
    Anything that promotes animal welfare and promoters good countryside practice is good, but simply being more expensive is no guarantee. Also as adults we need to discus the cost/benefit of organic in terms of effective land usage etc True organic methods are not simply ‘better’ or more healthy as you point out.

  4. Giusi January 19, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    This is not true. There are various studies that show that GMO foods (genetically modified) do cause a lot of harm. Studies in rats show that they stay in the stomach and digestive lining and shortened their life span by nearly half. Look it up.

  5. paulskav February 3, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    I’m aware there is no nutritional difference, but many things taste so much better to me – especially organic apples. I live in Washington state, so the conventional apples and the organic ones both count as “locally produced.” However, the organic apples taste so much better I won’t buy non-organic anymore. I wonder why that is?

  6. Kelly April 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    A relative of mine swears that wild meat (venison, Elk, etc..) is the ultimate “organic” meat. He is so wrong! A wild deer wanders accross all the farmland in the country consuming freshly sprayed chemicals, modified crops not meant for consumption and anything else nasty that is NOT INTENDED for feedlot raised meat. Think about the way a wild grazing animal feeds itself and never call it “organic.”

  7. Epiphany May 10, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    I’m actually a person who can’t digest processed foods, so organic is better for me because I encounter major stomach aches upon ingesting preservatives, additives, and artificial anything. My tummy is probably an exception where non-organic harms and organic doesn’t, but I do exist…

  8. Ann August 17, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    My dad worked for the government researching and helping regulate which pesticides are safe for people and the environment, and which are not. He ended up burning out because he the politics won over science all the time, so his work was basically worthless. Some pesticides are terrible, some are not and are extremely helpful. Politicians would rather appease current popular opinion, and just ban pesticides to get more votes.

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