Organic Food Definition | Are Organic Foods Healthier?
In some ways, yes. However, the benefits are often over-hyped, so the overall benefits of organic food to consumers and the environment tend to be dismissed out of hand. Yet organic foods are better for consumers and the environment in most regards.
How are organic foods healthier for consumers?
Organic foods can’t get that label if they use certain industrial pesticides and fertilizers. They may use animal manure and crop rotation with nitrogen fixing plants instead of nitrate-laden pesticides. They may use natural pesticides like tobacco extract or aggressive manual removal of pests, though companion planting is preferred. All of this results in food that doesn’t contain trace amounts of these toxic substances.
Depending on the study, organic fruits, vegetables and animal products may contain more vitamins and minerals. In organic meat and dairy, omega-3 fatty acids were up to fifty percent higher. Sometimes it is simply a matter of what crops are being raised. For example the tough tomatoes that handle industrial farming are nearly flavourless. They also don’t contain as much vitamin A and C as the heirloom varieties some organic farmers choose. The crops that are naturally more resistant to pests, weeds and the elements are often more nutritious. They’re simply ignored by factory farms because they aren’t as well suited to industrial crop production.
Organic farming demands a sense of responsibility for the plants, animals and land in your care, something that carries over to what we consume. You aren’t allowed to take shortcuts that save money. This is why organic beef farmers never fed dead animal remains to their cattle as a source of cheap protein. This meant there was no risk of mad cow diseases if you ate organic beef.
The food is often fresher. Since organic food doesn’t contain preservatives beyond safe ones like salt, it has to reach the consumer quickly. You aren’t eating potatoes that were chemically treated so they could sit in storage for a year. You’re not eating crops harvested early, exposed to chemicals to artificially ripen them, and then held in de facto suspended animation until it hits the shelves.
How does organic farming benefit the environment?
With organic food production, weeds aren’t controlled by herbicides. They’re controlled by aggressive weeding, crop rotation, mulching and tilling. This means herbicides can’t make it into the food we eat or kill beneficial plants. Pests are controlled via natural methods. This can include birds, traps, insects that eat pests and naturally derived pesticides. This prevents toxic pesticides from reaching the food crops. It also means beneficial insects like butterflies and bees aren’t killed by the chemicals intended to minimize crop losses to pests. The differences are most profound when it comes to genetically modified organisms. For example, some of the most widely grown GMO crops were made to be nearly immune to glyphosate, a major herbicide. The GMO crops per se are not bad, but the adoption of them means farmers can and do douse their crops in toxic levels of the herbicide. Some of this can reach us through the food we eat. Far more of it affects the surrounding environment.
In the case of organic meat and dairy, both the animals involved and the products they produce are better for everyone. For example, on organic farms, they don’t treat animals with antibiotics to treat the diseases that come with over-crowding. They don’t over-crowd the animals. They don’t give the cattle hormone injections to increase milk production, either, something that could show up in the milk they produce and any products made from it like yogurt or cheese. The reduction in antibiotic use by limiting it to truly sick animals slows the development of antibiotic resistant diseases that could jump to humans. Eliminating the hormones that could reach our children through milk prevents them from being adversely affected by the exposure.
Organic farming supports a healthy environment. Instead of raising grain that’s fed to cows and incidentally increases their methane production, cattle are allowed to graze grass in open pastures. This is healthier for them. This supports the grasslands themselves. It allows marginal lands to produce protein via grazing livestock instead of being plowed under, something that contributes to soil erosion. Rotational grazing prevents over-grazing of the grasslands; that can result in desertification if it goes too far.
Organic farming may be adopted by large food producers, but it is dominated by smaller farms. This means you’re usually supporting local farms and small businesses by buying organic food. A side benefit of organic farming’s perishable product is that the agricultural products cannot be shipped around the world. It may be shipped in refrigerated trucks, but it didn’t travel cross-country. Your dinner has a lower carbon footprint.
How can you save money on organic foods?
One of the common complaints about organic food is the cost. The lower average yields of organic farms result in higher costs per item. How can you save money on organic foods? First, get in the habit of eating seasonal foods. Eat grapes when they’re abundant, then switch to other seasonal foods instead of buying imported organic grapes. Another option is switching to dried or frozen organic fruits and vegetables instead of demanding fresh ones.
Shop around. You might find cheaper fruit that is still organic. You might find cheaper organic products at a big retailer than the upscale grocery store you associate it with. Compare prices. You might find a cheaper version of the same frozen organic meal or snacks.
Don’t waste money buying unhealthy “organic” snacks. Processed junk food that happens to contain organic fruits, vegetables and dairy is still bad for you.
You can also save money by prioritising your purchases. For example, when you remove the skin of an orange or banana, you’re removing any pesticides and chemicals that covered its surface. This means you’d want to buy organic apples, cucumbers, potatoes, grapes, collard greens, tomatoes, peaches and strawberries instead.
Conversely, there’s little point in buying organic versions of fruits and vegetables that are almost never treated with pesticides like mushrooms, pineapple, onion, grapefruit, cantaloupe, and eggplants. Buy organic meat, dairy and eggs whenever you can.
You could save money on transportation and middle-men’s fees by buying directly from the source. You could do that by buying from farmer’s markets, neighbours who raise organic produce or joining a community supported agriculture farm. In all of these cases, you’re supporting both the local economy and organic agriculture.
Organic Food Definition
Organic food is food produced by methods that comply with the standards of organic farming. Standards vary worldwide, but organic farming features practices that cycle resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Organizations regulating organic products may restrict the use of certain pesticides and fertilizers in the farming methods used to produce such products. Organic foods typically are not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or synthetic food additives.
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