There has long been a debate about the benefits of organic food, and in some cases, science seems to support both sides. Nevertheless, many advocates for organic food argue it’s better tasting, more nutritional, better on the environment, and ethically more appealing. Opponents argue just the opposite: conventionally grown food is just as nutritional, healthy, delicious, and ethical. Who is right? Well, the answer may surprise you.
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In the first part of this duet, we’ll listen to the arguments in favor of organic food.
Pro – Organic food is Healthier for you
First, what is organic? Briefly defined, we can consider organic as something that is grown naturally; that is, without the use of synthetic pesticides, irradiation, artificial fertilizers, or biotechnology. Organic food is often accompanied by a “Certified Organic” or “Made with Organic Ingredients” sticker, but what really defines it is its growing and tending process. Some farmers, for example, are unable to get a “Certified Organic” sticker from the FDA for various financial and/or political reasons, but may still grow sustainably and organically.
So, why is this better for you?
Pesticides and Artificial Fertilizers Affect Nutrition
According to research (for reference, see Sharon Hornick's article on the topic published in the Cambridge Journals), there are a number of factors that affect the nutritional value of food, including pesticide and fertilizer use. As a result, some studies have shown that the use of such synthetic pesticides and fertilizers has stunted plants natural production of phytochemicals (i.e. vitamins and minerals naturally found in the plant) that would otherwise be needed to fight off weeds and bugs on the plants own. With fewer phytochemicals, the plants lose some of their nutritional value. Organic, on the other hand, does not.
That’s not all, however. Numerous studies have shown pesticides (which, by the way, are everywhere: your house, golf courses, schools, grocery stores, and movie theaters) have a direct effect on one’s health. Specifically, pesticides affect two things: first, our neurotoxins, which are chemicals in the brain that are responsible for many functions, including everything from focus to mood; and second, our endocrine (or hormone) disruptors, which are crucial for a functional endocrine system. Here, pesticides attach themselves to receptor a site, disrupting the functions of the body by blocks hormones. Without a doubt, farmers who use the heavy use of synthetic pesticides put their consumers at greater risk, and while organic farmers indeed use pesticides, they are natural pesticides – not synthetic compounds.
GMOS – Genetically Engineered Foods
A second area points to the banning of GMOs in organic food. Genetically modified foods, at their root, are just that: genetically modified by man, not nature. Humans’ digestive systems have developed of a millennia, and now has a very specific sensory system in regards to what is consumed. GMOs, to the body, look like nothing we have ever seen before. Quite literally, the make-up of the food is different, making it appear to be an entirely new type of food. Some fear that this facilitates the development of disease of food illnesses. In fact, the introduction of GMOs has been correlated with an unprecedented rise in obesity, food allergies, and asthma.
Back in 1990s, the FDA’s own scientists were disregarded with their worries and complaints on the testing of genetically engineered food, which later peaked in a 1999 lawsuit against the FDA, releasing 44,000 documents it originally had tried to hide. Much of the information in these documents, along with other memos released before and after the court date, point to one major trend: a less stringent approach to testing GE foods, a seriously disconcerting fact to scientists and consumers, no doubt.
Organic escapes these dilemmas by banning the use of GMOs altogether.
Better Farming Methods
Finally, you should consider organic to be better for you because of the methodology involved with planting, tending, and harvesting. Organic farms do not use synthetic chemicals like conventional farming, nor do they use artificial fertilizers, both of which leach into water supplies and zap the soil of nutrients. Organic farms are operated in a sustainable fashion, and because they only use the process of growing that nature intended, they often leave the soil healthier and richer than before. What's more, farming organic produce produces the same amount of food as conventional farming.
Even if pesticides, artificial fertilizers, and GMOs weren’t a factor (which they are), the method of growing ensures that future generations will have land of their own to till. This, perhaps, is the most prudent and nationally healthy thing about organic food. Clearly, there is some ethical appeal here too. As the argument runs, organic farming is the right thing to do if we want to have a sustainable and healthy future; we need to stop focusing on the now and instead think about our future, our children's futures, and our grand children's futures.