The myths of organic food
Organic food is sold to us as a safe, all natural product grown with no man made interference – as nature intended. However, the truth is that in most cases, this just clever marketing, and the products we buy are not as ‘organic’ as we think. The following are some of the common misconceptions held about supermarket food labelled as ‘organic’.
The definition of organic varies greatly country to country, and even organisation to organisation. In most cases, it means that the product is free of antibiotics and growth hormones; that the product has been grown using synthetic free fertilisers; and that there are no genetically modified components involved. There is often nothing guaranteeing that an organic product has been grown without the use of herbicides or pesticides. This is not to say that all organics are grown with pesticides, many are – it simply means that there is no guarantee.
If you think about it, it is nearly impossible to create a 100% organic product on a farm. Things like water content would need to be micro managed; smoke, pesticides and other unwanted chemicals can blow over from neighbouring farms and factories, and fields can become pollinated with nearby genetically modified crops – unless you are carefully growing something small in your green house, it is very hard to ensure your crops stay 100 %.
Another big misconception is that organic foods are better for you. This comes down to two factors. The first ties in with the above point. Although pesticides are meant to be safe for human consumption, they can cause damage when it accumulates on large amounts within the body – which it does over time. As a result you would rightly think that organic foods would be healthier, as they thought to be free of such chemicals. However, as some organic foods are grown using pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, this accumulation can still happen.
Then there is the idea that organic food is more nutritious. Just like the above point, this is not always the case. Many studies have found that there is little if any difference between the nutritional value of organic and non-organic food. The biggest differences in nutritional are actually caused by how long a product sits on the shelf – as this can cause nutrition to rapidly deteriorate.
There is no doubt, when organic food is grown without pesticides and herbicides the local environment benefits. However, as we have looked at, there is often no guarantee that this happens. Then you also have to consider the environmental impact of getting the food to you. Think about all of the exotic and foreign organic products you see in the shops. Transporting these to your local supermarket from across the world has created a much more devastating environmental impact and carbon footprint than locally grown , non-organic produce.
Also, the food may be organic and safely grown, but what has been the social cost of producing it? Are the farmers in way off lands treated and paid fairly? What are the working conditions? These are all often factors that are glossed over by organic marketing. You know the standards are going to be met with locally grown produce.
When we think of organic farming, it is nice to think of a small team of happy farmers, running their own business in lush green fields. The reality of it is that many organic food produces are actually owned by large conglomerates such as Kellogg’s and Kraft, and are giant sprawling industrial farm complexes. This is not to say that there are not nice little organic farms out there, but they are not all like this. So if it is important to you, it is worth looking into the source of your foods, looking passed the word organic.
No matter how and where your produce has been grown or purchased from, all food is susceptible to nasty bacteria, such as E. coli. Do not make the mistake of failing to wash your food because it has been grown organically. This particularly applies to produce that has come into contact with, or fruits close to the soil.
Don’t let the above points dishearten you. This is not meant to be an exercise in putting you off organic food. The above does not apply to all organics, only some. The main thing to remember is that organics are not universally equal, and the definition can vary greatly depending on who you talk to. With this awareness you are better prepared to make informed decisions about your food, and not be easily misled by labels.