Organic foods are produced without using many conventional practices, with the goal to preserve natural resources from the farm to the store. Conventional practices that are prohibited in organic food production include irradiation (using ionizing radiation to sterilize and preserve food); using sewage sludge as a crop fertilizer; or genetic engineering (changing the genetic makeup of a crop to produce specific desirable results, such as pesticide resistance).
There is debate whether organic foods are healthier than their conventional counterparts and whether the ideals are worth the trouble. This topic could be discussed in depth about many different aspects, but I will outline only four areas to consider when deciding if supporting and buying organic foods is right for you. These topics include nutritional content, lifestyle of farmers and animal care, and environmental concerns.
Nutritional Content: The debate is on as to whether organic foods are more nutritious than conventionally-produced foods. The truth is, nutritional content is hard to measure across the board. A lot of factors may vary and fluctuate, depending on the type of crop and where and how it was grown. Inconsistency in crop nutrition can even occur due to changing soil content. However, there have been some studies conducted that suggest an increased amount of phosphorus and antioxidants in organic produce. Because organic produce regulations do not allow the use of some preservative methods, producers may try to sell it in stores closer to the time of its harvest, thus preserving vitamin and mineral content. Also, organic meat products usually contain more omega-3 fatty acids because of the different feed the animals are fed.
Lifestyle of Farmers and Animal Care
It is believed that organic food production is the preservation of farming techniques practiced for hundreds of years. However, this preservation may come at a price. Farmers must be able to follow all of the rules and regulations required to be certified organic producers and must be committed to upholding the stringent organic standards. Farmers must submit to inspections to be certified as organic producers by demonstrating compliance of all regulations including the preservation of natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances.
There are several specific rules producers must follow in the field with animals and within farm buildings. Some may believe in the organic methods, but get discouraged with the bureaucracy.
Considerations for treatment of animals are included in the organic guidelines, however, they should not be confused with marketing terms that could mean animals were still raised conventionally. USDA organic regulations state that animals should be raised in living conditions that accommodate their natural behaviors, be fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not given antibiotics or hormones. In meat processing, no artificial colors, preservatives, or flavorings can be used, and organic product cannot come in contact with non-organic product.
Environmental Concerns: The USDA’s definition for organic agriculture involves “cultural, biological, and mechanical practices.” These practices include measures to maintain or enhance soil and water quality, conserve lands, and to avoid substances and/or practices that may contaminate or otherwise alter the crop or livestock product. Farmers must take measures to limit pollution in the air, soil, and water by cycling on-farm resources and using other farming techniques.
However, the organic labeling does not mean that foods are pesticide free. Pesticides are just lower, and limited to only types on an approved, allowed list. Organic produce must be grown on soil that had no prohibited substances, such as unapproved pesticides or fertilizers, applied three years prior to the harvest. These things take planning and careful consideration.
Organic foods are produced with worthy goals in mind. However, some of those ideals may get lost in the policies. Some of the practices deemed as unsafe or undesirable in conventional food production have actually been proven to be safe and more efficient in meeting the growing food demand.
It is up to you, as the consumer, to decide what will work with your beliefs and finances, as organic foods are generally more expensive. Try varying your buying methods, switching between organic and nonorganic depending on the product and your budget. And if you are one of those not convinced of the organic ideal, rest assured that you can still find good health eating conventionally produced products.
Molly Roemer graduated with a degree in Dietetics from BYU and currently resides in Alamo. She enjoys food and family and seeks to enrich the lives of others through both. Email questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.