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Is Organic Food Healthier for You Than Conventional Food?

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  Tags: health   environment   science   diet   education   news   agriculture   organic food   pesticides


Background

This hot topic has been grabbing a lot of headlines and fanfare lately. The fuss is over a study published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that organic food is no healthier or more nutritious than conventional food. The report, commissioned by the British government's food standards agency, was conducted by the London school of hygiene and tropical medicine and has been getting huge amounts of press for heating up the debate.[1]

What Is Organic Food?

Organic foods are made according to certain production standards. Under organic production, the use of conventional non-organic pesticides, insecticides and herbicides is greatly restricted and saved as a last resort. In most countries, organic produce may not be genetically modified and must follow heavily regulated standards. For product to be 100% organic it must be made of all organic ingredients. If the label says organic, the product has at least 95% organic ingredients. If the label says made with organic ingredients the product contains at least 70% organic ingredients and the organic seal can't be used on these packages.[2],[4]

What Is Conventional Food?

Conventional food systems operate on the economies of scale. These food systems are geared towards a production model that requires maximizing efficiency in order to lower consumer costs and increase overall production. Lower food costs and greater food variety can be directly attributed to the involvement of conventional food systems.[3]

Organic food became popular in response to the abundant use of nonorganic pesticides, insecticides and herbicides. Conventional foods were developed to save on production costs keeping the prices lower so the consumer would buy more. Conventional food goers now have something to be excited about because of this new study. Organic growers and marketers still contend their food offers more value.


 

Arguments For

Yes, Organic is Healthier

Harmful Pesticides

A high degree of scientific consensus exists that non-organic crops contain much higher levels of negative additives such as synthetic pesticide and fertilizer residues. The only debate is whether those residues have adverse effects on our health. While it is hard to prove that these unnatural substances, which are designed to kill living organisms, are harmful, it seems highly likely that they are not nutritious. So if I have to choose between a 0% chance that these foreign substances are better for my health, and an unknown chance they are harmful, I will play safe and choose organic.[1]

Natural Fertilizers

Organic farmers apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants. They also use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease. Organic farmers also rotate crops, till, and wheat or mulch to manage weeds. They give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors these preventative measures such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing-to help minimize disease. On the contrary, conventional farmers apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth. They spray insecticides to reduce pests and disease. They also use chemical herbicides to manage weeds, and they give animals antibiotics growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth[4].

A 2008 study published in the journal science of food and agriculture demonstrated that organic cows grazing on fresh pasture produce milk with higher levels of antioxidants and beneficial fatty acids (Omega three fatty acids) than conventional paths.

A 2003 study published in environmental health perspectives showed that children who ate primarily organic foods had levels of pesticide residues in their urine that were up to six times lower than children eating conventional foods[1].

People buy organic food not just because they think it'll make them healthier, they want to avoid pesticides, unethical treatment of animals and livestock, and unfair trade practices that many conventional food marketers use[5].

The London team also included studies from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s that analyzed crop varieties that are no longer grown, and failed to include 15 studies published since 2008 that all found important nutritional advantages for organic food. The study also failed to examine differences in total anti-oxidant content.[8]

Simon Wright, a food consultant for Organic Fair Plus, said concern over the long-term health impact of pesticides and hormones contained in conventional foods is one of the main reasons why people buy organic. Its a cocktail effect, he said. A variety of pesticides and other chemicals are applied at legal levels but interacting in a way impossible to predict.[7]

Arguments Against

No, Organic is Not Healthier

A recent study by the London school of hygiene and tropical medicine found that consumers were paying higher prices for organic food because of his perceived health benefits, creating a global organic market worth an estimated $40 billion in 2007. A systematic review of 162 scientific papers published in the scientific literature over the last 50 years, however, found was no significant difference.[6]

Conventional foods are less expensive and save money
Conventional foods are easier to obtain than organic food

Sources


 1  New Study Claiming Organic Food No Healthier Stirs Public Opinion Pot Spud! Blog! August 6, 2009 Spud.
 2  Organic Food September 8, 2009 Wikipedia
 3  Conventional Food Systems September 8, 2009 Wikipedia
 4  Organic Foods: Are They Safer? More Nutritious? Nutrition and Healthy Eating September 9, 2009 Mayo Clinic.com
 5  Organic Food: Food Safety Authority Study Leaves Bad Taste in the Mouth August 1, 2009 Ecologist Levitt, T.
 6  Organic Food Is No Healthier, Study Finds News July 29, 2009 Reuters
 7  Organic Food Has No Health Benefits, Say Officials Life And Style August 2, 2009 TIMES Online
 8  New Study Fails to Analyze Key Health Benefits of Organic Food Take Action July 30, 2009 Environmental Working Group

User Comments & Opinion

 
72.7%
27.3%

8 Voted Yes

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Although the official labeling of organic products is very much vague and doesn't offer much protection for consumers, I really believe that true organic foods are healthier. - thorie (twitter) 0
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I think it is healthier, but probably doesn't make as much difference as simply eating more vegetables and exercise. - jennyhooah (twitter) 0
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I tried organic beef, it tastes better. But I can't afford to buy it. - stonecoldvt (twitter) 0
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yea its healthier, but its not like non-organic foods will kill you. non-organic have been made specifically for easy eating. - _fraz_ (twitter) 0

3 Voted No

 
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