You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about how eating organic food is much better for you than just buying the non-organic fruit and veg the supermarkets generally have for sale. But as with my post about climate change, I think it’s always good to remind ourselves exactly what organic food is, and why it can be better for the environment.
So, first of all, what is organic food? The Soil Assocation describes organic food here: “Our definition of organic food is food which is produced using environmentally and animal friendly farming methods on organic farms. These methods are legally defined and any food sold as ‘organic’ must be strictly regulated.” And organic farming is “recognises the direct connection between our health and how the food we eat is produced. Artificial fertilisers are banned and farmers develop fertile soil by rotating crops and using compost, manure and clover.”
Different countries have different standards that have to be met for a product to be classified as organic, but you can’t define a food as organic if it risks contamination from non-organic sources, e.g. having a field of genetically modified (GM) crops next to your field means there could be a risk of cross-contamination through the air. Also, some products – such as fish – can’t always be certified organic (in this case, the water they live in is influenced by so many factors that’s impossible to guarantee that it’s organic!) So certifying a product as organic is actually much trickier than it sounds, as crops, animal feed etc. can all be accidentally cross-contaminated, even if by a GM seed that blows onto the farm.
But what are the pros and cons of growing and eating organic food?
- No chemicals (such as pesticides) are used. Chemicals can kill wildlife and leach into water, causing health problems in animals, which can eventually work up the food chain and affect humans. They can also be absorbed by fruits and vegetables, so even if you wash them before eating, you might still be eating some of the pesticides sprayed on them.
- Crops are rotated so the soil isn’t exhausted and still contains nutrients without having to add fertilisers and chemicals. This also breaks pest and disease cycles, as they don’t have a constant supply of food (according again to the Soil Association website).
- Conserves biodiversity – as above, wild plants and animals won’t be damaged or killed by chemicals designed to make crops grow better.
- Organic livestock will have regular access to pasture. They also cannot be given antibiotics.
- More carbon is stored in the soil.
- No genetic engineering or use of genetically modified products is allowed. So crops can’t be GM, for example, and animals can’t be fed with GM foods.
- Growing organic crops takes up more space than growing non-organic, so more land will be required to grow the same amount of organic crops.
- Crops and animals can be more prone to pests and diseases as no chemicals or antibiotics are used.
- Organic foods might not last as long as non-organic foods as they won’t contain additives to help them keep longer.
- Organic foods are generally more expensive than non-organic foods.
- Consumers have to rely on certification to know whether a food is organic or not, unless you buy straight from the farmer or producer.
I came across this good infographic a while ago (you can find it pinned on my Pinterest board Going Green – Food). Of course, not all fruits have stickers on, but this is a good guide to go for. (Click on it to make it bigger!)
What do you think? Do you eat organic?