Organic Food: Is it worth the cost?
The popularity of organic food is ever increasing. Consumers continue to become more concerned with their health as well as the impacts of conventional farming on the environment and, therefore, are choosing to buy organic. Organic food, however, is more expensive than conventional food and can be harder to find in more rural areas. Many people are also hesitant to trust organic labelling and question if the benefits do actually outweigh the extra costs. So the question then becomes, is organic food worth the cost.
What Does the Term “Organic” Mean?
Before we investigate the benefits of organic foods, let’s first have a look at the definition of organic. Organic foods are products that are grown without modern manufactured techniques such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. These products are also not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.
Organic foods are marketed as healthy for both the body and the environment. They are often referred to as “natural” and “green”. Traditional organic food producers are not only concerned with the quality of their products, they also take into consideration the conservation of soil, water and renewable resources to protect and improve overall environmental quality. For animal-based organic foods such as meat, eggs and dairy products, the animals must not be given any hormones or antibiotics throughout their whole lives. They must also have had access to the outdoors and organically fed to be considered for organic products.
In order for a food to be labeled as organic in North America, and many other countries, special certifications are required. Organic food must be produced in a way particular way outlined by national standards. As of June 30, 2009, any product with an organic claim must comply with the requirements of the Organic Products Regulations, which states:
- Only products with organic content that is greater than or equal to 95% may be labeled as organic or bear the organic logo.
- Multi-ingredient products with 70-95% organic content may have the declaration “contains x% organic ingredients.” These products may not use the organic logo and/or the claim organic.
- Multi-ingredient products with less than 70% organic content may only contain organic claims in the product’s ingredient list. These products may not use the organic logo.
Why Choose Organic?
Research shows that organic foods may have a higher nutritional value than conventional foods because they are free from potentially harmful chemical pesticides, fungicides, hormones, antibiotics and genetic modification. The absence of use of pesticides and fertilizers increases the production of phytochemicals (vitamins and antioxidants) in organic foods, which are both essential in proper health and prevention of disease. Organic foods also taste better than conventionally grown foods.
Organic farming is undoubtedly better for the environment. It decreases pollutants and pesticides in groundwater, decreasing the risk of drinking water contamination. Organic farming also reduces erosion and creates a richer soil, boosting plant growth.
What Should I Buy Organic?
It is worth it for both your health and the environment to splurge on organic foods if you can afford to do so. Always read labels to determine if the product is 100% organic and where the product was manufactured. If buying packaged foods, look for the organic logo. When shopping for produce, look at the number on the sticker – organic products will begin with the number 9. Buy local when possible to ensure the quality and freshness of the product and to support your local farmers. While imported organic foods can be labeled as organic, the standards required for organic labeling may differ from your home country.
If your budget limits you from always choosing organic, do spend the extra cost when buying these items referred to as the dirty dozen:
- Cherry tomatoes
- Hot peppers
- Sweet bell peppers
- Collard greens
- Yellow crookneck squash
These are the most heavily sprayed foods, according to The Environmental Working Group, as they require more pesticides to be grown conventionally.
No matter which route you choose, always thoroughly wash all of your produce. While organic foods may cost you more in the short term, their benefits definitely outweigh the cost of your health and the health of the environment in the future.
1. Allen GJ, Albala K. The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries. ABC-CLIO. 2007:288.
2. Canadian Food Inspection Agency (February 2012). Canada Organic Regime: A Certified Choice. Retrieved September 17, 2013 from http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/organic-products/labelling-and-general-information/certified-choice/eng/1328082717777/1328082783032.
3. Environmental Working Group (2013). EWG’s 2013 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Retrieved September 23, 2013 from http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php.
4. Foreman J, Silverstein J. Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages. Amer Acad Ped. 2102; 130(5):1406-1415.
5. Organic Center (2012). Top 12 Reasons to go Organic. Retrived September 22, 2013 from http://organic-center.org/organic-fact-sheets/top-12-reasons-to-go-organic/.
6. Organic Center (2011). Prenatal Pesticide Exposure Leads to Lower IQ in Children. Retrieved September 22, 2013 from http://organic-center.org/hot-science/prenatal-pesticide-exposure-leads-to-lower-iq-in-children/.
7. Pimentel D, Hepperly P, Hanson J. Environmental, Energetic, and Economic Comparisons of Organic and Conventional Farming Systems. Amer Inst Bio Sci. 2005; 55(7):573-582.
8. Princeton University: Greening Princeton (2011). Organic: What’s the Big Deal? Retrieved September 20, 2013 from http://www.princeton.edu/greening/organic4.htm.
9. Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter GE, et al. Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review. Ann Intern Med. 2012;157(5):348-366.
10. U.S. Department of Agriculture (October 2011). Organic Production and Handling Standards. Retrieved September 17, 2013 from http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004445&acct=nopgeninfo.
11. U.S. Department of Agriculture (October 2012). Organic Labeling and Marketing Information. Retrieved September 17, 2013 from http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004446&acct=nopgeninfo.
12. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (May 2012). Pesticides and Food: What ‘Organically Grown’ Means. Retrieved September 17, 2013 from http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/food/organics.htm.