Thursday, July 30, 2009

is organic food better

I have had a number of people asking me what I think about a recent BBC article that claims that organic food is not as healthy as it claims to be.  I've been asked what I think about this and can it really be true.  There's a lot of buzz being generated about this at the moment, here's my take on it:

1.  The article addresses only the nutritional content of the food in question.  A friend of mine who is a farmer claims that if the study had looked at smaller, sustainably produced organic farms the result would be different than large industrial organic farms.  I'm not sure whether that is true or not but it certainly is worth investigating before deciding that there is no nutritional benefit to organic farming.

2.a.  The article does not address pesticides, chemicals and hormones.  A large part of the reason people purchase organic foodstuffs is because they don't want the chemicals come along with conventional farming methods.  As I've mentioned before, there is something called the Dirty Dozen.  These foods are the ones that pick up chemical residue most readily.  If you don't want to eat that you can find out which foods they are by downloading the Environmental Working Group's Shopping Guide.

2.b. Many people, myself included, do not believe that saturating the soil with pesticides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers and such is healthy for the earth.  So aside from not ingesting these things when you purchase organic you also do a good thing for the environment.  

2.c.  Organic farming methods are also better for the people who work on the farms.  According to  Toxic Free NC "Agricultural families are at very high risk for exposure to pesticides. Workers can inadvertently take toxic pesticide residues home on contaminated clothes, hair, and skin. Because most workers also live very close to the fields, they are also subject to pesticide drift at home. Once in the home, pesticide residues are very easily picked up by small children, who are especially sensitive to health damage from pesticide exposure.  Subjecting workers to hazardous pesticide exposure on the job puts both the workers and their families at risk for serious health consequences."  

3.  Part of the organic standard is more humane treatment of animals that are grown for food.  I believe that this is important.  You can read an article I wrote about organic milk.   Shouldn't the humane treatment of animals be part of our consciousness?  Aren't we evolved enough to not want these animals to live in discomfort before they provide for us?  I believe that we still have a distance to go before the system is where it should be concerning the treatment of farm workers and animals, but certainly the measures provided by organic standards are a solid beginning.

4.  Another part of the organic standard is that foodstuffs may not be Genetically Modified (GM).  Since the only way to ensure that something is not GM is to purchase organic this becomes an important distinction.  Read this article by the Institute for Food and Development Policy to learn more about some of the concerns about GM food.

In his book, "In Defense Of Food," Michael Pollan writes about how our diet has been hijacked by the theory of nutritionism.  That everything has to boil down to a perfect science of nutrition.  Unfortunately that falls far short of the mark and is not a complete answer.  This study falls firmly under the category of nutritionism, ignoring all other reasons to consider organics.  

So when friends and clients ask what I think about this I point out the thoughts above and say that my choices are based on more than just the nutrients in the food.  It's about the choice for no sewage in the fields, no chemicals, more humane treatment of animals, what I believe is better tasting food, and especially my desire to limit my exposure to GM food.

1 comment:

Sam said...

I agree that organic is healthier because it stops toxins from getting into the environment. Just because something is "faster, packed with more vitamins" doesn't make it healthier. Just faster with more chemicals. I wish the news media would remember that they need to dig for ALL the information before presenting it is "fact"