Myths About Organic Food

Introduction to Organic Foods

Foods produced by organic farming methods that do not include the use of synthetic chemicals are known as organic foods.  They are termed “organic” based on the way they are grown (Duram, 2019). However, organic food production not only restricts the use of particular fertilizers, synthetic food additives, and pesticides but also lacks the processing procedures such as irradiation. Globally, the standards of organic farming vary; however, the primary focus remains the same, i.e., promoting ecological balance through the cycling of resources as well as the preservation of biodiversity (Pesticides in Organic Farming, 2014).

Surveys show that in recent years, more than half of U.S. individuals have bought food products that were labeled organic. Around 70% of these organically grown products purchased by people included vegetables and fruits. Based on the standards in which they are grown, the pricing of organic foods was higher in comparison to non-organic food (Stöppler, 2016).

Need for Organic Farming Methods

The question arises as to why people prefer organic food over non-organic food. Is there a need to grow organic food? One of the major perspectives associated with organic food is the environmental one. Organic food brings a positive impact on the ecosystem, unlike conventional farming methods where fertilization, overproduction, and use of pesticides and herbicides can affect negatively. Also, these factors can have adverse effects on groundwater, soil, and biodiversity, in particular. These problems may also agitate human health as well as the environmental concerns, which have necessitated the need for organic farming, which can help to avoid or at least reduce the risk of these issues.

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Why Organic is Better Than Conventional Food Products?

Mainly, some people claimed that organic food comes with improved safety and is good for human health. This claim is based on the use of chemicals, especially pesticides, used during the growth and processing of food. Food contaminated with pesticide residues can result in toxicity and associated adverse health effects.  Thus, organic food is more likely to have reduced pesticide residue that aids in improving safety (Bourn & Prescott, 2010).

Furthermore, the organic food companies assert that organic is a tastier as well as a healthier option to consider. Also, it brings in an opportunity to purchase food that has increased nutritional value.  Even though organic is more expensive than conventional food, the organic food industry has succeeded in convincing the public (Rosen, 2010).

Benefits of Organic Foods

Rich in Nutrients

The increased hype of organic foods is due to its high nutritional value. Various studies show that organic foods have high levels of antioxidants, vitamin C, zinc, iron, and various other micronutrients (Hunter et al., 2011). Antioxidants are found as high as 69% in these foods. These antioxidants are linked to reduced risk diseases like neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers. (Barański et al., 2014). According to a study, 52% higher levels of vitamin C and 58% higher antioxidants levels were found in corn and berries that were grown organically (Asami et al., 2003).

Lower Nitrates and Cadmium Levels

An elevated level of nitrates is found to increase the risk of particular types of cancer and is also linked to a disease called methemoglobinemia, which is a condition that affects the ability to carry oxygen in infants (Williams, 2002). Moreover, cadmium is an extremely toxic metal found to cause harm if it accumulates in the human body, although it can be reduced if food is washed and cooked properly, yet the risk remains (Kro et al., 2000). In order to reduce health risks, organically grown crops are found to have 30% fewer nitrates and 48% lower cadmium levels in them (Huber et al., 2011) (Barański et al., 2014).

Less Pesticide Residue & Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Organically produced food comes with additional benefits, i.e., less pesticide residue. It was found that organic crops have four times less pesticide residue compared to conventional crops. Also, these crops have relatively decreased levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria because farming of these crops does not use antibiotics in animals (Kilonzo-Nthenge et al., 2015).

Myths About Organic Food

Is organic really a better option, or are these just the myths? Some of the myths about organic foods are:

No Exposure of Organic Food to Pesticides

This isn’t true. Although organic foods do not involve the use of synthetic pesticides or herbicides, their farming requires “natural” pesticides. Non-organic herbicides are being used in organic agriculture. And 20 of such chemicals have been approved by the U.S. Organic Standards in the growth of these crops.  It is found that in comparison to conventional farming, organic farming uses double the amount of copper and sulfur organic fungicides (Locke, 2018). The difference comes with the origin of pesticides, not the use of pesticides. Pesticides are commonly used in organic farming as well, but unlike conventional farming, pesticides originate from natural resources. Besides, ‘natural’ does not necessarily mean ‘safe’ as it is presumed. Many of the toxins present in our foods are natural, although it does not make them insignificant of buying because the hazard levels are checked for all kinds of foods (Science, 2019).

Organic Food is Safe and Healthy

It is believed that organic farming methods that use GMO-free chemicals are safer and healthier to consume. Studies from around the world show that no strong evidence about the national value of organic foods has been found. The levels of over 15 different nutrients, including calcium, carotene, and vitamin C, showed no difference in both, although conventional crops reported an increased level of nitrates, and organic foods had elevated phosphorus levels. However, the level of overall fat was found to increase in organic foods (Dangour et al., 2010).

Moreover, the alarming news is that not all natural pesticides used in the growth and processing of organic crops are safe, and ‘natural’ does not necessarily mean ‘safe’ as it is presumed. Many of the toxins present in our foods are natural, although it does not make them insignificant of buying because the hazard levels are checked for all kinds of foods (Science, 2019). For example, rotenone is an organic pesticide that’s been used in the U.S. for years. A study shows that even though rotenone is produced naturally, it is found to cause symptoms like Parkinson’s disease in rats. Thus, it can be said with complete surety that organic is safe to use (Caboni et al., 2004).

Organic Farming is Best for the Environment

As cliché as it may sound, organic farming isn’t all eco-friendly, although it may be better than conventional farming. But to call it super-good for the environment would just be an overstatement as the use of chemicals and pesticides still exists in organic farms. Organic farmers use their own set of chemicals that are still damaging to the environment (Ntzani, Ntritsos G, Evangelou, & Tzoulaki, 2013) while refusing the use of improved technologies that could eliminate their use completely. Moreover, they dispel the concept of GMOs, which can actually have a positive impact on the environment. For example, scientists developed a virus-resistant engineered potato variety that could prevent the wastage of African harvests that can feed millions of people across Africa (Qaim, 1999). However, this was not accepted by the organic farmers for the sole reason that they were GMOs. Research has been conducted to compare the effect of organic and conventional farming/foods on the environment, and not much difference has been found, especially in the bioavailability of foods (Stracke et al., 2010). Hence, organic farming isn’t perfectly environment-friendly, but it still has advantages over conventional farming and is better for soil properties (Urkurkar, Chitale, & Tiwari, 2010).

Organic Foods Don’t Taste Good

Two of the most common myths associated with the taste of organic foods is that either they don’t taste good, or they taste better than nonconventional foods. Consumers are concerned about paying more for good reasons, and the taste of organic food isn’t compromised. Different analytical studies have been conducted to substantiate the claims of organic food to be better in taste and more nutritional value for the costumers (Fillion et al., 2001). It was found that these broad claims cannot be generalized about all foods as people find the taste of some conventional foods better than their organic counterparts and vice versa (Fillion & Arazi, 2002). This is purely a subjective matter, and many tests have resulted in people being unable to differentiate between the taste of organic and conventional foods; therefore, generalizing the claims of worse taste aren’t justified (Chait, 2019).

Organic Food is Always Expensive

There is some truth to this myth, but it isn’t always the case. Some organic products may be pricier, but many of them are affordable, and some may even cost less than the conventional ones. Moreover, the hidden costs of health risks associated with conventional foods make it justified for organic foods to be a little higher in cost (Oaklander, 2016). Various reasons for the increased prices of organic food are the prolonged time requirements, the cost of organic certifications, small-scale marketing, limited demand, specific requirements for land, and higher standards for animal welfare, making the overall production more expensive (Parnes, 2002).

An Organic Label Means 100% Organic

For a product to be qualified as ‘organic,’ most of the ingredients should be organic according to the rules of USDA. The minimum requirement for this qualification was set to be 70-80%. Therefore, it does not mean any product is 100% organic if it has a label of organic food on it. While buying food products, you need to read the labels more carefully to check that all the ingredients are organic if you want to have 100% organic food (Kanuckel, 2019).

All or None

The biggest myth revolving around organic food consumption is that it’s either all or none, meaning you have to buy all organic to reap the benefits, but this is far from the truth. It’s not all black and white, as it has been portrayed on various platforms. Until organic farming proves to be on par with conventional farming in terms of providing sufficient food for the world, it cannot be considered the only way to go further (Chait, 2019).

Moreover, ‘organics is just a hype’ does not justify the facts, as organic foods have many benefits over conventional foods, not only in terms of health and nutritional value, but also have fewer side effects. It is said you should buy organic foods when you have access to them and don’t label them to be something different as there is no clear boundary to choose between one method of farming over the other, so we might as well reap the benefits of both (Folk, 2017).

References

Barański et al., M. (2014). Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. The British Journal of Nutrition, 112(5):794-811.

Bourn, D., & Prescott, J. (2010). Qualities, and Food Safety of Organically and Conventionally Produced Foods. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 42 (1): 1–34.

Caboni et al., P. (2004). Rotenone, Deguelin, Their Metabolites, and the Rat Model of Parkinson’s Disease. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 17 (11):1540-1548.

Chait, J. (2019, Nov. 20). Top Myths About Organic Food.

Dangour et al., A. D. (2010). Nutrition-related health effects of organic foods: a systematic review. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 92 (1): 203–210.

Duram, L. A. (2019). Organic food. Encyclopaedia Britannica .

Fillion et al. (2001). Organic Food and the Consumer. Part I. Does Organic Food Taste Better. Leatherhead, Surrey: Leatherhead Food RA Research Reports No. 778.

Fillion, L., & Arazi, S. (2002). Emerald Article: Does organic food taste better? A claim substantiation. Nutrition & Food Science, 153 – 157.

 

Huber et al., M. (2011). Organic food and impact on human health: Assessing the status quo and prospects of research. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, 58 (3–4): 103-109.

Hunter et al., D. (2011). Evaluation of the Micronutrient Composition of Plant Foods Produced by Organic and Conventional Agricultural Methods. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 51: 571-582.

Kanuckel, A. (2019). 5 Myths About Organic Food You Might Not Know. Retrieved from Farmers Almanac: https://www.farmersalmanac.com/organic-food-myths-35253

Kilonzo-Nthenge et al., A. (2015). Occurrence and antimicrobial resistance of enterococci isolated from organic and conventional retail chicken. Journal of Food Protection, 78(4):760-6.

Kro et al., W. J. (2000). Reduction of pesticide residues on produce by rinsing. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 48(10):4666-70.

Locke, R. (2018). 10 Myths About Organic Food Debunked. Life Hack.

Ntzani, E. E., Ntritsos G, C. M., Evangelou, E., & Tzoulaki, I. (2013). Literature review on epidemiological studies linking exposure to pesticides and health effects. EFSA.

 

Parnes, R. B. (2002, Aug 1). How Organic Food Works. Retrieved from Science- How stuff works.

(2014). Pesticides in Organic Farming. University of California, Berkeley.

Qaim, M. (1999). The Economic Effects of Genetically Modified Orphan Commodities: Projections for Sweetpotato in Kenya. Bonn: The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). Ithaca, New York.

Rosen, J. D. (2010). A Review of the Nutrition Claims Made by Proponents of Organic Food. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 9 (3): 270-277.

Science, F. b. (2019, May 25). Three Myths About Organic Food. Retrieved from Medium | Food.

(2015). Should you go organic? Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.

Stöppler, M. C. (2016). What Is the Definition of Organic Food? MedicineNet.

Stracke, B., Rüfer, C., Bub, A., Seifert, S., Weibel, F., Kunz, C., & Watzl, B. (2010). No effect of the farming system (organic/conventional) on the bioavailability of apple (Malus Domestica Bork., cultivar Golden Delicious) polyphenols in healthy men: a comparative study. Eur J Nutr, 301-310.

Urkurkar, J. S., Chitale, S., & Tiwari, A. (2010). Effect of organic v/s chemical nutrient packages on productivity, economics, and physical status of soil in rice (Oryza sativa)-Potato (Solanum tuberosum) cropping system in Chhattisgarh. Indian Journal of Agronomy, 6-10.

Williams, C. M. (2002). Nutritional quality of organic food: shades of grey or shades of green? Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 61(1):19-24.

 

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