Today it is becoming more and more commonplace to hear such terms as “non-GMO”, “organically grown”, or “natural” when concerning the food we eat.
We as consumers are choosing more and more of these alternatively grown or produced products over what can be described as “traditionally produced” products. But what is the actual difference between organic and non organic and why is this so important to understand as consumers?
The biggest trend in recent years has come from the organic food movement which provides a long list of different regulations and rules for farms to be successfully labeled as organic by the USDA.
These include the addition of and leaving out of specific farming practices, use of natural methods for pest control, and the requirement for organic methods of fertilizing, among others.
All in all a farm has to go through a 36 month transition period during which they have to take on the costs of growing organically but cannot officially label anything as organic and therefore being able to charge more.
This may seem unsustainable and unprofitable for a farm, but many have already switched over or are in the process of switching over because they recognize that our food landscape is changing. The share of the total market being organic is still only 4% of the total market, but the industry has seen double digit growth nearly every year since the 1990’s.
The Organic Trade Association reported Organic produce growing in revenue from $3.5 Billion a year in 1996 to $28.6 Billion in 2010, this is a huge spurt of growth in a short time, exemplified by the proliferation of grocery stores that focus solely on organic and all natural products.
So why are we as consumers switching so quickly to organic or at the least becoming more aware of alternatively grown foods?
The reasons are numerous for switching to organic produce, and they all have to do with the health of our environment, and a relatively new hyper awareness of what we put into our body. Pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides, and all the negative impacts that come along with their use are obvious. These include chemical runoffs, spills, improper handling, contaminated products, carcinogenic chemicals and unsustainable chemical production among others.
And these chemicals are ,more often than not,actually staying on the produce that we buy from the store. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2013 3,015 products were tested and two thirds of them contained traces of pesticides.
So from the perspective of minimizing exposure to these trace amounts of chemicals, the switch to organic is obvious. But along with this comes common misconceptions, the biggest one being that people assume the nutritional quality is better than non organic products. It makes sense when you think about the methods used in organic agriculture. These methods have a myriad of benefits to the environment and can absolutely have an impact on the actual taste and texture of the products being produced this way.
But alas! There is NO discernible difference in the amount of nutrients between one piece of produce from a big box grocery store and an organic store or local fresh market.
“On the basis of a systematic review of studies of satisfactory quality, there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs” ( American Society for Nutrition 2009.)
This was a study that analyzed over 50,000 relevant studies done over a 50 year period concerning the nutritional content of traditional and organic produce.
Outside of trace differences in amount of phosphorous or nitrogen, the actual nutrient content in organic compared to traditional is practically the same across the board.
This doesn’t mean that organically grown produce isn’t vital to the future of agriculture; it is. When looked at from a wider scope the benefits of organic are numerous, but if you think your getting more nutrients or a “healthier” apple, in reality your not.
But you are avoiding harmful chemicals in your food, supporting sustainability in agriculture, protecting the environment, and growing the sector of organic farming to be a force for change in our antiquated agricultural systems.
By: Stefan Babjak