In my previous article I brought up the simple question, “Are organically produced products healthier for you than traditional products in regards to nutritional quality?”
And the simple answer was, not exactly, but the evidence and the amount of new data has proven some important factors.
The University of Newcastle in England came out with a study in 2014 that choosing organically produced fruit and vegetables gives the consumer 18-69% more antioxidants.
Antioxidants have been linked to a decreased risk in cancer, improved immune system, and improved overall health.
Antioxidants are but one aspect of a piece of produce’s overall health content, this doesn’t take into account all the other nutritional factors. Yet the fact that antioxidants are even slightly elevated is reason enough to implement more organic food into our diets. Antioxidants have been linked to countless health benefits including cancer fighting attributes.
So what are the other benefits to producing organically and why is it better for our overall health and environment?
It all comes down to Chemicals. That’s right chemicals, the same stuff we use everyday in a wide variety of applications from plastics to household cleaners to the medical field. In agriculture these chemicals are used to destroy pests ( pesticides, insecticides, fungicides etc.) and increase yield ( nitrogen, phosphorous, trace elements, etc.) We can generally control our exposure to these chemicals, for example if you have bleach, ammonia, and bug spray your probably not gonna put a little dash in your food, I hope not at least.
But one place it is becoming harder and harder to control the introduction of harmful chemicals to our body is in our food that we consume on a daily basis. Nationwide spinach food poisoning, and issues at Chipotle bring up questions about food safety from the farm to the fork but how that food is actually grown is of equal or greater concern.
According to the Environmental Working Group two thirds of a random sample of 3,015 tested products contained pesticide residue. When I think of pesticides I think of crop dusting, massive spraying operations and things like DDT and Agent Orange, two things that have extremely negative connotations. And I don’t know about you, but this really shocked me and made me think much differently about all the produce that I’ve consumed over the years.
Before you run to the fridge and burn all your produce, let’s take a step back and look at this claim juxtaposed with some more specific pertaining facts.
Recent scientific research has tried to calm our nerves about all these pesticides in and on our food. According to Joseph Schwarcz, director of the Office for Science and Society at McGill University in Montreal, “this trace pesticide residue shouldn’t be equated with risk”, even though in larger amounts these chemical pesticides pose clear dangers to human beings. In reality, the amount needed to do serious immediate harm does not exist in one place concerning our fruit and vegetables, but long term minute exposure to these chemicals on a daily basis can absolutely be harmful.
A similar study done by two food scientists from UC Davis found that swapping out organic for traditional produce didn’t give any discernible health benefit to the subjects consuming them. Published in the Journal of Toxicology , the scientists concluded that substituting organic versions of the “Dirty Dozen” “…did not give any discernible health benefit.”
So with this in mind let’s return to the original question of why organics are important and still vital to our collective human and environmental health for the foreseeable future? To answer this question we have to look at the bigger picture.
The US uses 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides annually and these eventually make it into our bodies, in fact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are traces of 29 different pesticides in the average American’s body.
The use of pesticides also has an effect on our environment in a big way. The application of pesticides and herbicides, among others, is one reason for the detrimental effect on our health from carcinogens and on our overall environment. These chemicals are sprayed over huge fields and over 98% of insecticides and 95% of herbicides never actually make it to the target species.
Instead the chemicals runoff and affect surrounding environments, places where people live, aquatic environments, and the wanton usage of these chemicals actually makes the pests more resistant to the chemicals meant to destroy them. We in turn develop even stronger more caustic chemicals which makes the chance of it affecting our bodies even greater.
Then there is the impact it has on the people who are actually working in the fields to make sure we have food on our table. According to Earth Justice, an environmental advocacy group, 10,000-20,000 pesticide poisonings occur every year among workers that are exposed to these chemicals during harvesting, planting, and even while living next to the fields. So even if we don’t’ have to worry about “trace amounts” of chemicals in our own food when we buy it at the store, there are still thousands of workers being exposed to these dangerous substances everyday.
As of the end of September of 2015 the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has finally been updated. This new standard includes real protections for workers handling pesticides to increase their knowledge about the chemicals and ensure their safe application while reducing their overall exposure. A hopeful new start to our public policy concerning these chemicals and the workers who use them.
Even with advanced technology concerning many aspects of pesticide use and the positive developments with workers, the idea that we must use chemicals in our food system is quickly losing credibility. Furthermore consumer habits are changing as the organic industry continues to grow and more people are becoming aware of the processes that go into producing our food.
Even the claim that trace amounts of these chemicals are “okay” and “safe” is losing credibility. Why do we have to be okay with any sorts of chemicals making it into our food? I simply say no thank you. Can we please grow food smarter, safer, and more efficiently while using a combination of new and ancient agricultural methods tried and true for thousands of years?
Yes we absolutely can, and as the obvious benefits of organic, non-GMO, and pesticide free products reach a wider audience, demand will increase along with supply, and the price will slowly start to drop. This drop in price will allow all people of all means to have access to clean, safely made, and quality produce. As we slowly make the switch overall environmental, societal, and human health will improve a and will help us move into a sustainable, non chemical dependent agricultural future.