Organic food is gaining in popularity and it is increasingly more accessible but, what is organic food?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines organic as:
"Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony ... The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people."
There are several benefits and downsides of organically produced food. Here I have listed a few to help you.
Organic foods are healthier compared to conventional ones. For fruits and vegetables, these differences are minimal but for animal products, the differences are larger. Organically grown animals did not receive antibiotics or growth hormones for increased meat or dairy production. As these animals did not receive these chemicals, they will not accumulate in their bodies and will never end up on your plate.
Conventionally grown produce are known for their extensive use of fertilizer and pesticides. These are not all used on the plant or taken up by their root system. Some of these artificial fertilizers and pesticides end up leaking into the soil and ending up in groundwater.
Organically grown produce has none of these problems as only organic fertilizer and pesticides are allowed which helps to protect the environment.
Note that the pesticides and fertilizers used within the EU are heavily regulated and have strict protocols making them less harmful compared to fertilizer and pesticides that are still allowed in other places in the world.
Organic food is often produced locally which not only helps you support the local farmer, it also helps you reduce your carbon footprint as your food does not have to travel around the world.
Organic food is more expensive. This is due to the relatively high demand in organic produce while the yield is much lower compared to conventional crops. Organic produce can not be harvested and stored in the same place as conventional produce. This increases the costs and labor for the farmer and therefore the cost for the consumer.
Organically raised animals require more space and more expensive organic food. They are also on the farm longer (time is money) as they don’t receive growth hormones to speed up their growth.
It is not more healthy compared to conventional fruits and vegetables. Scientific studies show that there are only a few nutrients (phosphorus and total polyphenols) that show a significant difference. In the case of bacterial contamination, the outcome is surprising. The prevalence of E.coli is higher in organic produce compared to conventional produce, 7%, and 6% respectively. This may have something to do with the use of manure as fertilizer.
Organic fruit and vegetables have a shorter shelf life. Organic fruits and vegetables spoil faster than conventional ones because they are not treated with waxes and other preservatives which are supposed to keep them fresh longer.
Organic produce depletes the soil. These fruits and vegetables have the same nutrient value compared to conventional ones while they receive no fertilizer. These nutrients need to come from somewhere. In the case of organic produce, it is the soil. Rainwater and organic fertilizer can provide for some of the nutrients but not all. Soils that grow organic produce require crop rotation increasing the costs for the farmer and in the end the consumer.
I hope this list helps you make a decision whether or not organically produced food is for you.