Are Organic Foods All They Are Hyped Up To Be: An Overview Of The Organic Food Industry Today, with cancer and obesity cases increasing quickly, people are turning their attention to the foods they are consuming. Such diets as the vegan, vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, paleo, raw, and locavore are becoming more and more popular. The one thing these diets all have in common is the belief that organic foods are better than conventional foods. Similar to conventional foods, organic foods contain chemicals and toxic bacteria, emit more greenhouse gases, and are not sustainable.
The chemicals in organic foods cause harm to people and the environment. Furthermore, organic foods travel long distances, producing larger amounts of greenhouse gases and changing the nutritional content of the food. Organic foods also use more land and produces less food. Though there is much hype about eating organic produce, consumers may want to weigh out their options. Most people believe organic foods are better for you and the environment because they do not use chemicals.
For instance, The USDA website states that organic foods are foods that are produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients; bioengineering; sewage sludge; or ionizing radiation (USDA). The truth is organic foods claim to be chemical-free except the organic pesticides they are allowed to use are so dangerous they have been “grandfathered” with current regulations and are not required to undergo strict modern safety tests. For example, organic farmers are allowed to use copper to treat fungal diseases on their farmland crops.
Copper is not biodegradable and stays in the soil forever and is toxic in excessive amounts to the human body (Johnston). Another example is in India, who is a large manufacturer and exporter of organic foods to the United States. It has recently been estimated that 75% of India’s surface water is contaminated by human and agricultural wastes (Michael). Organic foods can be just as harmful to humans and our environment. There is also debate whether ingesting harmful chemicals, which are sprayed during conventional farming methods in order to kill other living organisms, are toxic to the human body.
Because organic foods do not use fungicides and such, they are also frequently contaminated with bacteria and naturally occurring toxins that are harmful for human digestion (Miller). Studies have been performed to test the harmful effects to humans from organic chemicals. A recent study released by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of 110 people and 358 matched controls showed two organic pesticides commonly used today, rotenone and paraquat, are linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease in humans. Use of either of these pesticides makes people 2. times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. Rotenone prevents the mitochondria from making necessary energy within cells. Similarly, paraquat produces excessive harmful oxygen by-products that are harmful to cellular structures (NIH). Furthermore, A 2007 Study of Use of Products and Exposure-Related Behavior (SUPERB) surveyed 364 children between ages two and five in order to compare toxin consumption and cancer risk factors. Research found all children examined had excessive amounts of arsenic, dieldrin, DDE and dioxins, all known to cause cancer.
In addition, over 95% of preschool children had unacceptable amounts of acrylamide; a cooking byproduct found in potato and tortilla chips, also know to cause cancer (University of California). With so many pesticides and toxins, organic or not, proving to be harmful to the human race, it is difficult to understand what the best options are. Research concludes all chemicals, natural or synthetic, are damaging to the human body and the environment. So the question remains, is it better for people to ingest organic and synthetic chemicals or harmful bacteria and toxins?
Organic foods travel long distances and may be more damaging to the earth. Rich Pirog, the associate director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, states that food travels 1,500 miles on average from farm to consumer, giving birth to the term “food miles”(DeWeerdt). Priog’s team concluded that conventional food distribution systems used four to 17 times more fuel and emitted five to 17 times more CO2 than the local and regional systems. However, Priog mentions that food miles are a good measure of how far food has traveled.
But they’re not a very good measure of the food’s environmental impact (DeWeerdt). For instance, heated greenhouse tomatoes in Britain use up to 100 times more energy than those produced in fields in Africa (Johnston). Another example is our country’s largest retailer for organic foods, Whole Foods. They actually purchase most of their products from China and only mention it in small fine print on the back of the products. Upon choosing your produce, it is helpful to check the label to identify the food miles accumulated.
Media and advertisements lead people to believe organic produce has a greater nutritional value than conventional foods. The USDA website makes no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food (USDA/Miller). Likewise, the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency reported that there is no proof organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown varieties (Taverene). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the organic food industry.
Their standards have recently been scrutinized for allowing minimal amounts of approved chemicals. The EPA suggests the minimal traces of dangerous chemicals found in organic or conventional foods are not harmful to humans. However, studies report children and elderly are at the greatest risk of the damaging effects from chemicals. Charles Benbrook, previously a chief scientist for the Organic Center, states that the best benefits of organic foods are for children, pregnant women, and elderly who all tend to have weakened immune systems.
Furthermore, he also reports studies that have followed pesticide levels in pregnant women’s blood and found their children to score four to seven percent lower on IQ tests compared to their classmates (Chang). Organic foods are a wise choice for certain populations. Most people choose organic products believing they are sustainable. Organic farms yield 20-50% less produce compared to conventional farms, making organic farming a less efficient use of land. For example, organic potatoes use less in terms of fertilizer production and/or energy, but require more fossil fuel for plowing.
For example, a hectare of conventionally farmed land produces 2. 5 times more potatoes than an organic one. Subsequently, if only organic foods were available, half the current human population would starve to death (Taverene). Orgainc foods tend to cost more than conventional foods. Although organic food yields are less, prices are as much as triple the cost of conventional foods (Taverene). This is due to the greater amounts of labor involved with organic farming procedures. Organic farmers are also held legally responsible for cross-contamination by genetically engineered foods, which in turns raises costs of organic produce.
Organic farming uses fewer chemicals, which in turn promotes greater farmland biodiversity. According to the Organic Trade Association, organic fields also require less irrigation, reduce pollutants in ground water and create richer soils that aid plant growth while reducing erosion. Organic methods also minimize pesticides that can end up in your drinking glass. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports various cities in the United States to have unsafe levels of tap water consistently for weeks at a time (DeWeerdt). Some studies show no benefit to people consuming organic foods.
Although high doses of pesticide cause cancers and birth defects, there is no evidence proving the miniscule amounts of chemicals found in conventional foods are damaging to human health. Some studies released show cancer occurrences among farmers, who are often exposed to relatively high levels of these chemicals, are no more frequent than in other occupations. Furthermore, during the last fifty years, during a time when synthetic chemicals became the industry standard for food production, the average life expectancy has increased by over seven years (Chang). Organic foods claim to have more nutritional content than conventional foods.
However, every fruit and vegetable has differing nutritional composition, which depends on a wide variety of factors including but not limited to growing conditions and season, fertilizer administration, and means of crop protection (i. e. , herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, etc. ) Food products from animal sources also differ in nutritional contents depending on such factors as age, breed and feeding routine of the animal. Furthermore, the nutritional compositions of raw foods increase during processing, transportation, storage, and cooking before consumption (DeWeerdt).
Locally grown food decreases the transportation period, resulting in less carbon emissions to the environment and less oxidization to the produce, therefore providing better nutritional content (Chang). Furthermore, organic food usually tastes better, contains no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides, which are known to cause cancer, and are more often locally grown. Furthermore, the USDA describes organic food as, food produced by farmers who promote the use of renewable resources and the conservation of water and soil to improve the quality of the environment for future generations (USDA).
Organic foods are not always better than conventional foods. It must be considered the bacteria and toxins remaining on organic produce, the environmental effects and chemical additions in order to make an adequate decision of what type of produce to purchase. After studying the USDA food pyramid logo, it is apparent that the federal government encourages consuming more fruits, vegetables, and grains without any evaluation of the current farming procedures that manufacture these foods. The food pyramid also suggests an apple is an apple and that we should be eating more apples and less processed foods, sugars and fats. (Michael)
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