Organic food has soared in popularity thanks to people taking an active interest in what they’re eating and the environment. Consumers are pushing back against conventional pesticide-heavy farming - first adopted by the agricultural industry in response to increasing food demands due to a booming population - in favour of food grown without chemicals. Others are dubious as to whether organic is actually better. So, let’s take a look!
What is the difference between organic and non-organic?
The term organic refers to food production methods. Organic farmers steer clear of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, hormones, GMOs and other chemicals. Instead, they rely on organic methods to grow their crops, such as using natural fertilisers like manure or their own compost.
Non-organic food is (you guessed it) grown using pesticides and other chemicals to control pests and improve plant growth. Additionally, most non-organic meat, milk and egg farmers use animal feed made of genetically modified (GM) crops. It’s worth noting that this feed has to be imported from abroad since growing genetically engineered crops is banned in the UK.
Is organic food healthier for us?
This question has sparked many a debate! While several studies have compared the health benefits of organic and non-organic foods, the results are mixed.
A 2014 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that organically produced crops (cereals, fruit and vegetables) contained up to 68% more antioxidants than non-organic.
The study found that eating the organic version of the same food was comparable to 1-2 extra portions of fruit and veg due to the higher level of antioxidants.
Organic plants must fend for themselves since they aren't protected by chemical sprays. When faced with an attack, many plants produce antioxidant compounds to fight against pests, which could be why organic food is antioxidant-rich.
However, some argue that these astounding results are more likely due to natural variation and production. In fact, a 2009 study went so far as to conclude there was “no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.” The study says eating a diet full of fruit and veg is healthy whether organic or not.
Nitrate is another compound to be aware of in food production. High levels of it can increase health risks for certain types of cancer and methemoglobinemia - an infant condition that affects their ability to carry oxygen.
Unsurprisingly, nitrate levels are generally lower in organically grown crops. In some cases, as much as 30% lower, according to the same 2014 study.
The most obvious and popular motive to opt for organic is to avoid chemical pesticides. And, for good reason.
Evidence suggests eating non-organic food increases your exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Studies have found that pesticide residues were four times more likely to be found in non-organic fruit and veg as well as a higher concentration of the toxic metal cadmium.
The study mentioned found levels of cadmium were 52% higher in non-organically grown crops compared to their organic counterparts. While higher levels of cadmium residue were found in conventionally grown produce, it’s important to note they were still well below safety limits.
Some experts, however, are worried about what happens to the body when it accumulates cadmium over time. Could it potentially cause harm? As it stands, evidence suggests that the risk of exposure to pesticide residue in foods is small and unlikely to be harmful.
We need more studies to look into this, so until then, as a precaution, you can thoroughly wash all of your non-organic fruit and veg before eating.
Organic doesn’t always equal healthy
Remember, organic doesn’t automatically mean it’s better for you.
Organic produce can still be used to create highly processed foods laced with sugar, salt and added fats. Just think of all the organic treats like chocolate, gummies, fudge, ice cream and crisps. They may be delicious but not nutrient-dense. An ‘everything in moderation’ approach is ideal for a balanced and healthy diet.
Okay, so is organic healthier for the planet?
Here, there isn’t much cause for debate as the evidence stacks up in organic's favour. Any practice aligned with nature and supporting biodiversity is bound to be healthier for the planet. Here are just some of the ways organic farming comes out on top.
Soil And Water Quality
Chemical pesticides work by killing weeds and pests. The issue here is that they strip the soil of its valuable nutrients forcing farmers to use synthetic fertilisers to help their plants grow, degrading the soil further, and the cycle continues. Pesticides can also linger for years or even decades after they are applied, continuing to affect soil health.
Soil degradation is a big problem in the UK. As well as reducing the soil quality the chemical runoff pollutes nearby rivers and waterways. Commonly used nitrogen fertilisers are the real kicker. Once they enter the water system, they can create ocean dead zones as they deprive the water of oxygen, killing fish and other aquatic life. By only using natural methods, organic farmers lower the risk of pollution, supporting cleaner waterways.
But, not all organic farms are equal.
Smaller-scale organic farmers often turn to natural fertilisers created on-site such as manure from their livestock and farm-made compost. Larger organic farms often need some outside help. They purchase fertilisers off-site rather than working within the farm to increase soil fertility. While it’s great they’re not resorting to synthetic alternatives, the production of fertilisers off-site typically generates more carbon emissions when you factor in production and transport.
Since 1970, the UK has lost almost half of its biodiversity. Yikes.
Intensive farming heavily reliant on pesticides has been identified as the main culprit behind the decline. The chemicals don’t just kill the nuisance pests like slugs and aphids that like to munch on crops, they also kill the other insects and animals crucial for maintaining a balanced ecosystem.
Organic farms are bursting with life! Instead of pesticides, organic farmers trust mother nature by relying on the whole ecosystem to keep pests under control. Beetles feed on aphids, birds snack on slugs, and abundant bees pollinate the crops.
You’ll often find insect hotels, wildflower margins, ponds and trees on organic farms as they encourage wildlife and preserve biodiversity.
But, organic is so expensive!
Yes, organic food can be more expensive for consumers - because it’s more labour-intensive. When you add on the costs of certification and naturally smaller yields, it’s easy to see why.
At Filling Good, we’re working hard to make better choices more affordable and accessible. That’s why the majority of our organic refill products are way cheaper than their supermarket counterparts. Plus, by choosing to refill and reuse containers, you're reducing plastic pollution. It’s a win-win!
Come visit our Maidenhead shop to browse our range of organic and plastic-free products. We look forward to seeing you.