Last Monday as we wandered around the streets of Naples after lunch, we noticed yet anther green, organic and bio food shop. We also noted the layout and the colors which were mainly green, of course. We commented on the pricey food and then got to wondering whether this organic food is healthier and if it really protects the environment. When I got home, I did some research and this is what I found.
Here are the top 10 myths about organic food that are widely believed.
1. Organic farming protects wildlife
You hear people saying it all the time. Yes, organic food does not use pesticides or herbicides therefore it is not damaging the soil or wildlife. The only problem is that this type of farming needs lots of land which is already scarce. We would have to cut down 10 million square miles of forest if the world decided to adopt organic food globally. The fact is that modern farming has actually saved about 15 million square miles of wildlife habitat.
2. Organic farming will save the world from hunger
If we think that this type of farming will save us from hunger, we should think again. Yes, it is true that it may be better to avoid pesticides and herbicides in an ideal world. But reducing food production will only make less food available for the hungry people in this world. It costs three times as much as traditionally produced food. This is a controversial topic. Reading Denis Avery’s book Saving The Planet With Pesticides and Plastic on the benefits of high-yield farming is an eye opener.
3. Organic farming never uses pesticides
The fact is that organic farmers also use pesticides and fungicides so you cannot get away from that. Did you know that there are 20 chemicals which are approved by the US Organic Standards and these are used all the time in organic food production? The alarming thing is that these are not so effective as the synthetic ones used in conventional farming. So, it may well be that organic food contains more chemicals than is really necessary. Some estimates say that organic farming uses double the amount of copper and sulphur organic fungicides than conventional farming!
4. Organic food is more nutritious
The bad news is that this is not true at all. Various studies have shown that organic corn may have more flavonioids than normal corn. But there are lots of studies that show there is no nutritional advantage in eating organic food. The sad fact is that nutritional value really depends on the shelf life of vegetables. It may be organic but if the spinach has been in the store for a week, then it has lost 50% of its valuable foliate content.
5. Organic food is safer
Many people think that organic always means safer and healthier. Unfortunately, this is not always true. Let us take an infamous organic pesticide called rotenone. Yes, it is organic because it is extracted from the roots and stems of subtropical plants. The only problem is that researchers found that it killed off the mitochondria which are like energy powerhouses for our cells. It was also linked to possibly causing Parkinson’s disease. This is just one example, but overall, lots of plants have toxic mixes of their own bacteria and fungi. Just because they do not have chemical name which is impossible to pronounce does not necessarily mean they’re totally safe for us.
6. Organic farming is always ecological
This may be true in a few cases but look how statistics and labels have been manipulated to satisfy this thirst for organic ingredients. Let us take the case of organic milk. There has been such a demand that giant food companies who boast that they are producing organic milk actually import the ingredients to make up the shortfall. How ecological is that and who is controlling the source, quality, purity, and safety of these imported ingredients?
7. Organic food is cleaner
Whether the food is grown organically or not, it is still at risk of containing the deadly E.coli bacteria which is very difficult to treat with antibiotics now. People foolishly think that organic food is somewhat safer from all these germs. In fact, they are not and they need to be washed just as vigorously as vegetables which have been produced on a high-yield farming unit. In a ten year period from 1999-2001, over 10,000 people suffered food poisoning from E.coli infected food and organic foods were to blame in many of these cases.
8. Organic labels are a guarantee of quality
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has started an organic certification program (the USDA Organic Label) which helps producers meet the high standards when they use this seal. But the label needs to be treated with a certain caution and scepticism as pointed out by Peter Laufer in his book, Organic: A Journalist’s Quest to Discover the Truth Behind Food Labeling. Investigating the origin of certain organic foods was extremely difficult, Laufer found.
9. Organic food products are carfully inspected
Yes, organic farms, staff, transportation and other relevant production processes are inspected and their goods are then certified. The only problem here is that the process is often poorly carried out and there are certifiers who are much less rigorous and less expensive to hire. There are many conflicts of interest so there is no 100% guarantee that every producer of organic cereal or apple you buy has been properly inspected. Organic accreditation by the USDA is plagued by competing certifying agents.
10. Organic food demand is growing
There are powerful lobbies at work which claim that the demand for organic food is growing at an exponential rate. In the UK, only 1 percent of food sold there can be considered as organic. The Soil Association in the UK is claiming that it is pursuing sustainable development. However, many claim that it is nothing more than a trading group. Maybe there is a conflict of interests here.
It is impossible to say whether organic food is automatically safer and more nutritious than the conventional food produced on farms. It is a minefield. As we have seen, many myths abound and there are many false claims made. There’s nothing inherently wrong with organic, but you need to take that label with a grain of salt, or two!
Featured photo credit: Take Back Your Health Conference Los Angeles 2015/Flickr via flickr.com