A little unclear on exactly what benefits there are to choosing organic? Let's get into the nitty-gritty of exactly what qualifies some foods as organic - and why they're better for you and the planet.December 02, 2020 10:05 am
Research-based reasons to go organic
For some people, shopping organic is a health choice. For others, it’s environmental, and for others still, it’s an ethical commitment. But while we know, in a vague sense, that organic food is a positive thing, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why.
What’s more, there’s a lot of untrustworthy information floating about online which makes claims about the almost magical benefits of organic food. How can you sort fact from fiction?
At Erbology, our first port of call is always scientific research. So, we’ve done the hard work for you and scoured. the latest scientific studies on organic food. Our top findings are summarized below, so you can make an informed decision about the food you eat.
But first: what makes a food organic?
What does ‘organic’ actually mean?
‘Organic’ may seem like quite a nebulous concept, but when it comes to food it’s a term that is very strictly defined.
It comes down to what farmers can and can’t do when cultivating their crops or animals.
In essence, organic farming seeks to cultivate plants and animals as naturally as possible. So, farmers are free to use agricultural methods such as crop rotation, hand-weeding, using natural manure (from plants or animals) and also making use of biological pest control. This means using one species of animal to help control another.
In the US, organic farmers must make sure that the soil on which they grow their crops has been free of prohibited substances for three years. These substances include most manmade fertilizers or chemicals, pesticides or growth regulators, and they are not allowed to put additives into their livestock’s food. Genetic modifications are also expressly excluded from food labelled as organic.
In the US, organic foods are strictly labelled so you can understand the origin of their ingredients. Products made up of more than one ingredient must contain at least 95% organic ingredients to qualify. This is because some ingredients are not available in an organic form. One example of this is salt, which is a natural mineral resource and so can’t technically be classified as organic.
When shopping, look out for products which have the USDA organic seal. Products made outside the US may have a different seal, such as. the European organic stamp (which looks like a leaf) or the British Soil Association stamp. This stamp is present on all Erbology products and means that they have been checked and certified to be organic by this UK-based independent body.
So, now we know what to look for, why should we go organic?
Reason 1: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
You are probably familiar with the harmful carbon being released into our atmosphere as a result of various human activities. However, you may not know that 30% of harmful greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. In other words, the ways we eat are harming the atmosphere.
Organic farming helps this carbon absorb back into the soil, helping to reduce this figure.
Reason 2: Soil is life
The American writer and farmer Wendell Berry said: “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
In the same vein, the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) studied the soil for nine years.(1) They concluded that conventional farming led to dead soil. Overuse of chemical pesticides and fertilizers reduces the biodiversity of agricultural land, which has grave consequences for the environment and for future agriculture.
On organically farmed soil, however, the soil scientist Dr. Elaine Ingham found many more beneficial microorganisms, making it more genuinely alive.(2)(3) This also means that the fertility of the soil is maintained after the crops are harvested.
Reason 3: Organic has healing antioxidants
Free radicals – tiny, unstable molecules caused by your normal metabolic processes – cause oxidative stress. This term refers to cell damage caused when your cells contain more free radicals than they can easily neutralize. Oxidative stress is linked to heart disease, ageing, and many types of cancer.
Chemicals accelerate the human body’s production of free radicals.
A plant-based diet can help combat oxidative stress because fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants that can fight free radicals. Organic food has more antioxidants such as polyphenols, flavonols, and anthocynanins.
In short, organic food has more potential to help your body combat oxidative damage.(3)
Reason 4: Go au naturel
When you see the word ‘organic’ on a food product, it means you’re eating food that has been grown as naturally as possible. Natural substances, or even living creatures, defend these crops and animals from disease and pests. Fewer processes are involved in their cultivation, and unnecessary ‘tampering’ is eliminated.
This means that you might end up with an apple that is a bit wonky, or a glut of differently sized potatoes, but these foods are closer to their natural state than mass-farmed varieties. They’re beautifully imperfect, closer to the way Mother Earth intended them to be!
No GM (genetically modified) or antibiotics are used to artificially stimulate the growth or health of your food. That, in turn, means you’re not consuming these things with every bite of that apple.
Reason 5: Organic allows more to flourish on farmland
Sustainability is woven into the ethos of organic farming, and is crucial to the way that organic producers manage their land.
There are more wild animals on organic farmland. There is less interference with the natural food chain and local ecosystem. allowing more species to thrive. From insects and microorganisms in the soil, to the precious honey bee, to larger wildlife such as birds and mammals, biodiversity is critical to living sustainably. While commercial farming tends to damage their numbers, organic farming works around these creatures or even benefits from their presence.
"When you see the word 'organic' on a food product, it means you're eating food that has been grown as naturally as possible."
Reason 6: Pesticides are the true pests
In trying to eradicate pesky things from our food, we may have created something far more harmful.
Many chemicals protect crops and animals on conventional farms, but the residue remains in and on the food you eat.
For instance, the heavy metal cadmium is one of the most poisonous chemicals in the world. Yet, it is widely used in conventional farming. In addition, scientists have found that cadmium can cause cancer.(4)
Organic farming uses no pesticides, instead relying on natural methods such as biological pest control. One common example of this is introducing ladybirds to plants being nibbled on by aphids. The ladybirds, who have a taste for aphids, help to bring down their numbers down naturally, without the need for chemicals.
Reason 7: The roots of health
Western medicine tends to treat the symptoms of bad lifestyle and not the root causes. The same is true for conventional farming, where the philosophy is to treat crop pests and diseases reactively by applying chemical treatments. But what if we looked for the root cause of their health instead?
If we take the focus off increasing productivity, and instead allow crops to grow naturally, we eliminate much of the need for these added chemicals. And removing them from our diet is certainly a good thing for our health.
Left on their own, natural environmental balances can get us closer to true health. Organic farming allows that to happen more.(5) So, if you’re looking to improve your own sense of wellbeing, go natural. And, to go natural: go organic.
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