I get that question a lot, and I answer, “Absolutely.”
As Americans become more aware of food allergies and food safety, new terms have become mainstream: gluten-free, vegan, going organic, and more. We all want to know what’s healthiest, what’s dangerous, and how we can provide the best food for our families. But the marketplace sends contradictory messages, so we often cannot sift truth from spin.
In my work with my nonprofit Connecting City to Farm, I have researched the benefits of organic foods. As a result, I have complete confidence in the safety and environmental sustainability of non-organic food and fiber. There was a time that I made many assumptions about organic produce based on savvy marketing that has elevated Certified Organic products as a type of super brand. Here are six of those assumptions and what I discovered that has brought relief to me and my family budget.
#1 Organic Is Healthier
I had assumed that organic products are healthier, but I learned that after many independent scientific studies, no nutritional differences have been found between organic and non-organic foods. Since it’s not healthier or better for me, that means I couldn’t be poisoning myself or my kids if we eat non-organic produce. Relief.
#2 Organic Is Better For The Environment
I had assumed that organic farming was better for the environment, but I learned that it is actually much more demanding on our natural resources like water, land and climate. Because organic farmers are limited in the kinds of nutrient management practices they can use based on the USDA’s thirty-year-old “certified organic” regulations, the yields in organic fields are significantly lower. As a result, more acreage is required to produce the same amount of yield that a conventional farmer can produce. This unnecessarily removes chunks of prairies, forests, and wetlands from natural habitation. More water is required because the weeds are competing with the crops. Tilling is a common practice to try to reduce these weeds, but scientists now know that breaking up the soil is a major way Green House Gases are released into the atmosphere. Additionally, more fuel is burned as a result of the increased number of passes tractors have to make over each field. Armed with modern scientific discoveries and the freedom to use a broader repertoire of farming practices, conventional farming is more sustainable for the environment. Since these practices are more eco-friendly, I have confidence to purchase non-organic. Relief.
I had assumed that the Certified Organic label was an indication about the actual food that I consumed, but I learned that it’s really just a label that indicates what type of farming practices are employed. Again, in order to sell products under the Certified Organic label, farms must adhere to regulations set 30 years ago by the USDA. Science, medicine, technology, transportation and so many other industries reflect ever-changing improvements, and conventional farmers do, too. Their food is safe and their practices are sustainable. Since organic standards don’t truly reflect the nutritional value of the labeled food, that means it’s just extra background information that shouldn’t necessarily influence my decision about the food itself. Relief.
#4 Organic Is More Expensive So It Is A Better Value
I had assumed that organic products were better because they were more expensive. I learned that there are two reasons they are more expensive. 1) It costs more to farm organically because labor and fuel costs are higher and yields are smaller than non-organic farming. 2) Consumers will pay higher prices for the perceived value. I learned that the overall production costs of Certified Organic products are only slightly higher than conventional farming, and most of the inflated prices are a result of effective marketing and willing consumers. Since it costs more for reasons I don’t value, I can save money and buy non-organic products. Relief.
#5 Organic Farms Don’t Use Chemicals
I had assumed that Certified Organic farmers don’t use any fertilizers or chemicals. I learned that there are more than 50 pesticides that are allowable on Certified Organic farms which are often applied in excess because they are ineffective. Since both conventionally grown and organically grown crops use chemicals, I choose to buy non-organic products which have been grown under equally strict guidelines that are prescribed and overseen by the USDA. Relief.
#6 Organic is safer because GMO seeds are not allowed
I had assumed that genetically modified organisms (GMO) are harmful because they are not allowed under the Certified Organic label. I learned that the term GMO does not identify a particular ingredient that is added to foods, but it is the term used to describe a process. Scientists spent years perfecting the skill of identifying, isolating and removing DNA from the chromosome of a seed and inserting it into the chromosome of a different type of seed. These are all naturally occurring samples that have been strategically and safely manipulated to create a new seed that includes a particular characteristic. The science behind genetic engineering is fascinating and provides much hope for feeding the world’s growing population. An extensive report from the National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine recently confirmed that modified organisms cause no concern for human health: https://nas-sites.org/ge-crops/. Since the science behind GMO is not scary (just like the science behind medical advancements is not scary), I choose to buy non-organic products and support the further development of science to feed the world’s growing population. Relief.
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