Organic food may not be worth an additional cost



Dr Gabe Mirkin

Sales of fresh organic produce in 2020 were $ 8.54 billion, an increase of over $ 1 billion from 2019. A very serious study of 55 types of rice found that organic rice contained a lot more arsenic than non-organic rice. More than half of the rice samples were ‘unsuitable for infant feeding’ (Ecotoxicology and environmental safety2020 Jul 1; 197 (1): 110601).

Compared to conventionally grown foods, organic foods are generally more expensive and have not been shown to be safer, provide more or better nutrients, or are more likely to have been grown on a small local farm. In 2018, the Food Marketing Institute reported that the average price of organic products was 54% higher than that of non-organic products; organic milk costs 72% more and organic eggs 82% more. Organic foods are more expensive to produce because they require:
• more land to grow food,
• more workers to prepare and harvest the crops, and
• more work to control weeds and insects.
Many North Americans are willing to pay this extra price because 50% of them think organic food is healthier for you (Pew Research Center, published online November 19, 2018). Manufacturers have taken advantage of this belief and sell organic clothing, cigarettes, water, soap, condoms, lipstick, perfume, mattresses and just about anything that touches your body, as well as all food categories. However, US government control over the use of the “organic” label is lax as there are few government agencies or contractors to verify the production of organic products.

Definition of organic
An organic product is defined as something that is made or grown naturally, without the use of man-made fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. To be recognized as “organic”, foods and other products are supposed to be grown with:
• No synthetic fertilizers or pesticides (with a few exceptions)
• No antibiotics or growth hormones for cattle
• No genetically modified ingredients
• No artificial flavors, colors or preservatives
• No sewage sludge
• No food radiation

Conventional and organic fruits and vegetables are grown with pesticides, but organic growers use ‘natural’ pesticides (like crushed chrysanthemums), while conventional growers use ‘artificial’ pesticides which are often copies of pesticides found in nature. Your body cannot distinguish between “natural” and artificial pesticides or fertilizers. For example, organic growers can feed plants nitrogen from animal manure, but not use fertilizer containing the same nitrogen from a plant. This makes no sense because nitrogen is a chemical element and is therefore the same regardless of its origin. Other chemicals such as arsenic, chromium or nickel are toxic and are found naturally in the soil.

There is strong evidence that many pesticides and herbicides in regular use today, both natural and artificial, can harm you by increasing your risk of cancer. Beginning in the 1950s, the government set maximum allowable residue levels on foods. In the 1970s, the EPA banned DDT and other insecticides. Some farmers, but certainly not all, responded by using insecticides only after the failure of safer methods. Examples of safer insect control include the use of healthy insects to help control those that damage crops and the genetic improvement of plants to resist insect damage (which is ironic since genetic modification is supposed to prevent a food from being labeled organic).

“Organic” is difficult to regulate
The demand for organic food has grown so much that more than 80 percent of organic food now comes from very large farms producing very large quantities of organic products which are sold at large commercial establishments such as Walmart, Costco and Kroger. Less than eight percent is produced by small farmers.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) tries to regulate farms or handling operations by having them certified by a public or private agency accredited by the USDA. Farms and handling operations that sell organic produce for less than $ 5,000 per year are exempt from certification. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a government-approved company is supposed to inspect the farm to make sure it is following all the rules. Companies that handle or process organic food before it arrives at your local supermarket or restaurant are also expected to be certified. You can imagine how expensive and time-consuming this process is, and in reality only a small percentage of growers are inspected multiple times to make sure they are following the rules.

No data proves that conventional products are harmful
We know that chronic exposure to large amounts of pesticides can harm you (Interdisciplinary Toxicol, 2009 Mar; 2 (1): 1-12), but we have no evidence that consumption of conventional products is harmful to humans. All the available evidence shows that people who eat the most fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and other seeds have a markedly reduced risk of heart attacks, diabetes, strokes, certain cancers and death. premature babies, whether or not their food is grown conventionally or organically (Amer J by Clin Nutr2013 Aug; 98 (2): 454-459).

If you’re concerned about pesticide levels and you’re on a tight budget or don’t have good sources of organic produce, you might be interested in the findings of the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Their good news is that the following non-organic foods contain very low levels of pesticides: onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mangoes, peas, asparagus, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, melons, grapefruit, sweet potatoes, papayas, peas, cantaloupe, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms and cabbage. Fruits and vegetables eaten with their skins on generally contain higher levels of pesticides, but I don’t recommend removing edible skins from produce just to reduce pesticide exposure, as the skins are a concentrated source of nutrients and fiber. . Washing fresh fruits and vegetables under running water can help remove bacteria and chemicals from the surface of fruits and vegetables, whether organic or conventionally grown.

My recommendations
Diana and I support organic farmers in their efforts to solve environmental problems, and we often buy organic produce. However, if budget is an issue, it is healthier to eat a lot of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables than a small amount of organic fruits and vegetables, or none at all. Scientific literature shows that it is healthier to eat lots of fruits and vegetables from any source than to replace them with the processed foods that clutter our supermarket shelves.
• The “organic” label does not mean that a food is healthy. Organic white flour, organic sugars, and organic junk food like cookies, crackers, chips, or ice cream are still junk food.
• Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating them, even if washing does not remove all pesticides. Remove the outer leaves from lettuce, cabbage, and other leafy vegetables.

Dr Gabe Mirkin is a villager. Learn more about


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