Most organic food advocates I’ve spoken to eat organic foods because they feel organic foods are safer. “I don’t like chemicals in my foods,” they say. Or they might say, “Natural has to be safer than artificial.” Both statements are erroneous. Organic foods do contain chemicals, and natural isn’t necessarily safer (4).
Every living molecule inside every living organism is created through chemical reactions. The natural chemicals contained in organically grown coffee, peppers, mushrooms, apples, celery, potatoes, nutmeg, and carrots present a greater risk of cancer to people than DDT, DDE, or Alar, three pesticides that are banned in the United States and many other countries (Silver, 2006).
Rotenone is a potent neurotoxin used by organic farmers that has long been used to kill fish and has been linked to Parkinson’s disease (6). Betarbet and colleagues (2000) found that chronic exposure to rotenone could reproduce the anatomical, neurochemical, behavioral, and neuropathological features of Parkinson’s disease. Another pesticide used by organic farmers, pyrethrin, which is sometimes used on the day of harvesting, can result in breathing difficulties when inhaled (7, 8). Other pesticides used in organic farming include hypochlorite, sodium hypochlorite, copper sulfate, boric acid, lime sulfur, elemental sulfur, and oils (9).
Bahlai and colleagues (2010) conducted a study examining the environmental impact of several new synthetic and certified organic insecticides under consideration as reduced risk insecticides for soybean aphid (insects that live on plants by sucking juice) control. Established and novel methodologies were used to directly quantify pesticide impact in terms of biocontrol services. They found that in addition to reduced efficacy against aphids compared to novel synthetic insecticides, organic approved insecticides had a similar or even greater negative impact on several natural enemy species in lab studies, were more detrimental to biological control organisms in field experiments, and had higher environmental impact quotients at field use rates.
“Consumers are often willing to pay more for products they believe are produced in the most sustainable way possible, but we have shown that the organic methods available are not always the most sustainable choice,” says Bahlai.
The Institute of Food Technologists issued a “scientific status summary” on the organic foods industry (9). Here is an excerpt from that summary:
“Organic fruits and vegetables possess fewer pesticide residues and lower nitrate levels than do conventional fruits and vegetables. In some cases, organic foods may have higher levels of plant secondary metabolites; this may be beneficial with respect to suspected antioxidants such as polyphenolic compounds but also may be of potential health concern when considering naturally occurring toxins. Some studies have suggested potential increased microbiological hazards from organic produce or animal products due to the prohibition of antimicrobial use, yet other studies have not reached the same conclusion. While many studies demonstrate these qualitative differences between organic and conventional foods, it is premature to conclude that either food system is superior to the other with respect to safety or nutritional composition.”
A review conducted by Sil Dangour and colleagues (2009) published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated the nutritional differences between conventional and organic foods. Eleven crop nutrient categories were analyzed. The researchers identified 162 studies; 55 were of satisfactory quality. Only the satisfactory studies were analyzed. Conventionally produced crops had a significantly higher content of nitrogen, and organically produced crops had a significantly higher content of phosphorus and titratable acidity. There was no difference between the two for the remaining eight of eleven crop nutrient categories analyzed.
Analysis of livestock products indicated no difference in nutrient content between organic and conventional livestock products. After reviewing these studies, the researchers concluded that there was no evidence of a nutritional difference between organic and conventional foods.
If you like the taste of organic food and have the extra money to spend, go for it. However, don’t consider it a necessity. When choosing the foods to include in your diet, the first consideration should be a well-balanced diet. Whether it is made up of conventional or organic foods has little significance.
Article excerpts taken from Elitefts.com
- Bahlai CA, et al (2010) Choosing organic pesticides over synthetic pesticides may not effectively mitigate environmental risk in soybeans. PloS One 22(6):e11250.
- Betarbet R, et al (2000) Chronic Systemic Pesticide Exposure Reproduces Features of Parkinson Disease. Nature Neuroscience 3:1301–06.
- Hale J. Organic Food: The Real Story! At: http://maxcondition.com/page.php?148. Accessed: December 21,2010.
- Hale J (2010) Should I Eat the Yolk? Separating Facts From Myths to Get You Lean, Fit & Healthy. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press.
- Sil Dangour AD, et al (2009) Nutritional Quality of Organic Foods: A Systematic Review. AM J Clin Nutr 90:680–85.
- Silver LM (2006) Challenging Nature. Harper Collins.
- Silver LM (2006) The Environments Best Friend GM or Organic? Update Magazine.
- Sitting M. Handbook of Toxic and Hazardous Chemicals and Carcinogens (1991) 3rd ed. Vol. 2. New Jersey: Noyes Publications.
- Winter CK, Davis SF (2006) Organic Foods. Journal of Food Science 71(9).