Organic Food vs Non Organic Food: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

benefits of organic food vs non organic

Let’s begin this very simply. You should always eat organic foods. Why? Because, unlike non-organic foods, organic foods are not produced using harmful chemicals.

But why are these chemicals harmful, and in what way? Well, for example, the pesticides and fungicides which are sprayed heavily upon our crops are specifically designed to kill living organisms. Really then, they should not be used on our previously pristine lands, they should not be in contact with our foods, and they should definitely not be fed to our unknowing children. If you are not yet convinced that you should just stop right now and change your diet, then please read on. (Although, before you continue, take a moment to ask yourself why the guy spraying our crops would need all of that protection?)

What is Organic Food?

According to thefreedictionary.com, the word ‘organic’ means:

  1. Of, marked by, or involving the use of fertilizers or pesticides that are strictly of animal or vegetable origin.
  2. Raised or conducted without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals.
  3. Simple, healthful, and close to nature.

By definition then, organic is a more natural method of cultivating and processing agricultural products. Indeed, there are strict guidelines in place to ensure the integrity of organic produce and any perspective supplier must undergo a stringent and ongoing series of inspections before their produce can be certified organic. These include full searches of facilities, fields, and data records, as well as intermittent soil sampling, water testing, and many other tests as demanded by each participating country. In the United States, for example, organic production must always be free from all synthetic chemicals that are not on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. This includes synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics and food additives. Furthermore, a certified organic product must also have been produced without genetically modified organisms, irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge. Conversely, this of course means that a non-organic product may actually contain traces of all of these things.

The Short History of Non-Organic Agriculture

While there are a vast variety of standards when it comes to the government and control of organic farming, all of the processes have one important thing in common – organic crops must be cultivated without the use of synthetic chemicals. This is actually how it always used to be, right up until the industrial ‘advancements’ of the mid-1940s. This, is farming in its most traditional and natural form, and from a time when our food tasted exactly as mother nature intended it to. The good old days as many a grandparent might say. The thing is, that during those early days of industrial farming, the main priority for farmers wasn’t to produce good quality food, it was simply to meet the needs of the ever growing population. It was this need which tempted many farmers to turn to developments from within the synthetic/agrochemical industry. Although in fairness to them, they were yet to witness the effects of the new agrochemicals.

Fast forward to the 1960s …

Now those same farmers are starting to notice the effects of synthetic farming. These include excessive soil erosion, unnecessary deaths to the local wildlife and insect community, and extensive amounts of pollution as found in local rivers and rivers. But, you see, by this point it was too late for most farmers to go back to the older methods. They were, after all, slower than the newer methods, and a lot of farmers now had extended loans, or exuberant mortgages to pay. Reduction of their productive capacity was just not an option for them. Besides, it wasn’t as if people were being affected or anything, right? There were just a few (for ‘few’ read thousands of) animals dying here and there.

And thereafter …

Well, the disturbing effects of synthetic farming became even more apparent in the following decades, and soon they were being more closely felt by the human population. In fact, the closer you were to a farm or to a farm worker, the more likely you were to have a damaged nervous system, to develop instabilities in your immune system, to contract a new breed of cancer, and/or to give birth to a baby with defects. And don’t think that just because I’m writing in the past tense and using the word ‘were’ that those effects were an issue but are not any more. Believe me, they are still a great concern to an even greater many.

The Current Opinion of Science

For one thing, science, and more specifically scientific tests tell us that amongst the farming community in particular threats for certain illnesses and diseases, including leukemianon-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, soft tissue sarcoma, and certain forms of cancer, including skin, brain, and prostate are much higher than the norm. These are the findings of a research project started in 1993 by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Environmental Protection Agency. These agencies were joined in 2000 by the The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and together they have tested the effects of agro-chemicals on nearly 90,000 farm and nursery workers.

Added to this are the findings of more research which was undertaken in 1993, this time by the National Academy of Sciences. They issued a report in which they claimed that, because of their physiological immaturity, their diet, and exercise habits, our children are particularly at risk from the toxic effects of pesticides. They further claimed that government standards which should be protecting them were not nearly stringent enough, and that the pesticide residue found on our foods was at much too high a level to be considered safe for their consumption.

Admittedly, however, and even in the face of such strong evidence, there are still some scientists who would argue that the residue which remains on our food is of no harm to us at all. Furthermore they would argue that there are many naturally occurring toxins, which are potentially more damaging than the pesticide residue. They might also go on to tell you about many studies which have demonstrated that consumption of all phytochemical-rich produce, whether organically farmed or not, will actually help to protect you from many illnesses and diseases, including those various cancers. Indeed, even some scientists who don’t agree with the use of pesticides might still agree that it is better to eat fruit and vegetables that have been farmed using non-organic methods than to not eat them at all.

But that, of course, would be their advice for today. If today was the 1960s then their advice might well be different, and then, no doubt, again during the decades in-between. Who knows then what might be their advice in future decades, or indeed the results of their own tests when carried out over a much longer period of time?

The Immediate Future of Organic Food

Organic farming is, in all senses, experiencing a growth spurt once more and, since it was hailed as a potential niche market, the organic industry is fast becoming a lucrative business sector. Even the largest companies are currently invested in ongoing organic ventures, and this means that at present the market demand for organic body care essentials, textiles, cleaning agents, and food for both human and animal consumption is also rising significantly.

And yet while the demand for organic products continues to grow, their consumption is still nowhere near as widespread as that of non-organically produced products. This ensures, as with all things that are a little harder to come by, that prices remain higher in comparison. Let us hope then that the current cultural trend for organics is also a long lasting one. And if it is, then our farmers and our leaders, be they in fashion, business, or government, will continue to offer their full weight and support and maybe one day the organic industry will hold the market share.

Just Good Enough vs Far, Far Better

Even if, so far, you still think that non-organic food is probably safe enough and probably good enough then perhaps you’ll at least concede that organic food is still far, far better. Better as such that consuming organic produce is definitely still the best way to limit our unnecessary exposure to toxic chemicals – you can actually reduce your chemical exposure by 90% if you ‘go organic’. Better as such that eating organic produce is definitely still the best way to taste our food as nature intended it to be. Better as such that the world’s top chefs are already going out of their way to source the most organic and natural produce that they can possibly find. But also, better as such for its superior nutritional content. You see, not only is your organic produce more natural, and not only does your organic produce taste like the mythical food that your grandparents used to tell you about, but it’s also proven to be far, far better for you. And that’s true whether you consider non-organic food to be good enough or not.

During his famous 12 year study (1960-1972), Professor Werner Schuphan noted this nutritional superiority that organic produce has over non-organic produce. And, among other things, he found:

  1. Almost universally organic produce has a far higher mineral and trace mineral content than non-organic produce. The only exception to this being sodium.
  2. Organic produce contains far more iron, potassium, magnesium, and calcium than conventional crops (other studies of this type have shown that organic foods have 2 to 10 times the mineral content of conventional foods).
  3. Organic crops had a dry weight (after dehydration) of 69-96% more than conventional crops – which demonstrates a much higher food-value content.
  4. Organic produce was far higher in vitamins than non-organic. For example, he found that organic spinach contained 64-78% more vitamin C and organic savoy cabbage contained 76-91% more vitamin C than their non-organic counterparts.

Much later, in 1993, Bob Smith, a laboratory analyst who worked extensively with trace minerals, began his own experiments. For two years he visited stores in Chicago and purchased 4 to 15 samples of both organic and non-organic produce. He brought these samples back to his laboratory and tested them for trace elements. His conclusions were as follows:

organic food and trace mineral analyse by Bob Smith
  1. Organically grown wheat had 2 times more calcium, 4 times more magnesium, 5 times more manganese, and 13 times more selenium than the non-organic wheat.
  2. Organically grown corn had 20 times more calcium and manganese, and 2 to 5 times more copper, magnesium, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc than the non-organic corn.
  3. Organically grown potatoes had 2 or more times the boron, selenium, silicon, strontium, and sulfur, and 60% more zinc than non-organic potatoes.
  4. Organically grown pears had between 2 and 3 times more chromium, iodine, manganese, molybdenum, silicon, and zinc than non-organic pears.

Overall, Bob Smith found that the trace mineral content of organically grown food exceeded that of non-organically grown food for 20 out of the 22 beneficial minerals he tested for!

The point is that many of us settle for ‘just enough’ when we actually deserve ‘far, far better’. In this case, even if our non-organic produce is safe enough and good enough it still won’t give us the extra benefits that organic food will. The extra energy and vitality, the increased stamina and brain power, that far, far better feeling of just feeling more alive.

But that feeling costs a lot more I hear you say …

No, it doesn’t. The thing is that although organic food may currently be more expensive to buy than non-organic, organic food is actually much better value for money. This is because the superior nutritional content means that you don’t need to eat so much of it to feel full. It’s a much better version of full as well remember. And then ironically, of course, if we all start to realize this then our demand for organic produce will also cause prices to fall significantly. Thus, organic food will end up being far, far better all round.

So How Can I Reduce My Chemical Consumption?

1. Buy organic!! 

Bob Smith also found that organic foods had much lower quantities of toxic trace elements, such as aluminum, lead, and mercury. But, if you’re still not ready for that just yet then I suppose that the good (ish) news for you is that not all non-organic produce is synthetically created equally. The alphabetized chart below shows the average pesticide content of certain foods, and with a quick scan you will see that just by cutting out spinach, strawberries, and celery you will be avoiding the foods which hold onto the largest amount of pesticide residue. Unfortunately, however, you will probably just make up for it all by eating more of other things instead. You really are best then to just switch them out for organic.

 

 2. What if you don’t have organic food around?

Not everybody is a farmer or a gardener and, since demand hasn’t peaked quite yet, not everybody can buy organic so readily. Okay then, I hear you, so here are some easy and effective ways to reduce your chemical consumption. And bear in mind as you read them please that even if you don’t believe in non-organic food pollution and the dangerous risks that these chemicals pose to your health, there is definitely no down side to ridding your food of the residue.

  1. Wash your fruits like you wash your hands. “Use soap, Jimmy!” Mom and Dad were right: just running your mitts or your munchies under tap water does little to remove oily grime. Agricultural pesticides do not come off in water anyway. If they did, farmers would have to apply them after each and every rainfall, or even after a heavy dew. That would be labor-intensive and extremely expensive. This is why petrochemical companies, for example, make pesticides with chemical “stickers” that are insoluble in water. These stickers bind the pesticides to the crops regardless of the weather. Therefore, before we can do anything we need to make our own ‘De-pesticider’ (see below).

             TIP: How To Make Your Own ‘De-pesticider’:

               – Take 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of baking soda OR vinegar (my favorite is

                  apple cider vinegar from Bragg’s), and 1 cup (250ml) of water.

               – Put the mixture in a spray-topped bottle.

               – Spray the fruit or vegetables, leave to sit for 5–10 minutes, then rinse well.

            For particularly waxy fruit or vegetables, try this mixture:

               – Take 1 cup (250ml) of water, ½ a cup (115ml) of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of baking soda, and a

                dash of grapefruit seed extract.

               – Spray this onto the produce and leave for an hour before rinsing and eating.

  1. Discard the outer layers. Eat only the inner layers of any non-organic produce that you won’t be cooking. These will be things like lettuce and other salad vegetables (including onions). Assume that the outside layer of any fruit or vegetable will have absorbed most of the pesticides (though some will have also have been absorbed from the soil), and wash/peel or discard these outer layers whenever you can. Remember that this ‘shell’ is actually natures way of protecting the produce from harm. And while you’re at it, always remember to wash your hands well again after throwing away the peel, otherwise you might just be transferring pesticides (as well as bacteria) to the already peeled fruit or vegetables.

  2. Juice it. As most of the pesticide residue stays with the fiber (pulp) of the fruit or vegetables, juicing, amongst it’s many other advantages is a great way to discard the bad parts of the outer layers while still benefiting from the good.

  3. Minimize Your Pesticide Intake. If you must eat non-organic food, then try to avoid Fruits and Vegetables that have the highest pesticide load (see table above).
  4. Eat Local and Seasonal. Because even with organic produce you can never really know what happened to it in that period between cultivation and retail consumption.

In Summary

The Benefits of Eating Organic Include (but are not limited to):

  • Not produced using harmful chemicals. The chemicals sprayed on our crops are specifically designed to kill living organisms.
  • Production is highly regulated. Any perspective supplier must undergo a stringent and ongoing series of inspections before their produce can be ‘certified organic.’
  • Better tasting food. Just like our grandparents and the world’s top chefs keep telling us.
  • Better for the environment. Non-organic farming causes excessive soil erosion, unnecessary deaths to the local wildlife and insect community, and extensive amounts of pollution as found in local rivers and rivers. Organic food production maintains the proper ecological balance.
  • Safer for our farmer workers. Organic farming, without the use of pesticides, reduces the risk of contracting a large amount of chemical associated illnesses and diseases.
  • Better protection to our children. Because of their physiological immaturity, their diet, and exercise habits, our children are particularly at risk from the toxic effects of pesticides.
  • Better quality nutrients. Organic produce has a far higher mineral and trace mineral content than almost all non-organic produce.
  • Higher mineral content. In fact 2-10 times the mineral content according to some studies.
  • Higher vitamin content. For example, organic spinach contains 64-78% more vitamin C and organic savoy cabbage contains 76-91% more vitamin C than their non-organic counterparts.
  • Higher trace mineral content. For example, organically grown potatoes have 2 or more times the boron, selenium, silicon, strontium, and sulphur, and 60% more zinc than non-organic potatoes.
  • Better value for money. Because of the extra nutritional value it takes less food to fill you up.
  • Less toxic trace elements. Elements such as aluminum, lead, and mercury.

Last Word

Whether you take my word for it or not, and whether or not you believe that non-organic food is dangerous or at the very least not so beneficial to us, you must agree that we really don’t know what the results of future testing will throw at us. What we do know, however, is that many times in our past we have learned too late about the dangerous effects of chemicals which we had initially thought were safe enough or good enough. With this in mind then, and with your own health, as well of that of our world and your children at stake, would not the best protection from potential harm be to simply not to place ourselves in its way. Isn’t that what the guy in the picture is thinking?

Just buy organic food. Because, after all, you really do reap what you sow.

FOR FURTHER READING ABOUT HOW TO LIVE A CHEMICAL-FREE LIFE, I RECOMMEND:

  • Dworkin, S and Dworkin, F. (1974) The Apartment Gardener. New York: SignetFritsch, A. and The Center for Science in the Public Interest (1977) 99 Ways to a Simple Lifestyle. New York: Anchor-Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-12493-7 Library of Congress 76-54756
  • Issac, K and Gold, S ed (1987) Eating Clean 2: Overcoming Food Hazards. Washington, D.C.: Center for Study of Responsive Law. ISBN 0-936758-21-X.  Library of Congress 87-73555

  • Kulvinskas, Viktoras (1975) Survival into the 21st Century. Wethersfield, CT: Omangod Press.

  • Lasky, M. S. (1977) The Complete Junk Food Book. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-036501-6 and ISBN 0-07-036502-4 paperback. Library of Congress 77-9367

  • Wigmore, A. (1964) Why Suffer? NY: Hemisphere Press.

  • Wigmore, Ann (1982) Recipes for Longer Life. Garden City Park, NY: Avery.

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Noah Laith

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