There is a lot of hype about organic food and plenty of myths surrounding the topic too. Consumers tend to conflate terms such as non-GMO, local, organic, and fair trade as though every food suitable for one heading fits them all.
Food might be grown without genetic modification but isn’t necessarily organically grown. While it is a good idea to buy local food and even to grow your own, that doesn’t mean these foods are organic either. What is organic food and why should consumers prefer it over regular fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy?
Classified as Organic
Foods must fit certain criteria before they can be classified as organic; criteria which are specific to a given country. That’s why “organic” does not mean the same thing from one nation to the next.
In the United States, organic foods are not modified (GMO) and are grown on land, kept separate from non-organic products. They cannot even be vulnerable to contamination from nearby fields where less stringent regulations apply.
These neighboring farms might apply chemical pesticides to their crops but these are not permitted on organic vegetables and fruits. Fertilization, however, is easier to control. Organic farms must not use sewage or petroleum-based ingredients to foster growth.
Organic Meat and Milk
You can’t regulate what a wild salmon eats (although wild is better than farmed fish), but cattle, pig, lamb, and chicken farmers have the final say as to what goes into their animals’ feeding troughs. Their must be no animal by-products (many animals are consuming the leftovers of other animals). Farmers do not feed organic cows, chickens, etc. antibiotics to prevent disease or hormones to speed and enhance growth. Their animals are permitted to graze freely outside and are treated humanely.
Why Does Organic Matter?
Consumers become passionate about the topic of organic food for multiple reasons. They blend ethical questions with health-related ones which affect everyone whether they care about the issue or not.
One concern is that the label “organic” implies all of the stipulations above while non-organic foods frequently lack labeling which would identify farming practices. Consumers have the right to know how their food is produced but this isn’t always the case. There is a lot of mystery, secrecy, and diversion involved in packaging and advertising.
For instance, brands will label foods to highlight positive properties such as low sugar, barn-raised hens, or free ranging cattle. There is no guarantee these animals have eaten a diet free from chemicals or animal products, but packaging suggests these are healthy items. Right now there is no legislation demanding that companies identify foods containing GMO ingredients either.
Environment and Animals
Buying organic foods is better for the environment. If consumers insist on purchasing only meat, dairy, and produce which is not contaminated by pesticides or other chemicals, they promote a better environment for plants, bugs, birds, and other small animals which co-exist with farmers and their crops or cattle.
Pesticides interfere with the ecosystem by poisoning air, soil, and water. Effects travel far and wide if birds or rodents carry chemicals in their bodies and are consumed by predators or when floods wash contaminated soil into rivers and carry poisons downstream.
Autopsy reports on human beings show that the chemicals used to protect food from disease build up in a body during a lifetime and are very difficult to be rid of. Even an effectively operating immune system and liver can’t shut out all the chemicals a human being inhales and ingests, and detoxification might still leave them behind causing illness. Pesticides are also linked to miscarriages, fetal deformity, and cancer.
Organic farmers choose natural and creative methods of preventing disease or pests from ruining crops. They promote and attract beneficials (insects such as wasps and ladybugs which eat destructive insects while leaving plants intact) and co-planting (mixing crops with flowers which naturally deter or distract and divert bugs).
These and other methods prevent the rise of insects, weeds, and bacteria which adapt to pesticides and become virtually indestructible. Farms might lose more of their crops annually to pests and spend many more hours manually ridding themselves of pests or weeds, but they produce a better product they can charge more for.
Flavorful Fruits and Vegetables
This product usually tastes better and contains more nutrition. When you buy organic carrots, you only have to wash them, not peel them; same with apples. Much of the nutrition is lost as you rid yourself of the peel in an effort to discard chemicals: it’s a compromise between cost and quality.
How can consumers encourage farmers to select organic farming methods? They can buy organic foods and avoid GMO foods. As purchasing trends change in favor or organic growing practices, this will send a powerful message to food producers and regulatory bodies that control their methods. Farmers will lose money unless they opt for greener, healthier ways of producing crops and feeding animals.