The Benefits of Eating Organic
The impact that our food choices have on our bodies and the planet as a whole is an important consideration when shopping for foods. The choice to buy organic fruits and vegetables is becoming increasingly more common as we, as a society, learn more about health and our environment.
Whether it is health concerns, cost, environmental impact or simply taste that lead a person to choose either organic or traditionally grown foods, it is important to know: what is the real difference?
The USDA has established standards for growing and processing foods that manufacturers must adhere to in order to achieve the “organic” certification. The approved methods of organic agriculture, according to the USDA website are to “integrate cultural, biological, mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”
Among the list of qualifications for organic agriculture are avoidance of synthetic chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizer, avoidance of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), use of land that has been free from use of prohibited chemicals for a certain number of years and specific requirements for housing, feed, and breeding of livestock.
The USDA official organic label is displayed on products that meet the standards, which is how consumers know that the products they buy are USDA compliant. The label is given to businesses which adhere to all of the guidelines set out by the USDA, allowing consumers to rest assured that the products they buy are truly organic.
However, not all organic foods are USDA certified. Farms and businesses that make less than $5,000 per year are exempt from the official USDA certification and are permitted to market and sell their products as organic, though these “exempt” sellers are not given the official seal of the USDA.
Though many people cite health benefits as their reason for choosing organic food, studies have not yet shown clear evidence that organic is necessarily more nutritious than traditionally grown food. The lack of hard evidence supporting health benefits of organic food has turned some people off from buying it over conventionally grown foods.
Despite the jury being out on whether or not organic food is better for human health, science has shown that the environmental benefits of organic agriculture are real. Because organic food is not treated with pesticides, the surrounding earth is healthier. The practices used for growing organic food are more sustainable in the long term. Organic agricultural practices include crop rotation and inter-cropping, both of which decrease the need for synthetic chemicals in farming. Large-scale farming can lead to a number of environmental problems like pollution of the water and soil.
A major factor that causes people to choose traditionally grown foods over organic is the cost. A 2015 study by Consumer Reports found that on average, organic food was 47% more expensive than traditionally grown food. However, the range of that study was vast; in some cases, the organic product actually cost less than its traditional counterpart. The same study found that if one chooses to buy organic, the stores with the best prices for organic foods are Trader Joe’s, Costco and Wegman’s.
There are many factors that contribute to the cost of organic food. Production costs are higher for organic foods because organic agriculture requires more labor, as well as separate transportation because of the requirement that organic products be kept segregated from conventionally grown products, and also because supply is limited as compared to demand for organic products.
In the short term, it seems costly to buy organic products over traditionally grown ones, but the cost of continuing our unsustainable agricultural practices is much higher. Organic agriculture uses sustainable farming practices and takes less of a toll on the planet’s soil and water supplies. Current methods used for producing traditionally grown foods have an impact on the environment that cannot be sustained forever, while the standards enforced on organic farms are significantly more sustainable and have less of a negative effect on the environment.↑ Back to top