Nutrition: Understanding 'Organic'
Posted on 2017-07-03
We took a good look at the organic food industry - the societal push for organic farming, marketing techniques for labeling organic foods, and the misconception that organic equals healthy. We aren’t going to tell you who is right, who is wrong, and exactly what you should be eating. That’s a decision you get to make all on your own after doing plenty of research, but we hope that with this information, you can take steps towards a better, healthier, happier you!
What Is Considered Organic?
Organic produce is defined as follows: they are grown without using pesticides, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, synthetic fertilizers, or ionizing radiation. As for organic animal products, items ranging from meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy products will come from animals who are not raised with growth hormones or antibiotics.They are also raised on a diet of organic feed. As for other organic products such as organic drinks like kombucha, cookies, and other packaged products, they have to go through a certification process and you can check if the certifying company is accredited by the USDA.
Let’s break that down a bit. Organic agriculture is in one sense not just a practice, but a cultural value. An interesting study examined the reasoning behind consumers buying organic and found it was primarily due to “ when organic foods are purchased, they are perceived by the consumer to be of superior quality, simply because the known criteria for organic production.”
The study goes on to observe that regulatory practices don’t guarantee that organic foods are actually better than conventionally produced food products, and ends by saying regulations need to be stricter so that the perception of organic food and the reality match up more.
Also tells the statistics that show just how most Americans feel about organic foods. It referred to organic food buying practices as “food ideologies” or “food philosophies”, but stated that science had yet to verify that organic food was superior to conventionally grown food.
That may cause you to wonder. If some of the value of organic food is based on perception, what about the biological and mechanical benefits of organic foods?
A study on the [effects of organic farming vs. conventional farming indicated that the soil held up better under organic farming practices and experienced lower soil erosion. A key reason behind this is because micro-organisms and polysaccharides help bind the soil together, a process that is destroyed by commercial farmers who use various chemicals to kill potential weeds and insects.
Other studies also support the sustainable practices used by organic farmers and made the case that the world’s population could be sustained if there was a switch to all organic farming. Along with pointing out the biological benefits of organic farming, the case is made that world hunger isn’t due to a lack of food, just the food is unequally spread out to the world’s population.
Marketing And Organic Food
After reviewing significant studies telling us that data supporting the health benefits of organic is lacking, it makes us wonder: where have we gotten the idea that organic food is so much better for us? Well, the answer is mostly marketing.
Marketing companies studied the psychology behind people’s food choices and has found what messages appeal to what demographic. One study viewed multiple marketing strategies and made the following conclusions:
When researching the marketing of organic foods, there is very little on the benefits of the product. Instead, marketing practices teach companies what demographic is most likely to buy organic and explain that organic shoppers tend to spend more.
However, marketing companies are not the ones labeling what is or is not organic.
If there is an USDA organic seal on the packaging of the food, it has to meet these standards:
• Produced without using excluded methods, (e.g. genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge). Policy on genetically modified organisms.
• Using allowed substances, farmers can treat their product. View the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.
• To ensure that it follows all USDA standards, an authorized certifying agent will oversee production and make periodic visits to ensure continued compliance.
For products that are 100% organic, they can be labeled as such and will have the certifying agent on the label as well.
If the food claims organic status but lacks this seal, you will be buying at your own discretion. The USDA only makes exceptions for this label for farmers who sell less than $5,000 in organic products.
If It’s Organic, Is It Healthy?
At the least, when it comes to organic products you will be consuming less pesticides than their conventionally produced counterparts. While organic farmers use pesticides, they are from natural products rather than synthetic and are deemed “organic pesticides”.
A Stanford researchers’ study showed there was no real difference in the health of people who ate organically and those who did not. Aside from finding a higher level of phosphorus in those who ate organically, the researchers found no difference despite claims of higher nutrient values to be found in organic food.
As for those who have found that organically produced food items have higher nutrient density, these researchers also followed their assertions by saying it was not clear that humans could even absorb the high amount.
While organics may not be the healthy cure-all humankind was hoping for, there’s still much to be said for the sustainable practices, both with how the land is treated and supporting local operations.
So keep reading your food labels and keep an eye on organics as there is still much to learn.