Organic foods are healthier; better for the environment and cruelty-free right? Not necessarily. Here are some of the more commonly expounded myths surrounding organic food, and the uncomfortable truth.
Organic means cruelty-free?
There are no laws or even guidelines which state that organically produced meat must come from humane operations. Organic eggs do not necessarily come from hens which are cheerfully free to roam around a large open, outdoor space. It merely means that they are fed on organic corn and pellets. In fact, most organic eggs are from factory farmed hens in cages. The higher cost of organic feed has to be offset somehow and it’s just too tough on the producers’ bottom line to allow the hens the luxury of a free range life too.
In many cases, organically farmed fruit and vegetables are grown using natural fertilisers; animal blood and bone for example. Yuk!
Organic foods are healthy and low in calories?
Unfortunately this is not the case. Organic biscuits and cakes are just as full of calories as non-organic ones. In fact, a University of Michigan study found that shoppers bought more organic sweet products than non-organic ones. When asked why, the unanimous answer was that they assumed the organic foods were lower in calories which is not the case at all.
Organic food doesn’t contain harmful bacteria?
Organic foods carry the same bugs as their non-organic counterparts. The majority of food poisoning and contamination occurs during handling during preparation and storage. If your organic supplier has a clean kitchen and correct hygiene procedures in place, your food will be fine. If he doesn’t, it won’t be. It’s also interesting to note that organic ready-meals sold in supermarkets are often prepared in the same kitchens as non-organic, so there’s a good chance of cross contamination occurring there.
Organic foods have higher nutritional values ?
The nutritional value of foodstuffs depends on a number of factors; soil quality, storage methods, cooking methods etc. Whether or not the food has been sprayed with pesticides is immaterial as regards its nutritional value. That said, it’s true that organic farms do strive to achieve good soil quality and avoid using artificial fertilisers and plant foods. Scientific studies however do not prove that organic foods have a higher nutritional value than non-organic ones.
There are however, some very good reasons for choosing to buy organic if you can afford to:
The chemical pesticides and fertilisers used in the mass production of fruit and vegetables have been blamed for the steady increase in asthma, autoimmune diseases and behavioural disorders including autism in children over the past few decades. Studies show that tiny amounts of these chemicals show up in our food even after washing and I personally would prefer not to eat them!
Sympathetic farming methods
Organic farms use sustainable farming practices which are good for the environment. Crops are seasonally rotated to allow soil recuperation; predatory insects are used to control pests and complementary crops are grown together to maximise space. Many farmers keep a three foot border around their fields to provide habitat for wildflowers, insects and wildlife aiding conservation.
Carbon footprint reduction
Farm shops and farmers’ markets source much of their organic produce very locally, or at least regionally. This is much better than buying produce that’s been transported hundreds of miles and it’s usually fresher and much cheaper than you’d find at the supermarket.
I live in the countryside and it’s a fair drive to my local supermarket so I usually shop at the local farm shop. I know where all the fresh local produce on offer comes from and can actually see it growing in the fields around the area. Although some things are slightly more expensive than at the supermarket, I’m saving that money by not driving the extra distance and reducing my carbon footprint even further!
I suppose the only way to be absolutely sure that organic produce is truly organic is to grow it yourself if you have the land and the time to do so but for me the local farm shop is the next best thing.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.