Organic Foods Essay, Research Paper
Are Organic Foods Better For You?
Organic farming began in the late 1940 s in the United States, and in recent years it has seen a dramatic increase in popularity (Rubin 1). The sales of organic foods have been increasing by about 20 percent a year over the past decade (Marcus 1). That is over ten times the rate of their conventional counterparts (Harris 1). There are 10 million consumers of organic food in the United States, yet organic food represents only one percent of the nation s food supply. This year organic food sales are expected to rise to six billion dollars (Rubin 1). So what are organic foods? Organic foods are those which are grown without hormones, pesticides, or synthetic fertilizers. Also, the soil in which organic foods are grown must be clean for three years (Howe 4).
Nearly 70 percent of the American public believes that the organic label on food products means they are safer to eat and better for the environment according to a survey by the National Center for Public Policy (Cummins 1). Organic farming does have its advantages. It conserves water and soil resources, recycles animal waste, releases fewer chemicals, improves soil fertility, promotes diversity of crops, and protects farm workers, livestock, and wildlife from potentially harmful pesticides (Rubin 4). But are organic foods safer than conventional foods? Not only can organic foods be contaminated with bacteria and pesticides, but also they are more expensive than conventional foods, yet do not offer a better nutritional value or significantly better taste. Sir John Krebs, a zoologist appointed to head the Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom said that people who bought organic food thinking it was safer or more nutritious were wasting their money (Jones 1). Critics of organic farming claim that it is dangerous, environmentally damaging and, above all, incapable of feeding an overpopulated world because crop yields are lower than in conventional agriculture (Jones 2).
If you are looking for health benefits from organic foods, save your money. Organic foods are not necessarily safer than conventional foods. Eileen White, owner of a health food store that sells organic products, says, I can t guarantee that organic foods are safer than regular foods, but that is just a risk that some consumers are willing to take. ABC s 20-20 reported finding higher concentrations of bacteria on organic produce than on conventional produce (Tierney 1). Organic foods can be contaminated with salmonella, Listeria, or E. coli. These microorganisms can cause illness and even death (Rubin 2). Also, since organic foods are grown with manure, there is a greater risk of bacterial contamination. Animal waste is used as a fertilizer instead of synthetic chemicals on organic foods, and this animal waste may contain dangerous bacteria (Tierney 1). Although the manure is composted to kill the bacteria, uncertified farmers may not always follow the proper procedure. Dean Cliver, a professor of food safety at the University of California at Davis, states:
We know that animals are shedding bacteria that can make people sick if the manure hasn t been treated properly. Personally, if I knew something was grown with conventional chemical fertilizers, I would feel extra safe. But we don t have any data to show that organic food is more or less safe. (Tierney 2)
Many consumers buy organic foods because they think that they are pesticide
free, but this is not true. Organic farmers can use natural pesticides such as sulfur, copper, nicotine, and plant extracts (Rubin 2). Synthetic pesticides can also be found on organic foods. Synthetic pesticides can be carried by wind, ground water, rain, or soil from other farms to organic farms and contaminate the organic foods being grown there (Rubin 2). Eighty-nine to ninety percent of all pesticides drift from their point of application, which increases the risk of nearby areas being exposed (Howe 2). Also, synthetic pesticides used before may not have disappeared from the soil and therefore can contaminate organic crops (Rubin 2).
Many people do not notice a significant difference in the taste of organic foods and conventional foods. Some organic foods taste very different as compared to conventional foods, like organic milk (White). Sue Gebo, author of What s Left to Eat?, explains: studies do not show a significant taste difference between organic and conventional crops (Rubin 3). U.S. News held a blind taste test to determine if organic foods tasted better than conventional foods. Winter tomatoes, both organic and conventional, were equally tasteless. Conventional carrots and blueberry yogurt tasted better than their organic counterparts, but organic orange juice tasted better than conventional orange juice (Marcus 3).
Agricultural Secretary Dan Glickman states that organic foods are no more wholesome or nutritious than conventional foods (Marcus 1). Although organic foods are almost completely free from synthetic chemicals found in synthetic foods, they are no richer in vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients. They are not less likely to make a person sick either (Marcus 2). The higher grocery price only buys a person peace of mind, not better nutrition.
The cost of organic foods can be 20 percent to 50 percent more than conventional foods due to limited supply, special handling, and required certification (Rubin 1). All organic foods must be produced without synthetic pesticides and genetic engineering. The use of sewage sludge as fertilizer and irradiating food to preserve it will be banned also, as will hormones and antibiotics in organic meat and dairy products (Marcus 1). Not using these technologies makes organic farming more labor intensive, therefore making organic foods more expensive.
Organic foods also have other disadvantages. One disadvantage is a short shelf life. Cereals, breads, nuts, seeds, and oils should be refrigerated. Also, meats cured without nitrates and nitrites should be frozen (Rubin 2). Organic farming also yields fewer crops because insects, weeds, and fungi often damage a larger portion of organic crops than conventionally grown crops (Howe 5). Finally, only about half of the states regulate organic foods and little exists to stop organic farmers from labeling any food they wish as organic (Howe 4).
Recently, the safety of conventional foods has been questioned. The use of pesticides supplies higher crop yields, reduces the cost and labor of farming, and produces relatively unblemished, visually appealing produce (Howe 3). However, some scientists think that pesticide residues in conventional foods could, over many years, raise the risk of cancer and other illnesses. Hard evidence of this is scarce (Marcus 1). Pesticides are only dangerous if they are present in toxic amounts. Our food supply is safe because the Environmental Protection Agency controls the levels of pesticides used (Rubin 2). A panel of the National Research Council concluded in 1996 that tiny levels of chemicals in the food supply are unlikely to pose an appreciable cancer risk (Tierney 2). A similar report released in the same year by the National Academy of Sciences stated that pesticides pose little risk to humans because they are consumed at such low levels (Rubin 2).
The health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables such as lower rates of cancer, stroke, and other diseases far outweigh any potential risks. Still, the thought of pesticides on fruits and vegetables may still concern some consumers, so here are some ways to reduce exposure to pesticides. One should choose foods that are free of dirt, cuts, insect holes, decay, and mold. Also, selecting produce that has thick skins, husks, or hulls (like bananas, melons, and citrus fruits) reduces exposure to pesticides because the skins are harder to permeate. Before eating fruits and vegetables, they should be scrubbed using a hard produce brush and washed under cold water. Cooking or baking foods will also reduce pesticide residues, as will canning, freezing, or drying foods. Finally, one should eat a varied diet to reduce exposure to any single pesticide (Rubin 3).
It is foolish for one to believe that just because a product is natural it is better than conventional products. E. coli and other microorganisms are natural too. Organic foods are not any safer than conventional foods. They still can contain bacteria and pesticides, and are no more nutritious or delicious than conventional foods. Yet people are still willing to spend nearly twice as much on organic foods. If one wants to buy foods that are more environmentally friendly, then organic foods would be a good choice; but if one is looking for immediate health benefits, save your money. An apple is an apple, whether it is organic or not, and people should not have to pay twice as much for peace of mind.
Cummins Ronnie. Yummy and Healthy! America s Consumers are Voting Yes for
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Howe, Maggy. Pesticides in Our Produce: What Goes Into The Fresh Fruits and
Vegetables You Buy? Country Living March 1998: 1-7.
Jones, Simon. Scientists Gang Up On Organics. New Statesman 11 Dec. 2000: 1-3.
Marcus, Mary Brophy. Organic Foods Offer Peace of Mind At a Price. U.S. News
and World Report 15 Jan. 2001: 1-4.