Why eat organic
At one time, all food produced through farming was considered ‘organic’. Foods were sewn, grown, nurtured and picked by hand. However, as populations and subsequently demand for food increased, competition for the use of land increased, and science impinged on farming methods, the essential elements of farming changed. Adopting the methods of ‘chemical farming’ where land fertility, natural pests and in some cases even the crops were enhanced by introducing external chemical agents, was thought to be essential for meeting the new challenges.
Since the 1990s an increasing awareness on the part of the buying public has raised the demand for organic foods grown via the traditional, ecologically-balanced methods. But what was behind the public’s increased demand for organic produce?
Broadly, consumption of organic foods has been interpreted as living healthier. Whether this is true, or can even be proven conclusively is beyond the scope of this article. However, studies have shown that ‘conventional’ farming methods employing chemicals to increase yield has introduced undesirable aspects in to the human food cycle whose long term effects on human health we have yet to fully understand.
Reducing the amount of crop lost to invading pests has always been a concern for business conscious farmers. One way to do this is to use a pesticide. Although pesticides successfully reduce, even eradicate, pests from emerging crops, they can also remain with the crop as it makes its way through the harvesting stage and beyond. Some claim that even standard running water washing of fruit and vegetable is not adequate to remove all traces of pesticides. These pesticides are then passed in to the human food cycle where the full consequences are not fully understood. It should also be noted that pesticides applied repeatedly over the growth cycle of a particular crop do not remain within the bounds of the growing area. Rain washes them off in to the soil and surrounding environment, introducing a non-trivial amount to the water table where they effect surrounding wildlife and eventually can unknowingly be consumed by other animals or humans.
Although inconclusive, studies indicate that organic produce uses less energy and produces a lot less waste than modern, chemical base farming. By omitting chemically synthesized fertilizers, the overall carbon footprint is reduced significantly; however, natural weeding and pest control methods can use more gasoline.
Studies also indicate that the nutritional content of crop is effected by chemical farming methods. A 5-year study funded by the European Commission found that organic crops generally had higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants, and that similar crops produced by chemical farming methods contained higher levels or nutritionally undesirable compounds, such as heavy metals, pesticide residues.
Methods involving chemical enhancement are not confined to crop farmers. Cattle and poultry farmers frequently seek to reduce the loss of stock to illness by using antibiotics, and seek to produce larger, meatier animals by introducing hormones and steroids in to their feed. These chemicals certainly achieve the immediate goal of producing greater numbers of larger animals. However, again, it is not fully understood the extent to which these chemicals leak in to the human food cycle and the extent to which they effect human health.