Organic food is without a doubt better for the environment than its non-organic counterparts. And considerably pricier. Proponents of organic food claim that it is far healthier and better tasting than food grown with pesticides. As our economy contracts, most people will probably settle for cheaper non-organic produce. The hype surrounding organic food begs the question; is it worth it to pay extra for pesticide-free food?
It is commonly believed that non-organic food contains chemicals which pose a serious health risk. The conventional wisdom is that when food is grown with chemical fertilizer and pesticides those chemicals are detrimental to the health of the consumers. The scientific evidence remains inconclusive, however. According to a 2007 study by the Tesco Centre for Organic Agriculture, organic food contains about 40% more antioxidants. The study also concluded that organically grown food is objectively tastier.
Those findings, however, are far from indisputable. Many meta-studies of the aforementioned studies claim the results are flawed. For example, the UK Food Standards Agency’s 2003 report claimed that organic food was not inherently safer, and that the problem with pesticides was the residue, and not the pesticides themselves. Not all non-organic food contains pesticide residue, the study claims, so the problem is how the food is handled, not with chemicals. The French Food Safety Agency and the Swedish National Food Administration came to similar conclusions. There are no compelling health-related reasons to switch to organic food. Evidence suggests that claims of increased antioxidants in organic foods are misleading.
So are there any good reasons to buy organic food and pay more than you would otherwise? There certainly are if you are at all concerned about supporting sustainable farming. Inorganic farming depletes soil of vital nutrients and can lead to the erosion of equally important topsoil. It is estimated non-organic farms cause approximately $34.7 billion in damage to the environment annually. Food from inorganic farms usually comes from locations considerably further away from the location it is sold at than organic food. Needless to say, that is not very fuel efficient. Animal waste is particularly damaging to the environment. It is diverted into open-air pits and converted to fertilizer, and then sprayed on crops, which can’t absorb all of it. The subsequent runoff leaks into water and harms both human and animal health. The environmental aspect alone is a very compelling reason to switch to organic food.
Although pro-organic organizations use many misleading studies to sell their products, in the long-term, it is far more efficient. The health benefits are largely non-existent, but environmental considerations are extremely important as well. Sustainable farming is not only environmentally friendly, it saves money that would otherwise be spent cleaning up pollution. Although it costs more in the short term, the benefits make organic food a very good investment.