There was a time when the organic food movement seemed unstoppable. Then the global financial crisis came along and around the developed world, people decided it was a luxury they could perhaps do without. The organic option is almost always more expensive than its conventional counterpart – with a reduced yield, farmers must charge more to make their land profitable. However, as people begin to understand the manifold benefits of going natural, organic food once again has us believing it’s worth spending that little bit extra.
Here are ten of the leading arguments in favour of the organic option
Critics of the organic movement argue that there are no tangible health benefits over conventional produce, but the most recent studies from the British Journal of Nutrition show that organic meat and dairy contains about 50 per cent more omega-3. Why is that important? “Omega-3s are linked to reductions in cardiovascular disease, improved neurological development and function, and better immune function,” writes the study’s co-author Chris Seal, a professor of food and human nutrition at the UK’s Newcastle University.
If you value the importance of antioxidants then you should also be buying organic produce. The same British Journal of Nutrition, which compiled the largest ever analysis of data on organic agriculture, found that natural crops have more of the antioxidant compounds linked to better health than regular food, as well as lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides. It’s thought that fruit and vegetables not sprayed with man-made chemicals are forced to produce more of these beneficial compounds as a stress response to insects and other external pressures.
If you aren’t convinced by the health benefits, then perhaps consider the environment. By not using antibiotics and growth hormones with their livestock, organic farms significantly reduce their carbon footprint. The same is true of crops, especially compared to those dusted with pesticides from aeroplanes. Synthetic fertilisers also produce more greenhouse gases than natural ones, while one study showed that with careful crop rotation and techniques such as mulch-tilling, agriculture could theoretically capture 100 per cent of its emissions.
The heavy use of antibiotics in conventional farming isn’t just a problem from the environmental point of view, either. Organic farmers can only treat their animals with medication when they display clinical signs of illness. Conventional methods often use a wide array of antibiotics as a preventative measure. Writing in The Guardian, food author Joanna Blythman explains: “Concern is mounting that the overuse of antibiotics in farming – farm animals account for almost two-thirds of all antibiotics used in the EU – is compromising the efficacy of these vital drugs in both animal and human medicine, encouraging the emergence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.”
Looking outside of the farms themselves, there’s further evidence that an organic approach is better for the wider world. Biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and impacts on ecosystem services have not only accompanied conventional farming systems, but have often extended well beyond the boundaries of their fields, including fertiliser runoff into rivers. Meanwhile, environments in and around organic farms show consistently higher levels of biodiversity as plants and animals flourish in more natural conditions.
And of course, don’t forget the bees. Organic farms support 50 per cent more wildlife than non-organic alternatives, and, most importantly, a similarly increased number of pollinators. The plight of the humble bumble bee has been well documented in recent years; part of the reason the world’s most industrious pollinator has seen its numbers decimated is the careless use of pesticides in conventional farming. Although bees aren’t actively targeted by farmers, they are vulnerable to the chemicals designed to kill pests.
Organic farming in the West is often criticised because of reduced animal size and smaller crop yields. Farming is already a marginal existence for many working within the industry – why pile more pressure on them? It’s worth noting, however, that for farmers in developing countries, organic farming is often more profitable than pursuing conventional means. Without having to invest in expensive fertilisers, antibiotics or as much specialised equipment, these farmers can focus on making their land work as efficiently and naturally as possible. Not coincidentally, many Fairtrade farms are also organic.
Perhaps you’re reluctant to buy organic for fear that you won’t be able to find the products you’re looking for? In reality, the range has never been better. After the slow-down of a decade ago, shelves are now packed with organic products ranging from maple syrup to baby food to chocolate. And that’s all before you get onto the more established ranges of fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish.
It perhaps seems like an obvious choice, but if you’re wary of additives in your food, then of course going organic makes sense. In Europe, organic farmers may only use 45 very specific and natural additives of the potentially thousands available to conventional farmers. While there’s little proof that many of these additives are actively damaging to humans, the Danish National Food Institute recently published a study that showed that certain combinations of additives – known as a ‘cocktail effect’ – may result in an “endocrine-damaging effect” on our bodies.
Though perhaps the least quantifiable of all its manifold benefits, organic food tastes better than the alternative. While tastiness may be on the tongue of the beholder, organic food is often sold fresher than conventional options – with fewer additives and preservatives, it has to be in order to stay fresh. For the same reasons, it’s often transported shorter distances to avoid wasting its limited shelf-life. This helps to further cut down on its carbon footprint, too.