Organic Food: What Is It and Should You Be Buying It?

Organic Foods: A Mainstream Alternative

Farmer harvesting organic vegetablesOrganic produce used to be available only in select health food shops filled with strange and unpronounceable products. Nowadays though, it’s much more mainstream, thanks to people wanting to maintain a healthy diet. Many organic farm shops have sprung up thanks to government grants, and supermarkets now stock multiple organic brands.

There is much debate between scientists and health experts about the benefits of organic produce, if it’s kinder to the environment and whether it is worth the higher prices. Here, we look at the evidence.

What Makes Organic Food So Special?

‘Organic’ is the label given to food created using certain farming and production methods. Crops are grown without the use of conventional pesticides, with an emphasis on caring for the land – crop rotation is used to make the most of natural fertilisers and ensure soil quality is maintained.1 Organic animals are reared on organic feed without growth hormones or antibiotics, usually with access to outdoor land for grazing.2

The overall aim of organic farming is to encourage soil and water conservation whilst reducing the environmental impact of pollution.3

To Buy or Not to Buy

The arguments for and against organic food mainly revolve around it being healthier, tastier and better for the environment, versus the fact it can be more expensive to buy.

The Cost

farmer in fieldOrganic food is more labour intensive and expensive to produce, which is reflected in its higher retail prices. There isn’t necessarily the same amount of choice either – a supermarket may have lots of apple varieties, but only a few ones.

Organic foods can be smaller than their non-organic counterparts, come in strange, unattractive shapes or spoil more quickly, so you may end up with less for your money.

To get the cheapest organic food, head to local farm shops and buy produce that’s in season.

Reasons to Buy Organic

Many people buy organic food for four main reasons:

  • To avoid pesticide residue

It’s true to say that chemical pesticides are often sprayed onto non-organic produce. Fans of organic food say that avoiding these chemicals can only be a good thing. However, some scientists argue that residue levels on most products are within government safety thresholds so there is little/no risk to health.

  • To help the environment

Organic farming practises are designed to be less harmful to the environment through the banning of pesticides and other harmful chemicals. A number of pesticides have been banned in traditional farming over the years due to their harmful effects on wildlife, such as bees.5

However, the industry has become so popular some farms are now facing the same problems as other large scale agricultural businesses. The more demand grows on a global scale, the more farmers will have to transport goods further afield, increasing their carbon footprint. To meet demand, farmers may also have to start mass producing goods and using some of the same equipment as conventional farming.4

  • Better taste

Some people simply prefer the taste of organic products. Organic free range eggs are often hailed as tasting much nicer and being noticeably different in colour.

  • More nutritious

This area again sparks much debate. Some investigations found evidence that some produce had higher levels of beneficial vitamins and nutrients, plus lower levels of harmful substances. There is however, not enough strong data to support this.1

Organic farming regulations do ban or severely restrict the use of food additives and processing agents such as preservatives, artificial sweeteners, food colourings and flavourings.3 This may be important to you – particularly if you have children.

Maintaining a Healthy Diet

Ultimately, eating organic is a personal choice. Whether you do or not, it’s important to consume a varied diet with a wide range of fruit and vegetables.

It’s recommended that you always wash fruit and vegetables before eating – whether its organic or not – to remove dirt, bacteria and any pesticide residue. Peeling has the same effect, but you lose some of the fibre and nutrients.

Make sure you always read food labels too, even if some/all of the ingredients are organic. Some products can still be high in sugar, salt and fat, so make an informed choice.3