RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The Environmental Working Group has just released its latest Shoppers Guide to Pesticides, a handy downloadable card that lists the kinds of conventional produce that have the highest levels of pesticide residues and the kinds that have the lowest. It includes their “Dirty Dozen,” the fruit and vegetables found to be most contaminated. While Rodale.com applauds that sentiment, we also want to point out the myriad reasons to choosing organic food at any possible opportunity. “Pesticide residues are an important indicator, but it’s not all a person needs to think about,” says Greg Bowman, communications manager at the Rodale Institute. “The farming system that grows the food is really what has the biggest impact on your health and the environment.”
So here are 12 reasons why you should buy only organic, or as close to it as you can get.
Organic produce is always better than crops grown with synthetic fertilizers and water-polluting pesticides because:
1. It leads to healthier neighbors. We all know pesticides are bad for wildlife, but they’re also bad for the people who apply them, and for the people who live near farms. A 2006 study published in the Annals of Neurology found that workers who reported using pesticides had a 70 percent higher incidence of Parkinson’s disease than workers who didn’t use pesticides. A follow-up to that study, published this past February, found instances of Parkinson’s were threefold greater among people who lived near farms sprayed with two types of pesticides, compared with people who weren’t exposed.
2. It leads to healthier kids. Kids are exposed to pesticides in their diets more than in sprays used around homes or in schools. Organic diets cut down on all dietary pesticide exposure in kids, and especially exposure to organophosphates, a class of highly toxic agricultural pesticides that can affect neurological development.
More info on organic:
Hidden costs of conventional food: Organic Is Worth It...And Here's Why
Live the farm fantasy! 5 Ways to Farm if You're Not a Farmer
Is it really organic? How to Find True Organic Food at the Farmer's Market
3. Organic farming uses less energy. In a review of the Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trials, which compare conventional agriculture to organic agriculture, Cornell University researcher David Pimentel found that organic corn and soybeans can be grown with 30 percent less energy than conventionally grown corn and soybeans, and still produce the same yield.
4. And it helps to mitigate global-warming emissions. Not only do organic growing techniques require less energy—and therefore produce less greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels—they literally add carbon back the soil. Also, according to research done at the Rodale Institute, we could pull up to 25 percent of climate-warming carbon emissions out of the atmosphere if all U.S. farmland were converted to organic farmland.
5. Organic produce contains more nutrients. The nutrient levels in conventionally grown produce have declined over the years, largely due to the amounts of synthetic fertilizers applied to fields. Those synthetic fertilizers kill the beneficial microorganisms that, in organic soil, feed crops and supply them with higher nutrient levels. Virginia Worthington, a clinical dietician and advocate for organic foods, surveyed more than 40 years’ worth of studies and found that the results showed that organic produce had much higher levels of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus than conventional produce.
6. It’s better for your drinking water. In its surveys of groundwater quality, the U.S. Geological Survey has detected at least one pesticide in every stream tested. The most frequently detected pesticides, and those with the highest concentrations, were synthetic chemicals used in conventional agriculture. The less we rely on pesticides to grow our food, the less reliance we’ll have on expensive filters for pesticide-free drinking water.
7. It protects our soil. Agrichemicals kill more than pests—they wipe out beneficial microorganisms in the soil that help create rich, spongelike soil organic matter (SOM) that holds nutrients and soaks up rainwater. While organic growing methods nurture the development of SOM, chemically treated fields leave soil loose, lifeless, and more vulnerable to erosion.
8. It’s cheaper in the long run—and sometimes at the register. Comparing price tags between organic and chemical produce is somewhat misguided, since the latter costs so more in terms of poorer health and a poisoned environment. And organic food doesn’t have the benefit of subsidies to keep its prices artificially low. But we all have to make ends meet—these days, more so than ever. So visit your local farmer’s market and do some price comparisons with the chemically grown produce at a nearby grocer. You might just get a better deal on fresh, organically grown food than you would at the store, especially when you buy food that’s in season. If there’s a CSA program in your area, you can buy organic food at bulk prices and support local organic growers. And check the frozen food aisle: Sometimes (though not always) frozen organic produce is cheaper than its chemical counterpart.
9. It isn’t Franken-food. USDA-certified organic farmers can’t grow crops from genetically modified (GM) seeds (not that they want to). In addition to creating greater biodiversity on organic farms, excluding GMO food may result in more nutritious fare: One study found that GMO tomatoes had lower levels of antioxidants than non-GMO tomatoes.
10. It’s hasn’t been sprayed with crap. And we mean that literally. Also disallowed under USDA organic regulations is the use of sewage sludge and biosolids on crop fields. As if the leftovers of wastewater treatment aren’t inherently disgusting enough to make spraying them on food a bad idea, biosolids can be contaminated with heavy metals, such as lead, and with a wide variety of pharmaceuticals that don’t get extracted during sewage treatment, including antiepileptic drugs and prescription painkillers.
11. Organic means humane treatment for animals. Yeah, this is a list about produce. But it’s worth mentioning that organic meat and dairy animals aren’t treated with hormones or given routine antibiotics. That means they can’t be crammed into overcrowded feedlots, where antibiotic treatment is the only way to keep shoulder-to-shoulder critters from constantly infecting each other.
12. Organics just taste better! It seems a no-brainer that crops grown in healthy soil and not sprayed with sewage sludge and tons of synthetic pesticides will end up with superior taste. But studies show that organics are richer in flavor as well as nutrients.
Filed Under: ORGANIC FOOD
Published on: March 23, 2009