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Everyday more organic foods are being placed on grocery store shelves, gaining popularity with consumers and the attention of mass media. Most shoppers assume organic produce and foods are healthier than their conventional counterparts. The thought is that organic foods don’t contain the same harmful pesticides and are therefore safer. So, is this trend toward buying organics just a fad or will it continue to be a viable alternative?
First, consider that there is little scientific evidence that organic food is actually more nutritious or safer to eat. Organic food is also marked at a considerably higher price making it an unlikely choice for those on tight budgets.
For a product to be considered officially organic it must meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines stating the food is produced without conventional or synthetic pesticides. ‘Conventional’ is the key word here as the guidelines do not stipulate that no pesticides may be used. Organic food is grown using natural pesticides and products such as iron, sulfur and copper.
Pesticides are associated with cancer, respiratory problems and other health issues. Children are more susceptible to the negative effects of pesticides. Organic foods harbor less pesticide residue so the consumption of such foods is considered by buyers to be healthier and safer.
Organic farming is also thought to be better for the environment. Because there are fewer synthetic pesticides used there are less chemical byproducts released into the environment which could potentially harm wildlife.
For these reasons it is generally assumed that organic eating is better for the consumer and the environment. However, scientific studies have not conclusively found organic products to be healthier than their conventional alternatives. This is because conventional foods already have a very low level of pesticide residue so the amount being consumed is considered safe.
In theory organic farms should be better for the environment, and some studies support this idea. However, because of inconsistencies among studies more data is needed to conclusively prove this assumption.
Those that consider organic food to be safer are more likely to assume it is also healthier. But, there is no evidence that this is the case. The USDA concludes that conventional and organic foods are equally nutritious their only difference is in the way they are grown and processed.
If this is the case why do so many people seem to be buying organic foods? One explanation may be consumers’ increased concern with food related health risks, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. This fear of the harmful effects of pesticides is one aspect driving the organic market.
It is also possible that those who purchase organic foods see themselves as part of a higher socio-economic culture. Organic products are more expensive, this suggests that those who buy organic foods have more disposable income.
Consumers are choosing to buy organic foods for a number of reasons including the desire to be exposed to fewer pesticides and therefore have better health, but because there is little scientific support for better living through organics it’s hard to determine if this is a passing fad or part of the future.
Todd Nelson, D.Sc. trained at the International Center for Natural Health and Medicine, graduating with both a Naturopathic Doctor degree and a Doctor of Holistic Health Sciences degree. Aside from heading the Tree of Life Wellness Center in Denver, Colorado as a naturopathic doctor, Todd is also a co-author of 3 books.