More Nutritious? Maybe Not. But the Case for Organics Goes Beyond Nutrients

Despite a recent study claiming organics are no healthier than conventional produce, there are plenty of reasons to choose them.
Organic food doesn't just taste better; it's good for our health. (Peter Dazeley/Getty Images)
Sep 11, 2012
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

When Stanford University recently suggested that organic fruits, veggies, and meat aren't really better for our health than conventionally produced foods, hordes of people jumped in to comment. Organic advocates rushed to defend the benefits of eating organic, while conventional farmersand Big Aglikely breathed a sigh of relief. Mother Jones, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times all joined the debate as well.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and proponents of organics are throwing the conversation back in the other direction. There are plenty of reasons to avoid pesticides and genetic engineering, says a new report by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF)—health included.

In its Organic Farming for Health & Prosperity report, the OFRF asserts that organic farming stands to benefit our soil, water systems, economy, and human health.

The report, which is science-based and peer-reviewed, assesses Canadian and U.S. scientific literature from the year 2000 to today to examine the benefits of organic agriculture, concluding that it would behoove us as a nation to commit to an organic future.

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Human health, the report says, is a reason to go organic that everyone can understand.

"Young bodies in particular are more susceptible to the impacts of pesticides, fungicides and other synthetic chemicals used in nonorganically grown fruits and vegetables," notes the report. Studies have shown that adults, too, are susceptible to the damaging effects of pesticides, and the effects are nothing to sneeze at. Among field workers who apply them, pesticides can cause rashes, vomiting, nausea, and headaches. Pesticide exposure has been linked to other ailments as well, including damaged central nervous systems, reproductive problems, and cancer.

Economic prosperity is another reason.

"Organic production continues to be one of the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. food system," the report points out, noting that sales of organic food and non-food products jumped 9.5 percent from 2010 to 2011. Prior to the economic downturn, sales were even more impressive, increasing an average of 19 percent annually. Meanwhile, non-organic products increased just 4.7 percent from 2010 to 2011.

The organic sector also stands to increase job opportunities: According to the report, 78 percent of organic farmers plan to maintain or increase their organic production over the next five years.

Environmental benefits can't be discounted, either.

Phasing out the loads of pesticides that are applied to crops in today's non-organic agriculture could reduce the ecosystem-choking algae blooms that quickly form in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of pesticide drainage. Organic farming also uses biological forms of fertilizers, which release nutrients and reduce nitrate leaching into the water supply, and mitigates global warming by sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In concluding that a shift toward organic agriculture is key to success in many arenas, both inside and outside of agriculture, the report pinpoints ways Ag policies can help support organic farmers—namely, with money for more research that can prove the validity of investing in an organic future.

"The government should increase research that is responsive to organic farmers' needs, integrate organic programs into every federally funded university, and create farm safety net and transition assistance programs that work for organic growers," the report states.

OFRF Executive Director Maureen Wilmot says that we've already got plenty of evidence with the spare amount of research funding available; more funding could catapult us to even more thorough conclusions regarding the correlation between organic farming and human health.

The report stresses that it's urgent we make haste in furthering research. "Bottom line, we must increase investments relative to the opportunity organics deliver to our country and people," Wilmot says.

Do you shop organic? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments section below.

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