The Downfall to Organic Food
I don’t know about you, but I almost feel guilty buying non-organic vegetables. As if the ethically-sound, environmentally-conscious shopper next to me is looking down on the non-organic carrots in my cart.
We have been told that organic is healthier for us and for the planet, and the message is obviously being heard loud and clear: The organic food industry in the US was estimated to be worth $29 billion in 2010, and has grown about 10 percent per year since then. On average, consumer report analyses say organic is about 47 percent more expensive than non-organic food. Other than organic being expensive, is there anything else problematic about it? Have we been brainwashed into thinking it’s something it’s not? Possibly, maybe, arguably this might be the case.
Here are a few things to consider before you blindly believe organic is automatically better for your health and the planet:
1. A Little Substance Called Carrageenan
What is carrageenan? It’s a substance extracted from some seaweeds that contains a mix of polysaccharides and is used to thicken foods, especially organic foods, such as almond milk and coconut milk. It is also found in some organic infant formulas and soy products. Sometimes it’s used as a substitute for gelatin in many vegan foods.
Why is it bad? Though a debatable subject, it has been shown to cause chronic inflammation, diabetes and cancer. And in fact, in 2016, the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) even voted to remove carrageenan from the list of substances allowed in organic food out of fear/evidence that it’s harmful to our health. Some evidence of health concerns can be found in Dr. Joanne K. Tobacman’s research on the substance. Her studies suggest that carrageenan can cause gastrointestinal inflammation, impaired glucose intolerance and insulin function. Read more here: Meanwhile, a more recent study published in 2012 also shows a link between carrageenan and diabetes. Full study can be read here: ().
2. More Waste!
Often times organic food, especially produce, doesn’t last as long in your fridge before going bad. This means you either end up with more waste, or have to go shopping more often. Or get really good at making soup with old, wrinkly vegetables.
3. Is it really healthier?
A few things that might be misleading:
• While we have often assumed organic means no chemicals are used at all, this isn’t always the case.
•In Europe, the UK Food Standards Agency, the French Food Safety Agency and the Swedish National Food Administration, have all released research that claims organic food is neither safer nor more nutritious than non-organic food.
• Similarly, a 2009 analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition () said there’s no nutrient difference between organic and non-organic food. A 2012 study found similar results: ().
• Meanwhile, a 2012 study from Stanford University analyzed 240 studies. 223 of these studies compared nutrient, bacterial, fungal or pesticide levels on various organic and non-organic products, such as fruit, vegetables, grains, meats, milk, poultry and eggs. The result: Little significant health benefits between organic and conventional foods, and also no difference in vitamin content. (One significant difference were the level of Omega-3 fatty acids in organic milk).
4. What about ethics and the environment?
When it comes to ethics and the environment, it seems pretty evident that organic animal faming is the way to go: Animals are clearly treated more humanely and live in better conditions on organic farms. BUT, when it comes to vegetables, this isn’t the case.
The common belief is that pesticides used on non-organic produce are bad for the environment, but a 2010 study () found that some organic pesticides actually have worse environmental impacts than conventional ones.
It goes beyond just pesticides: Organic milk, cereals and pork often generate higher greenhouse gas emissions per product than non-organic ones (this comes from a study from Oxford university. Not only, that more, but organic products often take up more land (an average of 85% more land) and produce less products in the process!
And finally, check out this article that talks about how organic agriculture today actually creates more pollution than conventional faming: ().
What do you think? Do you think it’s worth breaking your wallet and bank account on organic food? Why or why not?