Organic foods have become a prevalent movement in today’s world, but what is it about organic foods that make people not only spend a few extra dollars, but completely change their lifestyles? The benefits of organic farming compared to conventional farming span from bodily health to environmental health, including animal welfare. Making organic choices benefits the overall state of the environment, and it all starts with the farmers. Here, we explore the differences between conventional and organic farming methods.
Pesticides, Herbicides and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
Pesticides and herbicides are used for speedy plant growth and to prevent insects and invasive weeds from damaging crops. These chemicals are harmful to human health and can result in birth defects, nerve damage, and cancer (1). GMOs are created to be resistant to damage from these chemicals but result in unnatural, unhealthy foods with lingering side-effects.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implemented safety standards on the use of toxic pesticides in food, the agency claims that the “presence of a detectible pesticide residue does not mean the residue is at an unsafe level” (2). Though it is a great feat to raise the standard on pesticide use, many organic farmers stop the use of harmful pesticides as well as herbicides on their crops entirely.
Instead, organic farmers use natural methods. These means are derived from natural sources unlike the synthetically-made chemicals. To ensure you are buying produce that is organic, look for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Certified Organic seal at your grocery store. When buying at your local Farmer’s Market, be sure to ask plenty of questions as most small-scale farmers can’t afford a seal.
In the Interest of Animals
Conventional farming methods rely on feeding animals substantial amounts of grains, drugs, and even same-species meats. In addition to poor nutrition, these animals also live in stressful environments. Chickens, pigs, and cows are grouped together in small cages, limiting their comfort and their space to grow. These poor living conditions are managed by feeding the animals synthetic growth hormones and other harmful drugs which in turn affect the quality of human health.
Organic farming focuses on raising healthy animals from the beginning. Animals are given foods free of hormones and GMOs, and at times are committed to a purely vegetarian diet. The animals also have freedom to roam and grow naturally without the use of growth hormones (3). Consideration of the animal’s diets and lifestyles is vital when it comes to human health. Essentially, how these animals live translates to our overall health and well-being.
Organic agriculture uses methods like crop rotation and reusing soil from compost to reduce pollution. The process of crop rotation keeps soil fertile throughout the year as certain crops can deplete the nutrients in soil if maintained in the same area for too long (4). This method decreases the use of pesticides since the plants are in a naturally healthier state to prosper. Reducing the use of synthetic pesticides is not only beneficial to the foods we eat, but also serves the water we drink and the air we breathe.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture claims that organic farming uses less energy, locks carbon in the soil (reducing the carbon footprint) and produces more fertile soil (due to the soil rotation technique) (5). These benefits effectively lower the need of pesticides, natural or synthetic, thus lessening overall pollution.
University level taste-testing resulted in a favoring of organically produced foods. Organic apples tasted sweeter and held their crispness longer than conventionally-grown apples. In a study executed in Spain, organic strawberries had a bolder color compared to those conventionally-grown. Tomatoes were also rated as juicier and more flavorful compared to their conventional counterparts (6). All of these seemingly superficial qualities yield fruits and vegetables with higher antioxidant properties, vitamins, and nutrients. The absence of synthetic pesticides and herbicides lets these crops grow naturally without being doused with harsh chemicals.
Organic foods are essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It considers minute details that aren’t always present in conventional farming. Organic growing can also be practiced at home where the home gardener knows exactly what their crops are being fed. If this isn’t an option, local farmers can be consulted at farmer’s markets during harvesting season to gain information on what is being used in the soil and how organic methods are being implemented.
- Institute for Responsible Technology, “10 Reasons to Avoid GMOs,” http://responsibletechnology.org/10-reasons-to-avoid-gmos, Accessed January 31, 2017.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Food and Pesticides,” https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/food-and-pesticides, Accessed January 31, 2017.
- Organic It’s Worth it, “Animal Health and Welfare,” “Environmental Health,” http://www.organicitsworthit.org/learn/animal-health-and-welfare, http://www.organicitsworthit.org/learn/environmental-health, Accessed January 31, 2017.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “What Are the Environmental Benefits of Organic Agriculture?” http://www.fao.org/organicag/oa-faq/oa-faq6/en/, Accessed January 31, 2017.
- United States Department of Agriculture, “Soil Tillage and Crop Rotation,” https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-practices-management/crop-livestock-practices/soil-tillage-and-crop-rotation/, Accessed January 31, 2017.
- The Organic Center, “Do Organic Fruits and Vegetables Taste Better than Conventional Produce?” https://organic-center.org/reportfiles/Taste2Pager.pdf, Accessed January 31, 2017.