Organic foods are starting to enter the mainstream North America diet – more than 10 percent of fruits and vegetables sold are now organic! There are benefits to eating organic, however is eating organic more beneficial than non-organic, considering the higher cost?
What is different about organic farming?
- Organic farmers use techniques such as green manures and compost to enrich the soil. Green manures are special crops that are planted, grown, and then plowed back into the soil. This can result in higher nutrient content of the soil, and potentially of foods grown in the soil.
- Some non-organic farmers may also use a combination of organic farming techniques such as green manures as well as non-organic farming techniques such as chemical fertilizers. This makes it hard to state that foods grown organically are more nutritious than foods grown in other ways.
- HOWEVER one can’t claim the organic foods are pesticide free. Although organic foods are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, they can pick up traces blown in the air from conventional farms or from water or packing materials in processing plants.
How do I know if a food is organic?
- In Canada, organic foods are foods are grown under strict regulations. In order to make an organic claim, a food must meet the organic standards regulations which are monitored and enforced by the Canada Food Inspection Agency. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency works with certification bodies to ensure that Canada-wide standards are met.
- The special logo to the left identifys the food as certified organic. Use of the organic logo is voluntary. The logo is only permitted on products that have an organic content that is greater than 95% and has been certified according to Canadian requirements for organic products.
Is organic more nutritious?
There is no simple answer to this question! Many factors can affect the nutritional content of food such as:
- the quality of soil
- temperature and light during the growing season
- the variety of seeds planted
- planting and harvesting dates
- soil maintenance after the growing season.
There are few studies that compare the nutrient content of organic and non-organic foods. Some research shows that vitamin A, beta-carotene, and some B vitamins are generally the same in organic and non-organic vegetables and fruit; but, some phytochemicals (natural plant compounds thought to be helpful to health) are higher in organic produce.
Phytochemicals can affect the colour, taste and other properties of food. One of the more important functions is to protect the plant from pests. Organic farmers often select seed varieties that are more naturally pest resistant, which means that the phytochemical levels may be higher than in other seed varieties.
Some foods grown organically may have more nutritional value, and some may have the same, or even less, than those grown on non-organic farms.
Safety of organic food
- Organically grown produce has been shown to be the same as non-organic produce in terms of food safety. Eating organic produce may reduce your exposure to some pesticide residues.
- Organic foods should still be prepared with the same precautions as conventional foods; vegetables and fruit should be washed before you prepare or eat them. Rinsing well under cold running water can also remove the minimal levels of pesticides typically found on produce.
- Sometimes though, extra precautions must be taken, for example, with organic chickens that are not routinely fed antibiotics to prevent bacterial contamination. Salmonella has been found to be higher in some organically grown chickens, but cooking chicken thoroughly and washing kitchen counters well will help prevent salmonella foodborne illness.
Although not pesticide free, organic foods have a lower amount of pesticides than non organic food. However Canadians are not exposed to unhealthy levels of pesticides from organic or non-organic food, it is still wise to reduce exposure when you can. While some organic products may give you a slight nutritious advantage, for example, in content of phytochemicals, you should weigh this advantage against the higher cost of organic product. I always say I’d rather you buy three non-organic apples instead of one organic apple.