Organic Is Better

It’s Proven: Organic Is Better
By Steven Hoffman

Organic food production is a cornerstone of the rapidly growing LOHAS market. Now, scientific research proves the health and environmental benefits of organic products. With Wal-Mart now offering organic products, Safeway’s “O” Organics being one of the top organic brands in the country, and Whole Foods Market annual sales reaching $8 billion, organic products have certainly penetrated the mainstream marketplace.

Driving this phenomenon has been soaring consumer demand. Sales of organic products have been growing at more than 20 percent a year over the past two decades, according to the Organic Trade Association, and in 2006, sales of organic products reached nearly $17 billion. According to the Hartman Group, a leading market research firm, 70 percent of Americans buy organic products occasionally, and nearly 25 percent buy organic every week.

For most people, the reason to choose organic is simple: We want food that is better for us and for the environment. Additionally, consumer concerns continue to revolve around the use of toxic synthetic pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, genetically engineered foods—and now FDA-approved cloning—in conventional food, dairy and meat production. These methods are not allowed under federal standards governing certified organic foods and other products.

Based on a survey conducted in 2006 by the Natural Marketing Institute, 52 percent of consumers choosing organic products indicated that “they are better for me and my family.” Also, 51 percent of respondents choose organic to promote overall health, and 50 percent choose organic to “avoid additives, pesticides and toxins.”

Yet, recently, there have been a number of articles in the media claiming that organic food and farming is no better than conventionally produced agricultural products. Don’t believe it. Organic is better—and there is scientific research to prove it.

Recent studies published by The Organic Center—a nonprofit foundation based in Boulder, Colo., dedicated to advancing scientific research on organic products—and findings from university researchers in the United States and Europe have shown the following:

• Organic fruits and vegetables are higher in antioxidants and flavonoids than their conventionally grown counterparts.
• Organic produce is often judged tastier and more pleasing than conventional produce, and organic apples store better and are tastier than conventional apples, according to the results of studies carried out in several countries.
• Organic milk is higher in certain essential fatty acids and vitamins than conventional milk.
• Organic corn production uses 30 percent less energy per bushel harvested than conventional corn.
• Healthier soils in organic production tie up more carbon in the soil, helping to lessen the impact agriculture may have on global warming.

Reducing Risk of Pesticide Exposure
One of the primary reasons people choose organic is that products are produced without the use of toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, which helps reduce the risk of exposure to pesticide residues in food and chemical contamination in the environment. This becomes especially critical in children, where exposure to toxic chemicals has been linked to development of allergies, asthma and autism. A recent study published in October 2007 found that children born to mothers who lived near fields treated with pesticides are more likely to be inflicted with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The study, conducted in California’s Central Valley, found that mothers exposed to the organochlorine insecticides dicofol and endosulfan during weeks one through eight of pregnancy—the critical “developmental window” when the central nervous system is first formed—had more than a six-fold higher chance of bearing children with ASD, compared to women living away from pesticide applications during pregnancy. Endosulfan (Thiodan™) remains a widely used insecticide in the U.S. and is found by the USDA in a significant percentage of several fresh fruits and vegetables. It is even more heavily used overseas, and often is found in imported foods at levels well above those typically present in domestic produce.

Additionally, according to a report published in 2006 by The Organic Center, “The average American child is exposed to five pesticides daily in their food and drinking water. Switching to an organic diet for just five days virtually eliminated any sign of exposure to organophosphate insecticides among school-age children.”

Can Organic Feed the World?
In a remarkably strong and forceful report released in September 2007, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concludes that organic farming helps fight hunger, reduce climate change and improve the economic well-being of farmers and consumers worldwide. The FAO says organic farming is no longer a niche market, and that a 50 percent conversion to organic production would not harm food security, even in sub-Saharan Africa. Through development and intensification of organic production systems, the FAO believes that food production could be increased 56 percent in developing countries. The report also describes the many nutritional, food safety, animal welfare and environmental benefits of organic food and farming.

Organic on a Budget
Consumers often cite the price of organic as a primary barrier to purchasing organic products. According to the Natural Marketing Institute, nearly three-quarters of consumers surveyed state that organic foods are too expensive. However, says NMI, they are responding positively to lower-priced, private label products. Also, with increased competition among retailers carrying organic products, consumers are often able to take advantage of sales, or use coupons to save money on organic products. Many organic brands have printable coupons available for download on their websites. Farmers’ markets often carry reasonably priced locally grown organic produce, as well.

If you can’t always afford organic, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends at least choosing organic when it comes to the “dirty dozen,” that is, fruits and vegetables that are grown with a high level of pesticide applications, including peaches, strawberries, nectarines, apples, spinach, celery, pears, sweet bell peppers, cherries, potatoes, lettuce and imported grapes. You can download a list of produce ranked by pesticide contamination at EWG’s www.foodnews.org.

Information Resources Available
As an independent, nonprofit organization established in 2002, the mission of The Organic Center is to advance credible, peer-reviewed scientific research behind the health and environmental benefits of organic foods—and to communicate those benefits to the public. All of our scientific studies are available for free download at www.organic-center.org. The Center also publishes a free e-newsletter, The Scoop, a monthly digest of the latest global organic research, and in 2007 published a fully illustrated book, Core Truths, a compendium of research on organic.

Steven Hoffman is the Managing Director of The Organic Center. A former Peace Corps volunteer in agriculture, he also is co-founder of the LOHAS Journal and the annual LOHAS conference.

Sources for this article include:
* Evaluating Antioxidant Levels in Food Through Organic Farming and Food Processing, State of Science Review, The Organic Center, January 2005.
* Pharmacokinetics of Selected Chiral Flavonoids: Hesperetin, Naringenin and Eriodictyol in Rats and their Content in Fruit Juices, J.A. Yanez, et al., Biopharmaceutics & Drug Disposition, September 2007.
* Do Organic Fruits and Vegetables Taste Better than Conventional Fruits and Vegetables? Richard C. Theuer, State of Science Review, The Organic Center, December 2006.
* Consumption of organic foods and risk of atopic disease during the first two years of life in the Netherlands, Louis Bolk Institute Department of Health Care and Nutrition, Driebergen, the Netherlands. Ischa Kummeling, et al., British Journal of Nutrition, August 2007.
* Influence of organic diet on the amount of conjugated linoleic acids in breast milk of lactating women in the Netherlands, Lukas Rist, et al., British Journal of Nutrition, April 2007.
* Impacts of Organic Farming on the Efficiency of Energy Use in Agriculture, State of Science Review, The Organic Center, August 2006.
* The Myth of Nitrogen Fertilization for Soil Carbon Sequestration, Journal of Environmental Quality, November-December 2007.
* Maternal Residence Near Agricultural Pesticide Applications and Autism Spectrum Disorders among Children in the California Central Valley, Roberts et al., Environmental Health Perspectives, October 2007.
* Report of the International Conference on Organic Agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organization, September 2007.