Those who prefer to eat organic usually want to lead a healthier life but can organically grown produce be truly organic when conventionally grown crops are being produced all around it?
The organic foods business is lucrative and sometimes fraudulent, an area where fake labeling is not uncommon. The EU plans to introduce stringent limits on pesticide residue for all organic foods. Organic farmers generally approve of clearer, more trustworthy labeling but this legislation doesn’t account for the fact that surrounding crops are conventionally sprayed and the residue is blown onto their crops. Each year conventional farmers spray around 9 kilos of pesticides per hectare. These chemicals are not only found in the food, when it rains they seep into the soil and end up in the ground water. Water companies are already concerned by the level of nitrates in the water supply due to over fertilising. Many pesticides do not compose but remain in the environment for many years and filtering of pollutants is time consuming , costly and is paid for by everyone who pays for their drinking water.
Organic produce is still in the minority, it can cost up to 30% more than conventionally grown food and this can be a temptation to engage in fraudulent practices. There are already rumours of conventional farmers selling their eggs as organic because the system as it stands lacks the appropriate labeling process which may lead to consumers losing belief in organic food.
So is organic farming healthier? Scientists have been studying the difference and have already proven that organic apples contain more antioxidants than conventional apples. There is the argument that we need our existing approach in order to feed the growing population and organic farming isn’t sustainable, especially when it comes to meat production and consumers are still reluctant to buy organic meat due to its high price.
Conventional farmers exist to make big profits while organic farmers work in harmony with nature and raise and slaughter their animals in less stressful conditions. So is there a compromise? An experimental farm in Germany headed by a research team at Newcastle University is looking into combining the two, and some surprising results have already emerged. Combining organic fertiliser with conventional pesticides actually increases the residue of the weed killers in field crops. Pointing to the fact that if a changeover to totally organic was to ever be possible, it would have to be complete.
A study in 2016 looked at the quality between organic and conventional meat and concluded that the organic produce contained up to 50% more omega 3 fatty acids. This is down to what the animals were fed, in the case of ruminants, whether it is grass, its natural food or grain, a completely foreign food for cows. It is also considered in some countries that if milk is not from completely grass fed cattle, it cannot be used to create hard cheeses.
The welfare of an animal is also a major plus point for organic farming but consumers can’t be completely sure that, for instance, an egg, although sold as organic, comes from a happy hen. Throughout the EU checks are in place to ensure that all organic egg producers adhere to strict guidelines and are inspected regularly (at least once a year) and without warning.
Another benefit of organic farming is that no nitrous oxide is used. It is the single largest contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from UK and European Union agriculture.
It is in light of these findings that organic food is not just about our health but the health of the planet.
The documentary here by Deutsche Welle (DW) television channel is dedicated to this topic and well worth viewing.