The Food We Eat, Part Three

Is Organic Food Really Better?

By Laura Dobell

The Department for Agriculture and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) states that: ‘Organic food is the product of a farming system which avoids the use of man-made fertilizers, pesticides; growth regulators and livestock feed additives. Irradiation and the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or products produced from or by GMOs are generally prohibited by organic legislation.

‘Organic agriculture is a systems approach to production that is working towards environmentally, socially and economically sustainable production. Instead, the agricultural systems rely on crop rotation, animal and plant manures, some hand weeding and biological pest control’.  DEFRA – Crown Copyright.

People choose to eat organic for a variety of reasons including:

  • Organic farming is friendlier on the environment
  • Organic processed foods contains no hydrogenated fat, which has been linked to heart disease
  • Organic animals are feed a natural diet and kept in free range conditions
  • Genetically modified crops (GMOs) are not permitted under organic standards
  • There are lower levels of pesticide residue on organic food, and pesticide use is heavily regulated

There are some drawbacks to organic food:

  • Organic food may go off more quickly than non-organic.  This is because organic food does not contain artificial preservatives, are not GMOs (longer shelf life) and are also not irradiated
  • Organic food is more expensive to buy than non-organic food

If you decided to shop for organic produce, make sure it is Certified Organic.  This means that the food production adheres to a strict set of regulations. Most countries have their own certification guidelines.  Beware labelling such as “natural” which has no actual designation and is just a term used in marketing to make consumers believe the product is better or healthier than others. If you cannot buy all organic, below is a list of items that you should prioritize, due to farming practice and pesticide use.

  • Wine.  Wine is made from grapes, and grapes are #8 on the EWG Dirty Dozen list of fresh produce in the U.S. with pesticide residue.  Additionally, conventionally made wine may have a number of additives that you just don’t need to consume.
  • Coffee.  This warming beverage is the third most sprayed agriculture crop in the world, falling in line right behind cotton and tobacco
  • Apples.  A great source of fibre and helps to lower uric acid in you body, apples rank very high for pesticide residue.
  • Dairy.  Certified organic dairy means the producing animals did not receive any antibiotics or growth hormones, and only consumed 100% organic feed. If you want to step it up a notch, look for grass fed dairy, which means the cows were grass fed (as opposed to grass finished).
  • Blueberries.  These small berries were found to contain over 50 different pesticide residues.
  • Celery.  A super healthy vegetable, this plant was found to have 64 different types of pesticides on them.
  • Tomatoes. Another fruit (or veggie, depending on your perspective) that ranks super high on the EWG dirty product list, rounding at at 69 different chemicals found in residue.
  • Corn.  About 90% of the corn found in todays market is a GMO. It is not just on the cob.  You’ll find corn as oils and starches in a variety of processed food. The jury is still out on whether or not GMOs are safe so if avoiding GMOs is important to you, select Certified Organic corn.
  • Cucumbers.  Ranking in at 9th on EWGs 2015 report of the dirties produce, buy organic.  If you cannot, then definitely remove the waxy skin where the pesticide residue remains.
  • Grapes. Conventional grapes may contain over 15 different pesticide residues.  When buying the fruit or wine go organic.
  • Hot Peppers.  Conventionally grown peppers can contain up to 79 different pesticides, including known toxins and carcinogens.
  • Leafy Greens. Leafy greens have a large surface area for pesticides to stick onto.  When you eat a piece of lettuce, you are eating everything that is on that leaf.
  • Meat.  Depending on your countries regulations, conventional produced meat may contain hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. The pesticide is found in animal feed, which is grown using strong herbicides and fertilizers.
  • Nectarines.  According to the USDA Pesticide Data Program, 97% of nectarines tested contained traces of up to 33 different pesticides.
  • Peaches.  Similar stats to nectarines.  Just buy organic.
  • Potatoes.  While potatoes are a great source of nutrients such as potassium, according to 2015 EWG report, potatoes have more pesticides by weight than any other type of produce.
  • Snap Peas. Imported (to the US) snap peas contained more than 70 different pesticide residues.
  • Soy.  As of 2015 94% of soy sold in the United States is a GM crop.  Soy is found in tofu, edamame, tempeh, and also in oil that makes its way into many packaged foods.
  • Spinach.  Known as a superfood for its vitamin and mineral content, the USDA Pesticide Program found residue for 48 different pesticides.  Similarly to lettuce and kale, the surface area is substantial, so it is best to buy organic.
  • Strawberries. Conventionally grown strawberries residue from numerous pesticides, including Captan.  Captan is a probable human carcinogen and has caused rats to develop tumours.
  • Bell Peppers.  Known for their high concentrations of vitamins, bell peppers are also high on the dirty list containing more than 50 different pesticide residues.

If you are not able to buy entirely organic, these are foods that, depending on where they are grown, are likely to have less pesticides on them.

  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Pineapples
  • Asparagus
  • Grapefruit
  • Mangos
  • Kiwi
  • Mushrooms
  • Papayas
  • Sweet peas
  • Cantaloupe
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Cabbage
  • Watermelon
  • Cauliflower