I keep seeing articles claiming that many organics are a waste of money. Even health guru Dr. Mercola (whom I tend to agree with on most issues) wrote an article on it. The advice is to buy conventional (non-organic) for the EWG’s Clean 15 list or for fruits & veggies with thick skins/those you peel to save money. What this advice says is that the rate of pesticides found on produce should be the ONLY determining factor when deciding between organic and non-organic. While pesticide levels are extremely important, it is concerning that people may automatically choose conventional for the “cleaner” foods. The writers, many of whom are nutritionists, are failing to point out the OTHER reasons why organic makes sense.

Contemplating between organic and conventional?  Here are 6 OTHER reasons why organics make sense:

ONE:  More Vitamins & Minerals – There is evidence suggesting that conventionally grown produce may be less healthy than it once was due to the “dilution effect.” Why? Produce is grown with fertilizer for desirable traits (firmness, color, increased size, etc.) instead of optimal vitamin & mineral content. Essentially, produce is larger with more “dry matter,” but doesn’t proportionately contain as many nutrients. You have to eat more to get the same amount of nutrients.

TWO:  Kinder to our Farm Workers – Farm employees who work on conventional farms face a daily barrage of chemicals. Since migrant workers are frequently undocumented, the illness and disease caused by their hazardous environment goes largely under-reported. Many pesticides are known carcinogens and the workers who tend to our crops suffer the health consequences.

THREE:  Better for the Earth – Conventional farming relies heavily on pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and fertilizers to achieve desired pest management and high yields. Our soil ends up essentially dead and the chemicals seep into our rivers, ocean, and air. When we buy conventional, we “pay” in a multitude of other ways.

FOUR:  Less Reliance on Fossil Fuels – Today’s industrial farming is incredibly energy-intensive. I remember Michael Pollan talking about how it takes 10 calories of fossil fuels to get 1 calorie of food. Stop and stew on that for a minute. Now, I know organic farming relies on oil for machinery and equipment, but it is fraction of what conventional farming is using with fertilizers.

“To feed an average family of four in the developed world uses up the equivalent of 930 gallons of gasoline a year — just shy of the 1,070 gallons that same family would use up each year to power their cars.”

All About: Food and fossil fuels via CNN.com

FIVE:  No GMOs - Certified organic farming prohibits the use of genetically modified seeds in the U.S. This is significant. If you don’t want GMOs (genetically modified organisms), buy certified organic. Since no GM labeling is currently required, it is the only way to know if your food is GMO free. The scary thing is that many of our organic foods are under direct threat from GM crops due to cross-pollination (between GM and non-GM crops). Many of our organic crops contain trace amounts of GM matter that is becoming almost impossible to avoid; especially with certain crops like soybeans. Click here for more information on the initiative to require GM foods to be labeled in California. Labeling of GMOs is required in the EU. This was a direct result of consumer demand and it is about time we demand it here in the U.S.

SIX:  Make a Statement - Every time you buy organic, you are voting with your wallet. You are making a decision that says, “I support what organic stands for and I’m willing to pay for it.” As more people buy organics, more farmers will choose to farm this way. It’s supply and demand and ultimately, the customer is king.  As we all know, money = power. As the organic industry makes more money, they will have more power which will ultimately impact regulation and government.

Self disclosure: I don’t always buy everything organic, but I try really, really hard.  Also, I understand that today’s organic farming is not the panacea. Much of it is becoming “industrial organic” and is barely the steward of the land type of farming you may expect. There are problems with organic certification, paperwork costs for smaller farmers, and integrity. When I talk about the benefits of organic, people often ask, “how do you know if an apple is organic?” The bottom line is you don’t. Ideally, you know the farm and farmer and trust that he/she is honest. We need strict regulation on the organic industry and stiff penalties for those who violate the rules. It is going to take everyone’s help to make sure our organic industry stays truly organic. So next time you are staring at the organic and non-organic carrots, be reminded of ALL the reasons why it might be worth it to spend a little more on the organic bunch.

Sources:
Time Health
Davis, Donald: Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition: What Is the Evidence?
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
FAO: Organic Agriculture
Union of Concerned Scientists

Images:

USDA, Oregon Tilth & CCOF
Main photo of Synergy Organic Farms in Santa Barbara, CA by Be Food Smart