Is Organic Food Truly Healthier?

organic-food-healthier-300x199Passing by the produce section of the grocery store, you might switch it up and decide to get the organic Red Delicious apples, which cost twice as much as the non-organic. In the cracker, cereal, bread and yogurt aisles, you’re again given the option of alluring organic brands. Many people spend more on organic because they associate the term with a healthier and more wholesome product – but is this really true?

What is “Organic”?

Organic products rarely make the claim that they are “healthier” – this is instead a result of effective food marketing. Anyone in food quality training can tell you that the term organic does not refer to the health of the food, but rather the farming practices that were used to produce it. Organic farming means growing food in a way that conserves biodiversity and recycles resources. Organic food therefore does not use fertilizers or synthetic pesticides.

Health Benefits of Organic Food

A recent Newcastle University study concluded that eating organic food does have certain positive health benefits. Someone with clinical research training will probably know that antioxidants and flavanones can help reduce the risk of stroke – and the Newcastle researchers discovered that organic products tend to have more of these components. Organic food consumers also reduce their risk of pesticide exposure. Pesticides in non-organic food have been thought to contribute to cancer, a weakened immune system and internal organ damage, specifically in children.

Foodborne Illnesses

Several studies have concluded that organically farmed produce does have higher amounts of fecal matter than non-organic food. That is because organic food is grown solely in manure, whereas conventional crops rely on synthetic fertilizer. Higher amounts of fecal matter mean that organic food does have the risk of carrying salmonella and E.coli (lettuce is the worst culprit!). Many affected by these foodborne illnesses have advocated for stricter manure laws for organic farms.

Regulation of the “Organic” Label

Organic certification is not just restricted to farms – seed distributors, restaurants and retailers can all become organic certified. In Canada, any product or business calling itself organic must have official organic certification from the province.

Despite these laws, there are some scandals which have erupted over the label “organic” and the misleading of consumers. Although not an illegal practice, companies will often slap the label “natural” on their products in an effort to appear organic, tricking some consumers into thinking they are buying pesticide-free food. Sometimes, processed organic foods like crackers or cereals will only use certain organic ingredients (but not others), essentially negating any possible health benefits.

New drugs on the market have to go through stringently regulated pharmaceutical quality control; however, when it comes to organic food, there are few rules that govern production and sale. While “organic” labelled products are required to be certified under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, there are no mandatory tests to ensure the product is farmed without pesticides. This can lead to misrepresentation and abuse of a system designed to guarantee more ecologically and health-conscious alternatives for consumers

Do you think it’s worthwhile to spend more on organic food products?