Is organic food naturally better for you? Does your family wonder about the advantages of organic food? Get the facts here! If you are curious about the benefits of organic food, and you want to
obliterate - umm, I mean educate - your spouse so he/she will 'buy in' to the organic food health benefit, read on!
Even before we bought New Terra Farm we had a 'consuming interest' in healthy, natural and organic food. We patronized local organic farmers and markets and supported natural and organic food organizations. We even made our own made our own baby food and pet food from natural ingredients.
Along the way we gathered a lot of information about the advantages of organic food, and the benefits they may offer. This information is presented here for your 'consumption'.
Before we get into the advantages of organic food, lets define a few terms.
Organic Food. The term refers to food grown without synthetic pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones, fertilizers or other synthetic or toxic substances. No artificial flavours or colours have been added.
Organic food does not include foods that have been irradiated or that contain GMOs. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.
'Certified organic' means that the food item was grown in compliance with organic standards as set by one of the organic regulatory agencies - e.g. OCIA (Organic Crop Improvement Association).
Natural Food. One dictionary definition reads 'Food that does not contain any additives, such as preservatives or artificial colouring'. (On this one we also like to add that the food has not been deliberately altered in the course of production and processing).
Having presented some definitions, I will now proceed to tell you why we think that definitions (or even 'certifications') aren't the real answer!
We think there are a couple of gaps in those definitions:
1) - they don't consider the impacts of the methods used to grow and deliver food, e.g. they don't always consider the natural behaviours and instincts of animals used for food (i.e. animal welfare), and
2) - they don't consider the distance food travels from where it is grown to where it is consumed i.e. 'food miles'. If you have to buy your organic tomato a seat on Air Canada to get it here, is that really a sustainable way to produce food?
Let me throw a further complication into the mix. What about 'Fair Trade' food items? Its obviously a good thing if a grower in a far-off land receives a good wage for his/her effort, but does buying these products conflict with the idea of limiting food miles? Note: Scott and Suzie buy things like Fair Trade coffee and chocolate, since even the conventional stuff usually comes from far away. But the choice is not always that easy.
All this to tell you, we don't believe there is a simplistic answer. We think you have to figure out for yourself where and how the advantages of organic food may outweigh these other considerations.
We had to make many decisions when we started New Terra Farm. For example, we are not 'certified organic'. We will occasionally have to treat a sick or injured animal (happens maybe once or twice a year, and not to animals we sell for food).
Last year we had a ewe get an infection after delivering twin lambs; we tried to treat her with nutritional supplements (sort of like energy drinks for sheep), and homoeopathic remedies, but eventually we were faced with the choice of treating her with anti-biotics or losing the animal. So we treated her, and in a few days she was okay. This is one of our personal 'jumping-off' points.
Now this animal did not go for food, she is a breeder, and if we ever had to treat a food animal we would remove it from our 'food chain'. So far we have never had to; our cultural practices e.g. raising everything on pasture with access to fresh air, grass and sunshine, means we rarely have problems. But you can see the decisions that are necessary.
So its not using meds that we object to, its routine use, as a means of controlling problems created by how you raise the animal. Chickens like to scratch, cows and sheep like to graze, and pigs like to root. When you frustrate those instincts you create problems.
By the way, if one of my kids (the two-legged kind, not the goats) were sick, and it was medically necessary, I would let them be treated with anti-biotics. But then, we raised them 'free-range' too, so it was rarely necessary (we just put down a couple big bowls of 'Teenager Chow' and fresh water, and turned them loose!)
But enough ranting (for now, I reserve right to rant later,) what about the health aspects of organic and natural food? We've said organic foods have less 'bad stuff', i.e. pesticide residues, and more 'good stuff' like vitamins and minerals (this is claimed as one the main advantages of organic food). Is this just hype, or is there some science to back up these claims? Read on!
There's lots of information coming in with respect to the relative safety of organic food. Lots of 'consumers' (i.e. you and me) are concerned about the potential human toxicity of pesticides found on common foods, the possible hazards of genetically modified foods, and the impact on the environment of conventional farming practices that employ these things.
There's also a pretty good, concise overview of the history of organic agriculture and how the movement evolved at this link.
But, what does all this add up too? In our opinion, it only makes sense to avoid food additives, stay away from GMOs, eschew pesticides, eliminate routine drug and hormone use, and buy healthy, local NATURAL food!
To sum up, we decided that if we paid more for organic food, at least we were paying the full cost of the food up-front; we would not later be paying a hidden cost to clean up the environment, or pay the price of consuming the 'unhealthy extras' found in many conventional foods. In our opinion, the advantages of organic food greatly outweigh the disadvantages.
Speaking as a small farmer, and from a purely commercial aspect, the advantages of organic food as a product right now are spectacular. The trend in consumption of organic food is soaring; growth in North America is at least 20% annually.
The consumer demand for fresh local organic food has never been higher. Bad news on the supply chain is good news for local growers.
Get my free Organic Market Gardener Start-up Guide and see if this is the right time to launch your CSA market garden business. Download it here.
Download more free reports here