With the recent hype in the news relating to new research articles being published on the topic, I decided to break down the difference and pros/cons of organic vs conventional farming. Is it really “better” to shell out the money for the increased cost of organic produce?
The term “organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products. These products may include fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products, and meat. Farmers who grow organic produce and meat don’t use conventional methods to fertilize, control weeds, or prevent livestock diseases. Organic farmers may typically use natural fertilizers such as manure to promote plant growth instead of a conventional chemical fertilizer. Also, organic farmers may use crop rotation, spread mulch, or hand weed the crops to prevent overgrowth of weeds instead of chemicals. While conventional farmers may use antibiotics to prevent livestock disease, organic farmers may try to minimize disease through rotational grazing and a balanced diet.
How do you know what food item is “organic”? The product must be USDA certified through a certification program established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There will be a USDA Organic label to show the food item is produced a processed according to the set standards. Be aware that “natural” does not mean organic.
Is organic food more nutritious? No. A recent study reported that there was no difference in the amount of vitamins in plant or animal products produced organically and conventionally. (Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review)
Is organic food “safer” to eat? No real difference in safety. Some conventionally grown foods may have detectable pesticide residues, but they are usually way below the set guidelines on what is considered safe.
Food Safety Tips: whether you eat organic or conventional you should wash and scrub fresh fruit and vegetables under cool running water to remove any traces of dirt, bacteria, or chemicals on the surface. Not all residuals may be removed by washing though.
If you are worried about the potential risk of pesticide residue on your produce, but don’t want to spend a fortune on all organic produce follow the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” rule of thumb:
Dirty Dozen (buy organic): apples, celery, bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries, potatoes
Clean Fifteen (lowest in pesticide): onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocado, cabbage, sweet peas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, kiwi, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, watermelon, mushrooms
Personally – I buy conventional produce that is in season. I try to scope out Farmer’s Markets for the best produce. I believe it always tastes best when it is grown locally – less travel yields better flavor! This is the best route to save money while experiencing maximum flavor. But, be sure to always clean your produce whether you choose organic or conventional!