Organic food is a trend that has exploded over the last decade after information on the chemicals used in crop and animal agriculture came to light. For food to be labeled organic, it must be produced without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents. Consuming food grown naturally is largely considered a healthier option than eating food processed with chemicals. However, for a variety of reasons including lobbying and advertising, there is a lot of misinformation surrounding what organic really means and what the benefits truly are.
The Organic Trend
Organic foods have been the subject of harsh skepticism for a few reasons: the higher prices of organic foods, leading people to believe organic foods should be considered a luxury for those who can afford it, and the positive advertising of the American agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation, Monsanto.
A number of factors can persuade individuals to shun organic produce. The high prices of organic foods have caused many people to turn their backs on these options, especially because the consequences of not choosing organic are not abundantly clear. There is limited medical information surrounding the use of chemicals in vegetables because the chemical modifications of food are a relatively recent discovery with limited direct consequences proven throughout the years. Furthermore, there’s the issue of availability: 23.5 million Americans living in “food deserts” — areas with little access to supermarkets — do not have easy access to organic goods.
In 2008, a documentary called Food Inc. brought practices that plant and animal agriculture companies were involved in across the country to light, raising concern among environmentalists and food lovers about the food they were putting on their tables. However, this documentary mostly shed light on real practices in the agriculture industries that consumers are kept largely in the dark about. A main emphasis in this film was the amount of control companies like Monsanto have among farmers and the widespread effects it has on our food.
What Organic Means
In reality, organic foods are simply those that are grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides. Farmers must use natural means to control insects and weeds for their food to be considered organic. Only natural fertilizers, such as compost, are allowed to help grow crops. After harvesting, farmers cannot treat food with preservatives to extend their shelf life, which is why organic food often goes bad quickly. It can be difficult for those with limited income to spend money on food that costs more and might go bad if you wait more than a few days to eat it.
Although 55 percent of Americans believe organic foods are healthier, 59 percent of people also believe that organic labeling is simply a means for companies to charge more for fresh crops and other food products. This is partially due to companies like Whole Foods, a relatively expensive retailer that places a large emphasis on quality standards and labels their food as natural, although their fruits and vegetables are not all organic. When food is grown organically, it cannot be exposed to glyphosate, a toxic herbicide that can be carcinogenic to humans with high exposure — although it’s unlikely to affect those who are simply consuming the food that was grown with the chemical.
Environmentalists have been concerned about the use of these chemicals for years, but there was limited proof until 2015, when the International Agency for Research on Cancer released a new finding stating that glyphosate was probably carcinogenic to humans. However, because only high exposure to the chemical poses a risk, those at the highest risk are agricultural workers and groundskeepers, who are more likely to develop non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma than those applying other herbicides. In Canada, only 1.3 percent of commercially grown food exceeded Canada’s maximum residue limits, meaning the vast majority of the food was still considered safe to consume.
Importance of Choosing Organic
In 2018, a groundskeeper by the name Dewayne Johnson was awarded $289 million after suing Monsanto for his cancer diagnosis. This landmark case found the global seed and chemical company guilty of using glyphosate, which is known to be carcinogenic. It also spread awareness of the importance of choosing organic produce.
Millions of people are exposed to these chemicals each day, only in small levels that are considered safe. Yet, it’s possible that some individuals who become sick, seemingly without cause, are experiencing the consequences of factors in their day-to-day life. Doctors do not always know what causes illness; in fact, diagnostic errors are estimated to occur in 10 to 20 percent of all cases.
People are constantly exposed to harmful substances that can lead to disease, which makes preventative care one of the most important practices for people to avoid falling ill. Although we don’t have all the information available on harmful substances, we do know that food that isn’t organic can be exposed to some risky chemicals. If possible, it’s important to buy produce from local organic farmers who have high standards for the food that goes from their farm to your table and do not pose a large risk to wildlife and animal welfare.
Organic foods are important to our health because they are free of chemicals, but things like preservatives can actually be helpful sometimes in making our food go further and helping to feed more people who don’t have as much access to food. Organic food may be a trend, but it is in the same way that eating less meat and trying to be eco-friendly are trends: As people become educated on environmentalism and sustainability, they begin to care more about their environmental impact and consequently change their lifestyles to be better for the planet.