Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Munchable Soapbox: Organic Makes Headlines

Organic produce may not be healthier. That's the word on the streets, now that a Stanford University study has shown that organic fruits and vegetable are unlikely to contain more nutrients than their conventional counterparts. And while conventional produce was far more likely to have pesticide residue, the levels fell below what the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) deems safe for human consumption. These findings were based on an extensive review of 40-years worth of studies on organics.

Intended as a straight-forward, unbiased analysis, this study could prove to undermine the reputation organic has built up. But to be honest, the nutritional content of organic produce is not my biggest concern, nor do I think organic is the be-all and end-all. And why is that? Since a vegetable is only as good as the soil in which it is grown, practices that embrace the health of soil ecosystems probably have more impact on nutrition than the presence or lack of pesticides.

But more importantly, organic is not just about health of eaters, but of farm workers and the environment. The chemicals used on crops ultimately make their way into the waterways and ecosystems around fields...just take DDT for example! No, I don't buy organic primarily for nutritional purposes, or even necessarily to avoid chemical residue myself. But the spirit of organic production (if not always the reality in practice) is to utilize the natural ecosystem function to deal with the challenges inherent in agriculture. Oftentimes, smaller organic operations have a diversity of crops to spread risk, encourage beneficial insects, and restore nutrients to the soil. And while the organic label is not a necessity, the attempt to achieve some sort of synergy with the natural environment is.

I am still convinced that we have no idea what kinds of long-term impacts will result from the use of synthetic chemicals. Humans have employed 'organic' agricultural practices for thousands of years, and 'conventional' chemical-reliant agriculture for fewer than 100. Excuse me if I remain skeptical :)

Further Reading:

1 comment:

jkim5154 said...

Thanks for the post -- it was good to think about the effect of organic foods beyond the person eating the food!