The Oakland Post

Everything you need to know about organic foods

Dayana Rodriguez, Contributor

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The world we live in today is very diverse, not only with culture but with food as well. Dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian — you get the point. A lot of these diets, including the normal omnivore diet have a lot to do with eating organic foods. The food industry makes it seem like organic foods are of higher quality than conventionally grown foods, but what exactly does organic mean?

According to the University of Wisconsin Health System, organic refers to the farming practices that encourage soil and water conservation as well as pollution reduction. Organic farmers use natural fertilizers such as compost and manure, whereas conventional farmers use synthetic fertilizers to advance plant growth.

“There are a lot of misconceptions with organic foods,” said Erica Wallace, health and wellness coordinator at Oakland University.

Consider these four things before you decide whether or not to head toward the organic section in the grocery store.

Organic crops are no more nutritious than regular crops.

With the way organic foods are marketed, many people believe organic foods are healthier than conventionally grown foods. As explained by the Scientific American magazine, there is no real proof that this is true. Scientists have been comparing the two for over 50 years.

Although they did find differences in nitrogen levels, phosphorus and acidity, no differences were related to the overall nutritional quality. In fact, organic foods have higher levels of overall fats and as specified by Wallace, there are about 20 pesticides used on organic crops.

The Scientific American restates this saying that these pesticides are used for growing and processing organic crops and are approved by the U.S. Organic Standards. For this reason, organic livestock products were found to be slightly worse for us.

Organic Foods limit artificial colors and flavors. (Red because it will only appear online)

Although scientists did not find better nutritional quality in organic foods, the foods carry less artificial coloring and flavoring. Whole Foods Market is the most commonly known example that doesn’t sell foods with artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners and hydrogenated fats.

As stated by Whole Foods Market, “artificial colors are chemically synthesized in a lab,” while the products they put on their shelves consist of natural colors coming from pigments extracted from plants and minerals.

Organic crops can be produced and sold as organic with non-organic origins.

There is a certain organic policy. Not all foods meet this policy, but can still be marketed as organic. Wallace said one example of this is the ruby red grapefruit. It’s no surprise the USDA regulates organic food, but certification issues arise when foods are not from the U.S. According to The Washington Post, the USDA does not oversee the standards for foreign foods. This is done by third-party organizations. For example, a product can be sold as organic in the U.S., but the certification could have been done by a third party. For this reason, it makes it hard to know if a product you buy is actually organic or not. It could be labeled as USDA organic, but that doesn’t mean its origins meet the organic policy.

The potential for food borne illnesses

This is by far the hardest to believe of the four things listed because many believe organic fresh foods are better for us on all levels of health. But Wallace controverts this, saying, “There is a higher percentage for food borne illnesses among organic produce.”

The biggest reason for this is because of the manure fertilizer. A lot of consumers are unaware of this method and don’t wash their produce properly, therefore leaving behind a potential for illness.

A recent example of this is Chipotle’s foodborne illness outbreaks in 2015. Chipotle faced repeated outbreaks of salmonella, E. coli and norovirus over a period of six months. More than 2,000 locations closed in early 2016 to reinforce employee food-safety training. Chipotle’s “food with integrity” mission statement is to serve fresh, local produce and pasture-fed animals without antibiotics. Because of this, the chain serves organic food that is grown with things like manure fertilizer.

Organic foods are generally more expensive and limited due to the time-consuming farming practices.

“There is nothing wrong with buying organic foods, but know what you’re paying for…” Wallace said. “At the end of the day, just eat your fruits and vegetables.”

Sidebar: Organic farming and the environment

It’s safe to say that if you believe organic foods are healthier than conventional foods, you also believe the process of these healthy foods are better for the environment. News flash: both of these statements are false.

  • Organic farms produce less food per unit land than conventional farms. “More land, water and resources are being used for the same amount of yield,” Wallace said.
  • Organic farmers spend more time growing their crops, therefore requiring more resources to produce the same number of crops, if not less. More land and water are being utilized, and these two things alone take away a lot of our everyday resources.
  • We could see world hunger increase. According to Scientific American, about 800 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition and 16 million will die from it. It’s estimated that switching to only organic farming, world hunger and malnutrition will increase by 1.3 billion.

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