Is organic food worth the extra cost?
It’s certainly better for the environment because organic growers don’t use toxic pesticides or genetically modified organisms, and organic growing requires less fossil fuel. However, shipping organic foods requires fossil fuel and generates carbon emissions, so buying locally is better.
Organic produce is also far less likely to be contaminated with toxic pesticide residues, which have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and neurological issues, and it may be more nutritious as well. Some studies comparing nutritional content have found in favor of organic produce whereas others have noted no significant differences, likely due to the fact that a wide variety of practices can be labelled organic.
Organic produce may be grown in various climactic and soil conditions using a variety of methods, all of which affect its nutritional value.
Organic animals may also be raised in various conditions. For example, an organic chicken may live the life most shoppers envision, foraging outdoors.
On the other hand, it might live primarily in a barn. Organic chickens have outdoor access at least part of the time, but given a choice between eating organic feed provided by their caretakers indoors or grazing outdoors, chickens may choose the former and not bother going out at all (and therefore not consume some elements of their natural diet, such as fresh grass and worms).
However, all organic chickens are free of antibiotics, so they don’t contribute to the development of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains.
As for animal welfare, organic farming methods are typically kinder, allowing the animals more space and opportunities to engage in natural behaviors (particularly egg laying chickens). However, an organic cow may still spend much of its life in industrial settings eating organic feed rather than grazing in a field – the conditions in which organic animals live vary from one farm to the next.
If you want to know how the animals you eat live their lives day to day, visit local farms to learn about their philosophies and practices.
Daley et al., “A Review of Fatty Acid Profiles and Antioxidant Content in Grass-Fed and Grain-Fed Beef,” Nutrition Journal, 9:10, 2010. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2846864/
Long, C., & Alterman, T., “Meet the Real Free-Range Eggs,” Mother Earth News, 2007. http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-10-01/Tests-Reveal-Healthier-Eggs.aspx
Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Penguin Press, 2006.
Pittman, G., “Organic Food No More Nutritious Than Non-Organic, Study Finds,” NBC News, 4 September, 2012. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/48888214/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/#.UE00cqP_Ig8
Vakil, C., “Pesticides and Your Health, A Family Physician’s Perspective,” David Suzuki Foundation, 25 February 2010. http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/docs-talk/2010/02/pesticides-and-your-health—a-family-physicians-perspective/
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