Organic Foods: a Better Option for Humans and the Environment
Grocery shoppers can see organic food in every aisle of the grocery store: organic vegetables, organic fruits, organic flour, organic chicken, organic muffin mix. However, according to the Natural Marketing Institute, “only 33 percent of the general population recognizes and understands the [United States Department of Agriculture] Organic seal.” And according to the Natural Foods Merchandiser’s 2013 Market Overview, most consumers do not understand how organic foods can benefit them and are suspicious of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic label. An agricultural product is organic if it was produced in a way that didn’t involve the use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge as fertilizer, most synthetic pesticides, ionizing radiation, genetic engineering, antibiotics, or growth hormones. They must be approved by a USDA National Organic Program-authorized certifying agent, and all ingredients must follow the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. For a multi-ingredient food to be called “organic,” 95% of the ingredients need to be certified organic. The product may have the USDA organic seal and claim to be organic. Consumers’ misunderstanding and suspicion of organic products is harmful, as organic food products can benefit consumers in a multitude of ways. Organic foods are a superior option as opposed to non-organic foods, for the lack of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics involved in organic farming improve the health of wildlife, keep soil and air clean, and keep consumers healthy.
Organic farming is better for the health of wildlife in ecosystems both near and far from farms. Organic farming bans the use of toxic chemical pesticides and fertilizers, which is important because both endanger wildlife. For example, pesticides kill bees, which are essential for pollinating plants so that they are fertile enough to grow. Pesticides therefore lead to less plant growth in surrounding areas. And when there are less plants in an ecosystem, the animals’ food source is diminished, so they may die or be forced to leave their territory to survive. Pesticides can also flow into streams and rivers and enter the bloodstreams of fish. And when birds eat pesticide-contaminated fish, their offspring can die at a young age or die while still incubating in the bird’s egg. Organic farming does not utilize these harmful pesticides, preventing such deaths of wildlife. Furthermore, non-organic farmers will spread chemical fertilizers, particularly ammonium nitrate, onto their crops, but they typically spread more fertilizer than what their crops could ever consume. These excess fertilizers can kill aquatic organisms because the extra fertilizer will flow into drainage ditches, into rivers, and then down to gulfs and oceans where the overflow of nitrogen forces algae to grow exponentially. The algae quickly consume all of the oxygen in the water, providing none for the other aquatic organisms, who will eventually die due to the lack of oxygen. Extra nitrogen fertilizer used on farms in the U.S. flow down to the Gulf of Mexico where there is currently a “dead zone” the size of New Jersey. No aquatic organisms can survive in this “dead-zone” due to non-organic farming practices, demonstrating the environmental crises caused by conventional farming. On the other hand, organic farming requires farmers to use natural fertilizers, which don’t cause any nitrogen runoff into streams and oceans or create dead-zones. Purchasing organic foods means supporting an industry that does not employ chemical pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Organic farming has the ability to save the lives of wildlife that otherwise could have been killed, rendering organic foods a worthier food option than non-organic foods.
How it works
Since organic farming bans the use of chemical pesticides and artificial fertilizers, organic farming is healthier for the air and soil in ecosystems, in addition to the wildlife. When pesticide is sprayed onto crops, the wind can carry the pesticides to other areas such as sensitive ecosystems and areas populated by humans. These pesticides can then produce volatile compounds that will react with the air and produce tropospheric ozone, which is a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. Global warming means that atmospheres can collect, retain, and drop more water, so storms, heat waves, floods, and droughts will become more common. Aliya Haq, deputy director of NRDC’s Clean Power Plan initiative said that due to global warming, “The number of billion-dollar weather disasters is expected to rise.” And the extreme heat means that people can become victims to heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and cardiovascular and kidney diseases if they don’t have access to air conditioning. Dirtier air also means higher hospital admission rates and asthmatics are at more risk of dying. People with cardiac or pulmonary disease will see their health worsen. However, pesticides are not utilized in organic farming, keeping the air cleaner and reducing natural disasters and illnesses. In addition, organic farming uses natural fertilizers rather than chemical fertilizers. Manufacturers have to create chemical fertilizers in a lab, so scientists need to use fossil fuels to produce chemical fertilizers. Hence, inorganic fertilizer manufacturing releases more harmful greenhouse gases into the air and contributes to global warming. However, natural fertilizers like manure, compost, and fish meal recycle material that otherwise would have been wasted. Chemical fertilizers can also burn the plants and increase the salt concentration in the soil to toxic levels, destabilizing the balance of the chemicals in the soil. Natural fertilizers are broken down by organisms in the soil, so they release their nutrients gradually; they don’t create toxic levels of buildups of certain nutrients that can hurt the plants. Organic farm processes keep air cleaner and soil healthier by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the air and maintaining balance of nutrients within the soil. Organic foods are a preferable option as opposed to non-organic foods, for they produce global environmental benefits that could also, in turn, save the lives of humans.
Finally, organic food is safer for the humans who consume it. Organic foods contain less harmful chemicals for the human body because they are not produced with synthetic pesticides, artificial fertilizers, or antibiotics. And while each individual fruit, vegetable, or grain has a safe amount of chemicals, health experts warn that repeated exposure to these chemicals is dangerous. According to the British Journal of Nutrition, organic crops were 48% less likely than non-organic crops to contain cadmium, a toxic heavy metal that, over time, accumulates in the liver and kidneys. The herbicide, Roundup, is the most commonly used herbicide in farming, but it contains the chemical glyphosate, which is a “probable human carcinogen” according to a 2015 study done by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization. Additionally, conventionally grown livestock are heavily fed antibiotics to substitute for the poor living conditions factory farms place livestock in. However, when the farms constantly use antibiotics, the bacteria gradually become more and more resistant to the drugs. If antibiotics are used so unnecessarily, the bacteria in meat will no longer be killed by antibiotics, and meat will be full of drug-resistant, more powerful bacteria. And when humans eat this meat, the stronger bacteria can enter their bodies as well. These superbugs can also spread to humans through air, soil, water, or people who work near the animals. Repeated use of antibiotics creates more superbugs, but farms that use organic practices can not use antibiotics, which means the farms have to provide their animals with healthy enough conditions so that the animals can survive without antibiotics. Organic farms are not generating more superbugs that could make their way into our food, so organic foods are safer for consumers. Organic foods also contain more nutrients. A 2003 study at UC Davis shows that the plants grown using organic methods have higher levels of Vitamin C and more polyphenols, which are chemicals made by plants. Some polyphenols prevent or fight cancer, and some fight infections. Polyphenols help plants defend against pests and diseases, but with chemical pesticides, these plants don’t need to produce very many polyphenols, so non-organic crops do not have as many polyphenols. According to the British Journal of Nutrition in a 2016 study, organic meat and milk contain 50% more omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic meat and milk; omega-3 fat is an unsaturated healthy fat. Organic milk also has less saturated fat than non-organic milk, and saturated fat is an unhealthy type of fat. Organic foods contain less harmful chemicals from pesticides, less drug-resistant bacteria, and more nutrients, rendering them a safer and healthier option for shoppers.
Organic foods are a worthier choice for shoppers because organic products improve consumer’s safety and aid in preserving the environment. If consumers purchase organic foods, they are supporting a farming industry that does not utilize chemical pesticides or artificial fertilizers and therefore protects wildlife, soil, and air quality. The organic farming industry also contributes less to global warming, which means organic farming reduces the number of natural disasters that endanger humans and require millions of dollars for reparations. Additionally, organic foods contain less chemical pesticide residue, drug-resistant bacteria, and saturated fat that are harmful to humans while containing more cancer-fighting polyphenols and omega-3 fatty acids. But, it is true that organic foods do have a higher price than non-organic foods. And a person cannot generalize whether organic foods are “worth” the price, for each person has a different definition for what it means for a price to be “worth it” based on their socioeconomic statuses and life conditions. However, consuming organic foods does have clear cut advantages. Thus, compared to non-organic foods, organic foods are the preferable option, for they can improve the environment’s health and consumers’ own health in monumental ways.