Home Features Columnists A Closer Look: the pros and cons of organic food

A Closer Look: the pros and cons of organic food


In her latest column for Exepose Features, Pria Rai reflects upon the growth in organic food sales and considers the pros and cons to buying this produce.

Recent years have shown the sales of organic food produce continue to grow, and it is likely that it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. This is undoubtedly down to a growing concern for the source of our foods and the chemicals they contain. Organic food is produced without using superficial fertilisers and pesticides, and nothing is genetically modified. Similarly, any livestock is raised without antibiotics or growth enhancing hormones.

However, despite the greater lengths that organic farmers go to in their efforts to be resourceful and conservative with water and soil use for example, it is still not completely impact-free for the environment. Further, potential health disadvantages are being brought to the surface by scientists. This leaves us asking whether it is worth paying the high price for organic produce.

The absence of pesticides can allow produce to have a higher nutritional value – Image: jetsandzeppelins via Flickr cc

In regular food, genetic modification or pesticides are used for a number of reasons, including prolonging the shelf life of the product or to make them more desirable with bigger growth, regular colour or a seedless variety. The absence of this technology in organic foods means that they can have a higher nutritional value in comparison. This can be a result of the plants having to produce more vitamins and antioxidants in order to strengthen their resistance against bugs. For many people this is worth the extra cost, especially for pregnant women or young children.

However, for most people health experts continue to insist that levels of fertiliser and pesticides in conventional food are perfectly safe for a healthy adult. They maintain that the key to sustained health is still a balanced diet. It is far from necessary to have a diet of 100 per cent organic produce. Some foreign food agencies have even suggested that organic food is not significantly more nutritious, and does in fact allow for a limited use of chemicals.

As previously mentioned, organic farming is not completely environmentally friendly. Nonetheless, these methods of food production do reduce the number of pollutants in groundwater, and contributes to a healthier acid level in soils. Under these conditions, issues of erosion are reduced, as well as the levels of pesticides found in the drinking water of some cities.

But it is not gold stars all round. One its largest environmental problems stems from transportation, and the geography of where the food is sourced. This is partly due to the fact that there are few organic farmers; therefore the smaller quantities that they do produce often have to travel a further distance.

So, the question of cost still remains. Organic food is more expensive for the simple reason of there being more work involved for the farmers. To be clear, this is not a dig against the farmers who need to support their livelihoods. They don’t receive any of the subsidies from the government that some conventional farmers receive, and this problem is added to by their smaller yields. Yet I cannot prevent myself from thinking that the demand and current fashion of these foods means sellers are increasing their prices a little more than they should be. Surely natural food should be more accessible for a larger proportion of people.

The human benefit of organic produce should enable lower prices – Image: Fruitnet.com via Flickr cc

Benefits to human health should arguably be one of the biggest motivations for enabling farmers to supply organic food at a more reasonable price. Not only have modified foods shown to have a lower nutritional content, but scientists have also expressed concern about the use of antibiotics, specifically in livestock. Many resistant drugs given to the animals that produce both diary and meat products, are the same as the ones used by humans. This is currently a growing concern for the development of medicine. Bacteria are reproducing resistive strains as a result of drug overuse. Consequently, antibiotics are less effective at fighting infections.

This issue is something that may require a longer-term strategic plan to solve. Something that means organic farming can become a more conventional way of farming that can provide economic fairness or even benefits for both the farmer and consumer.

We are living in a time where the word ‘organic’ written in an attractive green on food packaging is one of the strongest marketing weapons. I want to be able to buy organic food when it is genuinely beneficial to do so. But the general public should be better informed about what exactly they are paying for when they make the decision to buy organic produce, rather than simply assuming they are doing something good. One way to do this is by buying from local markets rather than large stores. Though this again is not available for everyone.

This fashion needs to retrace its steps and regain sight of the more sustainable and healthier reality it should be aiming for, rather than the largely class-defined idealistic image it has come to portray.

Pria Rai, Online Features Columnist

If you missed Pria Rai’s last column on student involvement in the upcoming general election, you can find it here. You can also find all our other Features columns here.

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