The organic vs. conventional debate can be confusing to navigate.
What does organic mean?
The word “organic” is regulated by the USDA, meaning there are defined standards by which a farm must adhere in order to be certified organic. This is different than words like “natural” or “superfood”, which are unregulated and have no standardized definition.
According to the USDA’s certification standards, organic farms cannot use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, sewage sludge, irradiation, or GMOs, and must improve or maintain the soil quality.
While organically grown produce has not been found to have significantly higher nutrient content across the board, it does have significantly lower pesticide residue. We actually know very little about how exposure to low levels of multiple pesticides may affect us over time.
What makes a fruit or vegetable nutritious?
The nutritional value of fruits and vegetables is dependent upon the genetics of the individual species, the soil the plant is grown in, weather conditions during that time, time between harvest and consumption, and how that fruit or vegetable is prepared. If you want to get the most benefit from your produce, try to eat the freshest food possible and avoid boiling or over-cooking your vegetables. Farmers markets are often a great source for produce as the food is locally grown, recently harvested, and many small farms practice organic farming methods but aren’t certified organic, keeping prices lower.
Organic and the environment
Farming practices can have a long-term impact on the environment. Part of the organic vs. conventional debate considers which farming method is more sustainable for the environment. While conventional farming tends to get higher yields for certain crops, using less land (and theoretically leaving more natural ecosystems intact), organic farming comes out ahead when it comes to soil quality, leaving ecosystems intact, and low runoff pollution.
While low levels of pesticide exposure are currently considered low-risk, we know that high levels of exposure can cause a variety of health issues, from asthma to cancer. Farm workers are consistently exposed to pesticides and even bring residue into their homes through their shoes and clothing, affecting their families. It’s trending in the U.S. and Canada for farmers to switch to organic or because of a health crisis they or a family member have had.
So, should I buy organic?
Ultimately, eating fruits and vegetables is always a good choice, whether they are organically grown or not. However, the environmental and ethical consequences of conventional farming practices as well as the unknown risks of long-term pesticide exposure are certainly good reasons to consider buying organic. If an organic overhaul isn’t possible, consider paying special attention to the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list of produce with the highest pesticide residues. Buy these organic when possible or swap them out for a selection from the “Clean Fifteen“.
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas Frozen
- Honeydew Melons