organic vegetables in basket

I have been in the organic food business since time out of mind. I remember the days before organic labels and standards, the Wild West of organic. I now serve on the Organic Trade Association Board of Directors and work for the largest distributor of organic products, UNFI. Of course it stands to reason that I am going to advise you to always choose organic. When I blog, I often end urging you to select organic, support organic farmers, and help transition more acreage to organic because it’s better. But what does the science reveal around the subject? Can my claims stand up in a peer reviewed research journal?

Let’s take a look.

As I see it, there are three basic areas where organic provides real benefits. These benefits are not only for us now, but for our children and their children. The three areas are Health, Environmental, and Social. Let’s take a deeper dive at what science and research reveals:

Organic Agriculture Supports Healthy People

Is organic more nutritious? The esteemed scientist, Charles Benbrook, proved that in organic milk it is! In 2014, he concluded in an 18-month study of milk in the US that organic production enhances milk nutritional quality by shifting the fatty acid composition. There are more of the good fats in organic milk, thus making it healthier to drink and eat!

He is hard at the task and in a 2014 analysis, Chuck found that there are lower instances of pesticide residues and fewer heavy metals in organically-grown crops. He conducted a meta-analysis based on 343 peer-reviewed publications that indicate significant and meaningful differences. Even more important, he found that concentrations of a range of antioxidants were found to be substantially higher in organic crops/crop-based foods. Antioxidants are known to decrease one’s risk of chronic disease. This study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Pesticides and herbicide exposure can affect people of all age groups and affects children even more. Their growing bodies and immature physiology make them particularly susceptible to the toxic effects. Researchers at Environmental Health Perspectives published a paper showing that eating an organic diet reduces the exposure to some pesticides in young children. Children who ate an organic diet for one week had significantly less pesticide residue in their bodies.

You may have heard that the World Health Organization (WHO) published a study that determined that Glyphosate and 2-4-D are probably carcinogenic. Both are widely used in tandem with GMO technology and are banned in organic production. Eating only organic is a good way to avoid both!

Organic Agriculture Protects the Environment

It’s true that organic farming increases soil health and plant nutrients! A study published in Organic Agriculture found that organic peach and apple orchards have healthier soils and plant tissues have more nutrients. Results demonstrated higher levels of active fungi bacteria and nutrients in orchard soil, and the apples and oranges grown organically had higher levels of phosphorus and copper in their leaves. The higher concentrations of plant and soil nutrients promote robust soil health and greater productivity than conventional practices.

In June 2015, President Obama issued a memorandum creating a federal strategy to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators. A timely report released by The Organic Center covers results from over 70 peer-reviewed studies and demonstrates that organic farming has an important role to play in supporting the health of our pollinators. Organic farming prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides that are very harmful to bees such as neonicotinoids. Buy organic to keep our pollinators healthy and buzzing!

Organic Agriculture Provides Real Social Impacts

Workers who labor on non-organic farms are at a greater risk than anyone. Field workers on conventional farms are often exposed to high daily levels of pesticides. Organic agriculture provides a safe, chemical-free work environment.  A study published in the journal, Neurotoxicology and Teratology, suggests that daughters of women exposed to pesticides early in their pregnancies may have impaired neurodevelopment. Another study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine displays that Diazinon, used by farm workers, is associated with elevated lung cancer risk. Choosing organic every time can mean a life of health and well-being for a farm worker somewhere.

Finally we are at risk of losing our farming communities. Farming is a tough profession and is at the whims and risks of wild weather, market conditions, pests, weeds, and disease. With these wildcards, who would want to get into farming? A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences shows that organic farming is more profitable to farmers than conventional farming. Organic farming pays! Even though organic farming typically results in lower yields than conventional farming, the premium organic farmers receive for their products makes organic 22 -35% more profitable.

If we put a price on the negative effects caused by farming, such as soil erosion or pesticides leaching into groundwater, then organic agriculture becomes even more profitable for us today and for future generations!

If you want to learn more about the science of organic visit The Organic Center website. Their mission is to conduct and convene credible, evidence-based science on the environmental and health effects of organic food and farming and communicate the findings to the public.

The next time someone questions you about the value of organic, just go there and give them some science to back it up!

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About The Author

Melody Meyer's picture

Melody is the Vice President of Policy and Industry Relations for United Natural Foods (UNFI). In this role she is responsible for communicating and educating all stakeholders on critical organic issues. Her Blog covers a range of organic and sustainable food issues.

She is the executive director of the UNFI Foundation which is dedicated to funding non-profit organizations that promote organic agriculture Melody serves as Secretary of the Board of Directors for the Organic Trade Association

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