Simply put, the term ‘organic food’ means that it is produced without harmful chemicals such as potentially cancer-causing herbicides (weed killers), fungicides (mold killers) and insecticides (insecticides), and also prohibits its use. Antibiotic use in animal feeds routinely used in conventional agriculture. Organic farming also benefits farm workers who are highly exposed to chemicals and synthetic pesticides. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported millions of people hospitalized each year for serious unintentional poisoning and suicide attempts. It is estimated that there may be as many as 25 million agricultural workers in the developing world who experience a poisoning event each year.
Organic production yields are generally lower as farms do not involve the use of fertilizers, pesticides and other technological aids. Also, it is more labor-intensive and many organic farms are smaller than conventional farms, so economies of scale are lacking. However, over the past decade, health food chains have opened dozens of stores in response to increased demand, while mainstream grocery stores stock more organic produce, milk, baby food, and meat. Many people are willing to accept the extra cost and pay the extra money because they believe organic food is more nutritious, safer and less harmful to the environment and food manufacturers than conventionally produced food. It is generally believed that organic production reduces health risks and that the benefits of organics are worth the higher price, especially for pregnant women and children. It makes sense for these sensitive consumer groups to have the fruits and vegetables that carry the heaviest pesticide load being as organic as possible. Some suspect that high doses of pesticides can cause neurological or reproductive damage. While baby genitalia are still forming and the brain is developing, and young immune systems are less able to get rid of pollutants, eating organic is more important for children and pregnant or breastfeeding women. In addition to vitamins and minerals, it has been reported that antioxidant levels of potentially important substances in human nutrition are generally higher in organic foods. This may be because these natural chemicals are made to protect the plant against pests, and organic products may have less pesticide protection. Another theory is that faster growth in artificially fertilized crops causes the plant to concentrate resources for growth rather than production of these antioxidants. An additional argument used to support organic food is that it ‘tastes better’. A report from the highly respected Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concludes that organically grown (golden flavor) apples are firmer and score higher taste scores than conventionally grown apples. Another study showed that organic tomatoes were sweeter and organic carrots had more of a “carrot flavor.”
While the information that has emerged so far suggests higher levels of some nutritional components in organic foods, the basis for the human health benefits of consuming organic foods needs to be further developed. Many nutritionists say that a well-formulated diet, organic or not, is all that is needed for adequate intake of health-promoting nutrients. Proponents of organic food argue that with consistent consumption, even small benefits can become significant over time. This can only be answered by properly controlled scientific studies that are difficult to perform in human populations. Evaluating the health and environmental benefits of any system requires a full life cycle analysis with an assessment of benefits and barriers at each stage. For example, although organic farming clearly has benefits in protecting wildlife and habitat, causes less environmental pollution, and maintains soil fertility, critics argue it also has disadvantages compared to conventional food production. As two examples, organic production has greater mechanical energy inputs, and “zero-process” agriculture using herbicides may be more environmentally friendly than mechanical weed control used in organic cultivation. In any case, more complex analyzes of the nutritional quality of conventional and organic foods, both in animal foods and plant foods, are required before a more definitive answer can be found. While organic production is not a perfect solution in science or practice, it probably always will, because it adds to the choices available to consumers who are more conscious of the health and safety of their food production systems.