I’m sure that when we buy organic products we all know they are a better option (and some will say more expensive too), but why exactly is that? What does organic mean?
At the beginning of the year I read an article stating that ‘Demand for organic food is at its highest for more than a decade, according to major retailers.’ I can’t tell you how chuffed I was reading it. That’s because it meant I could find a better variety of organic veggies and fruits. When I’ve started buying organic food it wasn’t because I had any idea of what organic means, it was because of the taste, it was so much better. Of course, the taste is a matter of personal preference but for me, the taste of organic food cannot be compared with that of non-organic food.
According to the Soil Association, which is the UK’s largest organic certification body,
‘organic means fewer pesticides, no artificial additives or preservatives, the highest standards of animal welfare and no GM ingredients.’
Fewer pesticides: Pesticides are toxic as they are created to kill living organisms such as insects, plants and fungi. They act as endocrine disrupters which are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.
Organic farming standards don't allow any synthetic pesticides and absolutely no herbicides such as Glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup).
No artificial additives or preservatives: GM (genetically modified) ingredients, hydrogenated fats and controversial artificial food colours and preservatives are banned under organic standards.
Though food that contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs) must be GM labelled, products such as meat, milk and eggs from animals fed on GM animal feed do not need to be labelled. This is just shocking.
So, the best way to ensure your food is GM free is to buy organic.
No antibiotics: as per Soil Association, ‘farm animals account for almost two-thirds of all antibiotics used in the EU and these are passed down to us through the food chain. In organic farming systems the routine or preventative use of antibiotics is banned’.
Animal welfare: I’m glad to see at least the cosmetic industry has taken a drastic turn against animal testing but what about the animals we are using for meat, milk, eggs? Knowing they can be given drugs to make them grow faster and prevent disease makes me really sad. So, when I buy organic foods I also know I am investing in the animals’ welfare.
Organic food contains more nutrients, vitamins and minerals: A 2016 study found that both organic milk and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced products. Another study published in 2015 has shown that organic crops are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants than conventionally-grown ones.
I don't know about you, but to me all these reasons are more than enough to make me buy organic. If you want to go organic check the labels and look for the organic logo. Soil Association is the gold standard of organic labelling in the UK. An easy and sustainable way to buy organic is via organic vege box schemes, my personal favourites are Riverford. They deliver a vege box every week and you can customise it. They don't use much plastic in their packaging which is an added plus for me.
Maybe you have heard of the Dirty Dozen list which is published every year by the Environmental Working Group in the US. This list has the fruits and vegetables that rank highest in pesticide residue so it works as a reference for buying organic. As this list is so notorious amongst nutritionists and health minded people, I wanted to know if this list applies to the UK as well, so I've contacted the Soil Association who have confirmed they do not endorse this list, here's their reply:
'What sprays are applied to a crop, and when, will vary from year to year depending on the weather, and from farm to farm or vegetable grower to vegetable grower, depending on their personal preferences, the soils and the climate in which they farm.
In addition, most sprays are applied in a complex mixture of chemicals, and often several sprays are applied at once, and some may be very persistent, while others are not. Nowadays in the UK, arable crops like wheat or oilseed rape or often sprayed 12 to 15 times in a growing season, with around 20 different chemicals. In addition, some pesticides may be applied as the seed dressing, and they will be present in all plant while it is growing and when it is harvested. These are called ‘systemic’ pesticides, and they are increasingly used.
All this means that you can't wash away these chemicals, because they may be present throughout the fruit or vegetable, and it really is impossible to give good advice about what to buy and what to avoid. If you can, buy organic! Buying things that are produced in the UK when they are in season always helps.'
Of course, there is the money issue as organic is more expensive. And if you can't afford organic that's fine, you don't need to buy everything organic if you can't. But where possible, try at least to buy organic meat and dairy. The way I look at this is that I'm investing in myself, plus I'm doing a good thing for the environment, so I'd rather spend less money on something else but ensure I eat a good quality food.