The big food debate over the last few years has been surrounding organic food and whether it is really better for our health than non-organic varieties. Many scientists believe that the pesticides found on fruit and vegetables in particular can do all kinds of nasty things to our bodies, but is it all unfounded speculation?
To be considered organic, crops have to be produced without using pesticides, man-made fertilisers, bio-engineering or ionising radiation. Animals for organic meat need to be raised using organic feed and not given antibiotics or growth hormones. They also have to have access to the outdoors including land for grazing. This prompts people who are pro-organic to argue animals raised organically have been treated better than those using traditional methods. However, organic food is far more expensive than non-organic, leaving consumers wondering if it is really worthwhile.
The question of pesticides
When it comes to fruit and vegetables it is clear from several studies that eating organic food reduces the risk of consuming pesticides and other nasty chemicals to almost zilch. However, according to the Food Standards Agency – the governing body – the pesticides used in the production of non-organic food are well below a level considered unsafe. The Food Standards Agency website states, “Before pesticides are approved they are rigorously assessed to ensure they do not pose an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment and that any pesticide residues left in food will not be harmful to consumers.” So when it comes to fruits and vegetables, unless pesticides and other chemicals really bother you, you are perfectly safe with non-organic produce.
Organic animal farming throws up a different debate as the emphasis is on animal welfare, the prevention of ill health in farm animals and the amount of space animals have to live and play in. Organic farming has far stricter rules on the welfare of any animal than normal farming and therefore the food produced is favoured by people concerned about quality of life. As well as the ethical standpoints, fewer chemicals find their way into the meat of these animals as antibiotics and growth hormones are prohibited, and some say the meat itself is tastier.
The Food Standards Agency, however, won’t commit to a verdict on the taste and nutrition quality of organic food and states that there is no conclusive evidence that the quality is higher in organic than non-organic. It appears that the organic debate comes down purely to personal choice and ethical issues regarding animal farming, and we are lucky to live in a day and age where we have the choice.