Is Organic Really Worth It? Organic vs. Conventional Produce

organic fruit vegThere’s an ongoing debate in the agricultural community about whether organic produce is better for you when it comes to health. Obviously, the conventional farmers would have you believe their produce is just as good, but what are the facts?

Key Differences

When it comes to how organic produce is grown versus conventional, there are three major differences.

  1. Chemical fertilizers are applied to conventional produce, whereas organic produce has compost or manure applied to it.
  2. Synthetic herbicides are used to manage weeds in conventional fields, while environmentally friendly, natural treatments are used in organic fields. In addition, hand weeding, mulching, and other processes are used to deter weeds.
  3. Synthetic insecticides are used to repel pests and associated diseases in conventional crops, while beneficial insects, traps, mating disruption, and natural pesticides are used in organic produce.

Another major point to make in favor of organic fruits and vegetables is that organic farming has zero tolerance to GMO (genetically modified organisms). Conventionally grown food is often GM.  The health effects of GM consumption have not been sufficiently studied to prove that they are safe; in fact, studies with rats have shown quite the opposite.

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Additionally, organic farming uses principles of earth husbandry with crop rotation and proper care of the soil. Conventional farmers do not follow these principles because they rely on chemical fertilizers and other treatments to give the crops nutrients, instead of caring for the soil to ensure the nutrients are present.

The Risks of Conventionally Grown Foods

The people most at risk when it comes to pesticide exposure are those who work with them: sprayers, farm workers, formulators, and production workers. People who eat conventional produce are at risk too, but not as much. Obviously, if demand for organic produce increases, people will grow fewer crops conventionally, and everyone’s chemical exposure will decline.

Long-term effects of endocrine-disrupting pesticides include hormone disruption, cancer, reproductive problems, immune suppression, neurological symptoms, and diminished intelligence.

The Stanford study, published in 2012 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, shows that the consumption of organic produce, meat, and milk reduces a person’s exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and pesticides.

Dirty Dozen List

If you’re hesitant about spending too much money on organic foods, don’t be. There are ways to optimize your choices when it comes to organic vs. conventional, and also to limit your exposure to pesticides. The Dirty Dozen list and the Clean 15 list are very helpful: if you’re going to eat foods that are listed on the Dirty Dozen list, buy them organic, and eat as many of the foods from the Clean 15 list as you want – conventional is fine.

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Foods you should always eat organic are: apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, hot peppers, imported nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, and sweet bell peppers. To be safe, choose organic kale, collard greens, and summer squash, too. These have recently been found to be highly contaminated with undesirable chemicals.

The Clean 15 list is produce that is safe to eat as conventional produce, because very little or no chemicals are needed to grow them. These are asparagus, avocados, cabbage, cantaloupe, sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangos, mushrooms, onions, papayas (none from Hawaii, as these are all GMO), pineapples, frozen sweet peas, and sweet potatoes.

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