Loud voices dismiss organic food as nothing more than a trendy 21st-century lifestyle choice for the neurotic rich, but this is a phony argument. Theres nothing new or modish about organics until the 1950s, all the food we ate was organically produced. Its organic food that should be considered normal, not the upstart, factory-farmed, agrochemical stuff thats only been on our shelves for a few decades. And the reasons for eating organic food, and supporting organic farmers and growers, are becoming more compelling, not less.
If health your own or that of your family is your main concern, then perhaps the biggest motivation is limiting your exposure to the residues of pesticides that are routinely found in non-organic food. Pesticides are poisons designed to kill things. Why eat them if you dont have to?
Of the conventional non-organic food we eat, 46% contains residues of one or more pesticide, and levels are going up dramatically, not down: in 2003 the equivalent figure was just 25%. Consumers are assured that farmers and growers take human health protection very seriously, but the truth of the matter is that the National Farmers Union and chemical companies militantly defend their pesticide armoury in the face of any government attempt to restrict it.
Non-organic farmers have at their disposal an arsenal of over 320 pesticides and they use them routinely. Carbendazim is one of the most commonly applied ones (on apples, cucumber, grapes, pre-packed salads, spinach and more) even though evidence links it with developmental damage to mammals that could lead to cancers, developmental problems and birth defects.
The regulatory bodies responsible for public health parrot the chemical industry line that we should not be the slightest bit alarmed that our food routinely contains residues of toxic pesticides because they are all below safe limits, but this comforting reassurance looks thinner by the moment. Earlier this year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) the World Health Organisations cancer agency classified glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, and the worlds most widely used herbicide, as probably carcinogenic to humans.
By contrast, pesticide residues are hardly ever found in organic food, and only through accidental contamination with non-organic agriculture, because organic farmers aim for zero pesticide use. The Soil Association, the UKs leading organic certification body, does allow eight pesticides in organic farming, but these can only be used when every other non-chemical approach has failed, and as part of an approved annual plan that sets out proposals to ensure that the pesticide will not have to be used in future.
Avoiding dodgy, controversial food additives is another persuasive health reason for eating organic. Manufacturers of organic food can use just 45 of the thousands permitted in Europe. Only additives derived from natural sources, such as lecithin and citric acid, are allowed in organic food and no artificial colourings or flavourings are permitted.
This restricted list of organic additives has to be good news for our health. The Danish National Food Institute has recently developed a more reliable mathematical method for calculating the likely additive or cocktail effect of chemicals, whether it be from pesticides or food additives. Its research suggests that even tiny doses of chemicals in combination can have more significant negative effects on our health than was previously thought. This underlines why limiting your exposure to such substances (by eating organic, for example), is a wise move. Of particular concern are the endocrine disrupting chemicals found in food additives and pesticides, which can have unexpected and potent negative effects on health, even at very low doses.
When you choose organic food, you also get a cast-iron guarantee that your food is GM-free because organically reared livestock cannot be fed on genetically modified feed. —–© Guardian News Service
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