What does organic actually mean and why is it important?

What does organic actually mean and why is it important?

Organic is a word loved by health food gurus, eco warriors and sustainable fashion advocates alike. If you’re like me you may have encountered your fair share of critics who roll their eyes at the mere mention of the term organic, considering it the proclivity of pretentious man bun hipsters or the foodie elite, but what does it actually mean? And what makes organic supposedly so much better than inorganic? In short organic refers to produce that has been made with the minimal use of chemicals, no genetically modified organisms and limited impact on the environment. When people choose to produce and buy organic products they are making a very conscious decision to prioritise both their health and the environment. 

Conflict of interest  

For most people the term organic is most commonly associated with food. There has been a long standing and intense debate for decades over whether organically grown food is truly better for you and the answer varies depending upon the study you consult. The heart of the disagreement has little to do with science and a lot to do with money. There has historically been a severe conflict of interest with regards to many of the commonly cited studies with said findings being either funded by the pesticide industry or organic farming advocates. The famous Monsanto, which makes pesticides and genetically modified seeds, has become the poster child for corporate evil. The company spends on average 5 million dollars in public lobbying efforts every year to propagate disinformation about the true danger of their products. In order to cut through the confusion here are some scientifically supported facts about the true importance of organic produce.

 Organic food

Reduced Pesticide Intake  

Organic food and material is produced without the use of most pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Meat and dairy products can only be considered organic if they are produced without antibiotics or synthetic hormones. Legally pesticides can still be used in the production of organic produce as long as they derive from natural sources and are not synthetically created.

The ingestion of pesticides has been shown to be dangerous. For example, the commonly used herbicide Roundup has been classified as a “probable human carcinogen,”in fact as recently as a few days ago, a California man has taken the above mentioned Monsanto (the producer of Roundup) to court after being given a cancer diagnosis in 2014. He used Roundup during his two years as a groundskeeper and blames his cancer diagnosis on its active ingredient, glyphosate.

Some studies have also linked the ingestion of pesticides in infants to ADHD and other developmental problems like low IQ. Surprisingly they have also been linked to reduced sperm quality in men.

Organically grown crops not only contain fewer pesticides but have also shown to be 48% less likely to test positive for cadmium then conventional varieties. Cadmium is a highly toxic metal that has been linked to Cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and hormone disruption.

 Crops being sprayed with pesticides

Antibiotics and Synthetic Hormones

Conventional meat and dairy are also often injected with synthetic growth hormones, so that they will gain weight faster and therefore increase the level of production. However the use of these hormones has been linked to an increase risk in cancer. Conventional livestock can also be given antibiotics to protect against illness. Like pesticides consumers can ingest these when they consume the meat or dairy product. Rolf Halden, professor and director of the Bio-design Centre for Environmental Security at Arizona State University stated that drug residue is believed to contribute to widespread antibiotic resistance, and organic foods—which are produced without antibiotics—“are intrinsically safer in this respect.”

Danger to Workers  

As mentioned above, pesticides can pose a significant danger both when ingested and for those whose job it is to dispense the chemicals themselves. It’s not just food that uses pesticides but other natural plant-based substances as well. Surprisingly non-organic cotton uses more pesticide per cotton plant than almost any other crop in the world. Much of the worlds cotton is grown in India and China where workers have little access to safety equipment and poor working conditions. According to the World Health Organization up to 20,000 deaths are caused each year by pesticide poisoning in developing countries and in the US more than 10,000 farmers die each year from cancers related to such chemical. These toxins also pose a significant danger to entire wildlife ecosystems, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service found that pesticides unintentionally kill at least 67 million birds annually in the US. These chemicals can run off into water ways, lakes and rivers and further poison marine life as well as contaminate the local water supply relied upon by communities.

 Man picking cotton

Final Thoughts

Pesticides can be dangerous to consumers whether we inadvertently ingest them through our food or are exposed to traces of them on our skin through our clothing. Organic farming by contract poses no such risks. Rather, organic production is based on principals of health, ecology and fairness. It values the social and environmental wellbeing both of the people involved in the production process, the consumers and of course the environment.

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