What you don’t know about organic farming: Myths

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines organic farming as an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity and it is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs. However, organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues.

It is very important to realize that both organic and synthetic pesticides are used in organic agriculture. Oh, you did not know that. I am sorry. I believe that 95% (or even 99%) of people buy organic produce to avoid pesticide. They believe that organic farming uses no pastiche (even natural ones) or fertilizer, but that is not true. Organic farming like other form of farming uses pesticide and fungicide to prevent damage of pest and disease. Confused? There are over 20 chemicals that are approved to be used in organic farming that are approved by the US Organic Standards. And, shockingly, the volume usage of pesticide in organic farm is not recorded by the government.

According to the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, the top two organic fungicides, copper and sulfur, were used at a rate of 4 and 34 pounds per acre in 1971. In contrast, the synthetic fungicide is used at the rate of almost 1.6 lbs per acre, that is half rate of organic alternatives. So, the difference of organic farming is not using pesticide, but origin of pesticide. Organic pesticides are usually derived from natural products, so they are considered safe. But it is not true all the time. Many natural pesticides have been reported to have potential health risks. For example, Rotenone, as an organic pesticide, is derived from roots and stems of a some subtropical plants is considered safe and organic. However, research has shown that Rotenone is highly dangerous because it attacks mitochondria, the energy powerhouse of all living cells and caused Parkinson’ disease in rats. So, the point is that just because something is natural, does not mean that it is safe or non-toxic. Furthermore, organic pesticide is more ecologically damaging than synthetic pesticides because of causing higher mortality in non-target species.

Even if the organic foods come from farm which uses little to no pesticide are not free from harmful risks. Organic products tend to have more potential pathogens. For example, in one study E. coli was found in 10% of organic produce but only 2% of conventional ones. The possible reason for higher level of pathogens is using organic fertilizer like manure instead of artificial fertilizer.

Are organic foods healthier or more nutritious than conventional foods? Many researches have shown that the foods produced by conventional farming is equally nutritious as organic foods. There is no evidence for any differences in content of over 15 different nutrients including vitamin C, B-carotene, and calcium.

Do organic foods taste better than conventional foods? Organic lovers believe that organic foods taste better but when researchers ask volunteers to test both organic and conventional products, they could not tell the difference between two in blind taste tests.

Is organic farming better for environment? Maybe yes or not. Organic farming practices use less synthetic pesticide that is ecologically harmful. But organic farmers are using their own chemicals that still are ecologically damaging. Organic farming is against genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs are supposed to have more nutritious value, crop yield, and reducing use of synthetic chemical, which is exactly the organic farming goal. But the main reason that organic practices are not more environment friendly than conventional method is that organic farming produce less food per acre (in some cases 50% of conventional method). When 800 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition, switching to organic farming will increase it to 1.3 billion assuming we use same amount of land. So, by switching to organic farming, we need to use more lands by destroying more untouched wild habitats. Using more space is as bad as using chemical pesticide.

I am not against of organic foods, but I think you can improve your nutritional intake by eating a large volume of fruits and vegetables from conventional farms instead of buying pricey organic ones in lower volume.