Organic foods are currently subject of various debates. The most common question being asked is whether they are really worth it? Whether the benefits of organic foods are big enough to justify the price compared to non-organic alternatives?
In this articles, I will look at the differences between organic and non-organic foods to see if there is a reasonable justification for a higher price of organic foods, and whether there are noticeable health benefits from consuming organic produce compared to non-organic.
When I first met my husband Gary, I was far from eating organic. Indeed, I was even a proponent of GMOs, supporting the idea that only GMOs can feed the ever-growing world population. At that time I saw organic foods as another “fancy” thing appearing on the market, being appealing to a certain group of people mostly due to it exclusivity.
However, Gary was the first person who dramatically changed my view on organic foods. Even though he had a limited budget to spend on food every week, he would still buy organic products when possible. He was the first person I personally knew who was willing to pay a higher price for organic products because of their health benefits. I decided to investigate and thought that a good starting point would be to get a few organic products – chicken, fruit, veg, dairy – and see if I can feel the difference.
I was never an expert on food – my main objective at a time was to try to give my body fuel for the day (while trying to eat as healthy as possible), though I would still eat some processed and fast foods, sweet treats, etc. My taste buds were far from refined. That’s why it was even more amazing to me that I could actually TASTE the difference between organic and non-organic food straight away!
The biggest difference was in meat and dairy products, however, I could still easily spot the difference between organic and non-organic fruit and vegetables. Organic products tasted as if their taste was enhanced several times compared to non-organic ones. I also noticed that I needed less organic food to feel full compared to non-organic food. So even though I was paying more for organic options compared to non-organic ones, I was actually eating less and buying less, which was a pleasant surprise.
From that day on, I realised that I was wrong about organic foods. Since then I would continuie buying organic products for their taste, but I was curious about the difference in the benefits of organic and non-organic products.
In this article, I will share some of the information I have found on the matter. Most of the information I took was from Soil Association website as I really liked the way they presented the material.
Quiet often we hear from organic food proponents that organic foods are more nutritionally packed. And I could actually find much information supporting this claim.
- “organic milk and meat contain around 50% more omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic.
- organic meat had slightly lower concentrations of two saturated fats
- organic milk and dairy contains slightly higher concentrations of iron, Vitamin E and some carotenoids
- organically produced crops (cereals, fruit and vegetables) up to 68% more antioxidants than non-organic.
- organic fruit and veg contain lower concentrations of pesticides and the toxic heavy metal cadmium.”
“More of the good stuff.
- There are between 18% and 69% more antioxidants than food produced using non-organic methods.
Less of the bad.
- Choosing organically produced foods can lead to a reduced intake of potentially harmful cadmium and pesticides.
- The analysis detected 48% lower concentrations of the toxic heavy metal cadmium in organic crops.
- The frequency of occurrence of detectable pesticide residues is four times higher in non-organic crops.
- Non-organic fruit had the highest pesticide frequency (75%), compared to non-organic vegetables (32%) and non-organic crop based processed foods (45%).
- By contrast pesticide residues were found in 10% of organic crop samples.
“More of the good stuff, less of the bad
- both organic milk (dairy) and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced products
- organic meat had slightly lower concentrations of two saturated fats linked to heart disease
- organic milk and dairy contains 40% more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)– (CLA has been linked to a range of health benefits including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and obesity)
- organic milk and dairy contains slightly higher concentrations of iron, Vitamin E and some carotenoids
- organic milk contains less iodine than non-organic milk”
Taken from a new study published on 16 February 2016, in the British Journal of Nutrition.
As well as that, antibiotics can only be used in organic farming in case of treating an animal from a disease which is very important considering that “[I]n Britain alone an estimated 10,000 people die each year from antibiotic resistance illnesses, and experts fear these diseases could cause one million deaths across Europe by 2025”
Another difference between organic and non-organic products is that in organic industry they seem to employ higher standards of animal welfare and give more emphasis on animal wellbeing.
As taken from Soil Association website:
“Organic means happier, healthier animals which…
- Must have access to pasture (when weather and ground conditions permit) and are truly free range.
- Must have plenty of space – which helps to reduce stress and disease.
- Are fed a diet that is as natural as possible and free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Over a million tonnes of GM crops are imported each year to feed the majority of non-organic livestock which produce chicken, eggs, pork, bacon, milk, cheese etc. This practice is banned under organic standards.
- Graze and forage naturally on organic pasture (grasses and other crops) where only natural fertilisers are used and pesticides are severely restricted.
- Cannot be given hormones which make them grow more quickly.
- Must not be produced from cloned animals.
Must not routinely be given antibiotics. Farm animals now account for almost two-thirds of all antibiotics used in the EU. These are passed to us through the food chain”
Yet another difference between organic and non-organic products is that organic industry claims that it is better for our planet: it’s ecology, soil purity and fertility, and many other things.
“Intensive agriculture causes soil erosion, chemical run-off into water systems and can mean some weeds and insects become resistant to herbicides and pesticides. Organic farming on the other hand doesn’t rely on synthetic or petroleum-based pesticides or fertilizers. It significantly reduces water and soil contamination. Wildlife can thrive.”
“Agriculture plays a big part in climate change and is responsible for around 14% of total green-house gas (GHG) emissions worldwide. The widespread adoption of organic farming practices in the UK could offset at least 23% of UK agriculture’s current official GHG emissions.
This is because healthy soils are a major store of carbon, containing three times as much carbon as the atmosphere and five times as much as forests! The impact of switching to organic farming could save 64 million tonnes of carbon over 20 years across all UK cultivated land – the equivalent of taking nearly a million family cars off the road!”
“Organic farmers select crop varieties with natural resistance to particular pests and diseases to reduce disease problems and the need to use chemicals. Crop rotations helps break cycles of pests and disease and builds fertility in the soil”.
“Soil is a non-renewable resource; its preservation is essential for food security and our sustainable future. Organic production enhances soil life, natural soil fertility and water quality. Organic farmers rely on developing a healthy, fertile soil and growing a mixture of crops.”
“In the UK alone, around 31,000 tonnes of manufactured chemicals are used in farming each year to kill weeds, insects and other pests that attack crops and there is growing scientific evidence that certain harmful pesticides, especially neonicotinoid insecticides, play a key part in the declines in honeybees and other pollinators worldwide.”
“Organic farmers are helping to look after our wildlife by managing and maintaining habitats, which is a vital part of a successful organic farm. This helps organic farms support up to 50% more wildlife – that’s more of our great British bees, birds and butterflies for us all to enjoy!”
- “Organic farmers work hard to maintain and look after areas such as banks, ponds and grassland, and habitat links, such as hedges and field margins.
- Hedgerows, important for hedgehogs and other small mammals, tend to be bigger and more diverse on organic farms than on non-organic farms.
Organic farmers don’t cut their hedges between March and August to allow wildlife to thrive within them during the growing and breeding season.”
Even though I found lots of information explaining why organic products might be considered better than their non-organic alternatives, please, notice that all of the information above was taken from Soil Association website, hence it is possible that the view presented could be one-pointed, mainly focused on the positive things about organic products.
In order to have a more rounded opinion, I started searching for opposing views by proponents of non-organic and GMO products. Here is what I found.
There is a rising concern that the pollen form genetically modified crops mixes up with organic crops, hence it is nearly impossible to make organic crops fully GMO free. Different countries are now making regulation on the availability of the GMO crops in their countries.
“Copper sulfate and Bordeaux mixture (copper sulfate plus lime), approved for organic use in various jurisdictions, can be more environmentally problematic than some synthetic fungicides dissallowed in organic farming Similar concerns apply to copper hydroxide. Repeated application of copper sulfate or copper hydroxide as a fungicide may eventually result in copper accumulation to toxic levels in soil, and admonitions to avoid excessive accumulations of copper in soil appear in various organic standards and elsewhere. Environmental concerns for several kinds of biota arise at average rates of use of such substances for some crops. In the European Union, where replacement of copper-based fungicides in organic agriculture is a policy priority, research is seeking alternatives for organic production”.
“A 2007 study compiling research from 293 different comparisons into a single study to assess the overall efficiency of the two agricultural systems has concluded that “organic methods could produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base.” The researchers also found that while in developed countries, organic systems on average produce 92% of the yield produced by conventional agriculture, organic systems produce 80% more than conventional farms in developing countries, because the materials needed for organic farming are more accessible than synthetic farming materials to farmers in some poor countries. This study was strongly contested by another study published in 2008, which stated, and was entitled, “Organic agriculture cannot feed the world” and said that the 2007 came up with “a major overestimation of the productivity of OA” “because data are misinterpreted and calculations accordingly are erroneous.” Additional research needs to be conducted in the future to further clarify these claims”.
I also looked at price difference between organic products and their non-organic alternatives.
In order to do that, I compared 20 “common” organic products with their non-organic alternatives in Tesco online shop. Below are my findings.
Price Comparison of 20 “common” Organic vs Non-organic Products. Tesco, 3rd November 2016
|Item Name||Price, non-organic||Price, organic||Price Difference|
|White Plain Flour||£0.79/kg||£1.26/kg||%60|
|Whole Wheat Fusillli Pasta||£1.18/kg||£2.00/kg||%70|
|Sirloin Beef Steak||£17.34/kg||£22.00/kg||%27|
|Chicken Thigh Fillets||£7.58/kg||£10.00/kg||%32|
Please, note I took the middle-priced non-organic products – for example, if the price for non-organic carrots was £0.45, £0.60, and £1.80 for 1 kg, I would take the middle price – £0.60/kg. Also, kindly note that due to the price diversity, the prices are very rough estimates.
In RED are the products which organic price is %50 or more percent higher than normal price;
In GREEN are the products which organic price is %20 or fewer percent higher than normal price.
This research has showed that organic products are considerably more expensive than non-organic alternatives (even though I thought they would be more expensive than they turned out to be!) However, as we can see on the list, some of organic products were less than %20 more expensive than non-organic alternatives, and there was even one organic product on the list – garlic – which price was same as non-organic alternative’s price! Despite that, there were still many organic products on the list which price was %50 or more than their non-organic alternatives, meaning that price can be considered an issue with organic products.
In this article I presented many arguments for why organic products might be considered to be more beneficial for human and animal health and wellbeing, ecology, and more ethical than their non-organic alternatives.
However, I also pointed out problems with organic farming – for instance, that it is very hard to ensure than organic products are free from GMO’s; it is not clear whether organic farming is sustainable enough to feed the world; and some concerns about the safety and ecological implications of using organic fertilisers.
I also provided a price comparison between some “common” organic products and their non-organic alternatives, where I showed that even though, generally, organic products are considerably more expensive than non-organic alternatives, it is possible to find some organic products which price is %20 or less more than non-organic alternatives, meaning that even though it could be hard for some people to switch completely to organic products, it might be easier to start implementing less costly options first.
With so many pros and cons in favour of both sides – organic and non-organic – there is only one option which both sides agree on – that more research is needed. In the meanwhile, I think it is vital that one tries to do as much research as possible to try to decide for him/herself if organic products are really worth it. I hope that some of the information presented here would make your own research a bit easier 🙂
Gary and I are trying to eat organic products as often as possible. This means that when we go shopping we would rather buy less extravagant products (e.g. local apples instead of papayas), but ensure that they are organic. That certainly restricts your choice of products, especially when you don’t live in a community with many organic-friendly shops, however, we found that it was the best option for us.
We also considerably cut on our meat consumption, and try to get deals on fruit and other organic products whenever possible. We try not to waste, or waste as little as possible. I am hoping to write a post on how to save on organic diet soon, so watch the space!
Sometimes we buy non-organic options if organic options are not available and we desperately need (or want 😉 ) those products. While travelling to other countries, we try to find local organic shops and buy products there, however, if it is not possible or if the difference in price between organic and non-organic options is too big, we resort to buying non-organic products. When going out, we also do not mind going to non-organic restaurants.
I also use only natural organic products on my skin – some I make myself, others I buy from Neal’s Yard Remedies, which provide a wide choice or certified organic products (you can get yours from my consultant’s shop here).
We strongly believe in the benefits of organic products, however, we understand that it is not always possible to do that, hence, we try to be as flexible as possible, but still consume organic products when possible. We believe that starting to make even small changes in your life – for example, substituting your regular carrots with organic carrots – can make a difference. We always say that it is better to try for yourself and see what works for you 🙂
Do you buy organic products? What are the reasons for your decision? We would love to hear your thoughts!