Organic food is produced from farming systems that avoid the use of synthetic, man-made fertilisers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives. Instead, organic farming relies on biological pest control, crop rotation, animal manure fertilisation and hand weeding. Public concern is rising over the safety of conventionally farmed foods; and the widespread belief that organic food is a healthier option means that people are willing to pay a higher premium in order to obtain it. But why is it better?
Research suggests that organic produce is more nutritious than its conventionally grown equivalents:
- Organic food has significant antioxidant levels. This is particularly advantageous for people with compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients and those with chronic illness. Studies have consistently shown that organic fruits have a much higher concentration of Vitamin C and other antioxidants.
- Organically produced milk has consistently higher proportions of beneficial fatty acids than conventionally produced milk.
- In addition, lactating women consuming a diet containing predominately organic dairy products have demonstrated an increased concentration of specific nutrients in breastmilk, associated with improved health, including protective effects against allergic hypersensitivity diseases.
Certain health risks are associated with aspects of conventional farming:
- Chemical pesticides are prohibited in organic farming, so the foods produced will have a lower chemical residue. There is a strong association between organophosphate (OP) pesticides (commonly used in conventional agriculture) and Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, autism and psychiatric disorders. Moreover, a recent study showed that maternal exposure to pesticides during pregnancy adversely affected infant brain development.
The role of organic foods in maintaining health also extends to sustainable agricultural techniques, as we look towards the maintenance of an ever-growing global population. Current figures suggest that agriculture is responsible for approximately 30% of global warming, with an estimation that roughly one quarter of the major greenhouse gas - CO2 - stems from agricultural sources. Organic agriculture is seen as a viable alternative to reduce carbon emissions, through improved practices in cropland management and more sustainable practices.
There is clearly more to the management and maintenance of health than what an individual consumes; nonetheless, diet and lifestyle do have significant influence on the cultivation of good health. As a result, the importance of investing in sustainable lifestyle practices cannot be stressed enough, particularly when there is so much evidence to suggest strong links between disease processes and current dietary, lifestyle and agricultural factors.