Organic produce has been in our supermarkets for a number of years now, but how much do we really understand about organic food? Has the term just become a buzzword used to encourage consumers to part with their money, or is organic food really far superior to non-organic food? In order to understand the benefits that may be offered by switching to organic produce this Christmas, and in the long term, we must first of all define what â€˜organicâ€™ means.
What does â€˜organicâ€™ really mean?
The term â€˜organicâ€™ refers to the way in which agricultural products are grown and processed. There are strict legal requirements that must be met and maintained in order for a product to be labelled as organic.Â These requirements are Â regulated by both the EU and the UK Government and administeredÂ by registered certifying bodiesÂ such as the Soil Association. Organic Farms and processors are rigorously assessed to ensure that these requirements are met.Â Crops must be grown in soil which has not been affected by agro-chemicals, and they must remain separate from conventional crops. Farmers are forbidden from using synthetic agro-chemical pesticides, herbicides, bioengineered genes (aka GMOs), petroleum-based fertilisers, and sewage sludge-based fertilisers if they want to sell their crops as organic.
In order for meat to be labelled as organic the livestock have to be born, reared and grazed on an organic farm and fed organic feed and must have access to the outdoors. In addition, they canâ€™t be given, growth hormones, or animal by-products.Â Antibiotics are given only for welfare reasons to control existing disease and have to be authorised by a Vet as part of an Animal Health Programme.
The benefits of organic produce
There are a variety of benefits to eating organic food over conventionally grown foods; for example those with food allergies find that the lack of chemicals used in the growing and processing of the foods helps to ease their allergy symptoms. Some of the other benefits are as follows:
- Organic food is more nutritious: Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition found significant differences between organic and non-organic farming
- Organic farming is better for the environment: Organic farming releasesÂ fewer greenhouse gases than non-organic farming.Â It helps combat climate change by holding more carbon in the soil.Â It is better for wildlife with on average 22% more birds, 75% more plant species, 50% more pollinators such as bees (Journal of Applied Ecology Vol 51 2014)
- Organic meat is purer: Animals which are reared organically are not given any antibiotics prophylactically or as a growth promoter . The widespread use of antibiotics in conventional meat production (particularly pork and poultry) is contributing to the rise in antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
- Organic food contains fewer pesticides: Â Non organic farming routinely uses over 320 pesticides which cause pollution, environmental and human health problems. The vast majority of these (and all synthetic agro-chemicals) are prohibited under organic farming. Â Eating organically reduces exposure to pesticides.