November 28, 2007

Organic IS better and here's why:

The Results Are In: Organic Foods More Nutritious Than Conventional Foods

Originally published November 18 2007
The Results Are In: Organic Foods More Nutritious Than Conventional Foods
by Katherine East

(NewsTarget) If you have been a supporter and consumer of organic foods because of its better taste and health benefits, then you’ve probably endured the taunts from scoffers and sceptics and labelled a “health nut”, “fanatic” or worse.

Even a government body (the FSA) which provides advice and information on food, has up to now had the following stance on organic foods: "Consumers may also choose to buy organic food because they believe that it is safer and more nutritious than other food. However, the balance of current scientific evidence does not support this view."

Well, now it's almost official: Organic foods really are better for you.

The biggest and most extensive scientific study and research into the benefits of organic food has found that it is more nutritious than ordinary produce and may in fact lengthen people’s lives. They also contain higher levels of antioxidants and flavo-noids which help ward off heart disease and cancer as well as higher levels of beneficial minerals such as iron and zinc. (But you could’ve told them that.)

Newcastle University have been leading this £12m, four-year project, funded by the European Union and their findings show that organic food contains more antioxidants and less unhealthy fatty acids.

They found levels of antioxidants in milk from organic cattle were between 50% and 80% higher than normal milk. Organic wheat, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, onions and lettuce had between 20% and 40% more nutrients than non-organic foods.

Project co-ordinator Professor Carlo Leifert said: "We have shown there are more of certain nutritionally desirable compounds and less of the baddies in organic foods or improved amounts of the fatty acids you want and less of those you don't want. Our research is now trying to find out where the difference between organic and conventional food comes from. What we're really interested in is finding out why there is so much variability with respect to the differences. What in the agricultural system gives a higher nutritional content and less of the baddies in the food?"

The studies have indicated that differences between organic and non-organic produce were so marked, eating organic produce is like eating an extra portion of fruit or vegetables everyday. “If you have just 20% more antioxidants and you can’t get your kids to do five a day, then you might just be okay with four a day,” said Leifert.

The research project included growing both organic and conventional test crops of fruits and vegetables. They also reared cattle on a 725-acre site at Nafferton Farm, Northumberland.

The research will also assist organic farmers to improve their quality and farming methods with a better understanding of how the nutritional quality of produce is affected by agricultural methods.

The question is: will this project, also known as “Quality Low Input Food project”, end years of debate and overturn Government advice that eating organic food is no more than a “lifestyle choice”? The Food Standards Agency has confirmed it will be reviewing the evidence from the research and considering whether to change its advice.

The Soil association, a leading representative of the organic producers, is hoping that this latest research could help to contribute to a "seismic" change in the food industry. The final results of the project will be published over the next 12 months.

Organic farming was the only type of farming used worldwide until the invention of chemical pesticides and fertilizers in the early 20th century. When agriculture began to become industrialized and the use of synthetic inputs became the norm, handfuls of farmers throughout the US and abroad reacted by holding on to the farming traditions of before and resisting the new conventions. This type of farming soon came to be known as “organic.”

Buyer Beware
Only USDA certified-organic foods can use the word "organic" in the actual product name.

However, organic ingredients can be listed on the packaging of products that are not entirely organic (for instance, "made with organic flour").
In addition, if a company is certified as an organic producer, it can use the word "organic" in its company name.

This name can appear on all of its products - even those that aren't certified organic. Therefore, it is important to look for the USDA "Certified Organic" seal when purchasing organic products.

The product was grown or raised by a producer who uses practices in balance with nature, using methods and materials that do not harm or destroy the environment. The farmer is committed to maintaining harmony with the environment; building biodiversity; and fostering healthy soil and growing conditions.

Land on which organic food or fibers are grown has been free of known and perceived toxic and persistent chemical pesticides and fertilizers for three years prior to certification.

Crops are rotated from field to field, rather than growing the same crop year after year. Cover crops such as clover are planted to add nutrients to the soil and prevent weeds.

Organic meat, poultry and egg products come from farms that use organic feed, do not administer antibiotics or hormones, and they give animals access to the outdoors.
Food has been minimally processed, with no artificial ingredients, preservatives, or irradiation and was not produced using genetically modified organisms.

In October 2002, organic food became regulated by the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Organic Program. The National Organic Standards Board, a federal advisory panel created to advise the USDA on developing organic legislation, defines organic agriculture as "an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony."

The Difference between Organic and Sustainable
Although many of the principles and practices employed on sustainable and organic farms are the same, some organic farmers are not sustainable, and some sustainable farmers are not organic. The distinction between organic and sustainable can be very confusing, but it’s an important one to understand, as many organic products these days are not sustainable, and are actually produced on massive industrial farms. Some organic dairy farms, for example, raise cows in large confinement facilities but are able to meet the bare minimum requirements for organic certification.

To make the distinction between these two farming methods clearer, here are some comparisons between organic and sustainable:

Organic farms must be independently certified every year and approved by the USDA, while sustainable farms do not require any official certification.

USDA Definition: “Organic Production”
A production system that is managed in accordance with the [The Organic Foods Production] Act and regulations in this part to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.

In order to bear the USDA "Certified Organic" seal, a product must contain 95 to 100 percent organic ingredients.iii Products that contain 100 percent organic ingredients can be labeled "100 percent organic," iv while products that contain more than 70 percent, but less than 94 percent organic ingredients can be labeled "Made with Organic Ingredients," but cannot use the USDA "Certified-Organic" seal.v

Violators of organic labeling regulations can be fined as much as $10,000 for each offense. vi Farmers need to prove that their operations comply with all the requirements specified by the USDA, establish and submit their organic farming system plans,
keep all records regarding their organic operations, and permit on-site inspections in order to be certified as an organic producer. vii

Animal Welfare
Organic farmers need to give animals “access” to outdoors, but they can actually confine animals and gain organic certification with as little as an open door leading to a cement patio. In sustainable farms, animals must be permitted to carry out their natural behaviors, like rooting, pecking or grazing. A sustainable farmer might keep his or her animals indoors in bad weather, but the animals are given ample space to move around naturally. Sustainable farmers assure that their animals are healthy, comfortable and well cared for.

While no antibiotics can be fed to organic-certified livestock, there is no legal restriction for antibiotic use in sustainable farming. Many sustainable farmers do not administer any antibiotics at all, but some may do so when their animals are sick and need to be treated. The milk and meat of animals given antibiotics on these farms are not used for human consumption until the antibiotics have fully passed out of the animals’ systems.

Artificial Hormones
No added or artificial hormones are allowed for organic farming, nor are they used for sustainable farming.

Corporate Involvement
Organic food can be produced by large corporations, while sustainable food production is carried out by small farmers and families who live on the land where they farm.

Size of the farm
For organic farming, there is no limitation on how many acres can be used to grow crops. Sustainable farmers plant crops in relatively small, mixed plots as a form of pest control and to build soil fertility.

Food Miles
Organic food can travel thousands of miles before reaching your dinner plate, and certification does not take into consideration the use of fossil fuels used to truck food. Sustainable food, however, is distributed and sold as close to the farm as possible.

Corporate Takeover
Organic agriculture is becoming more popular because consumers are demanding healthful and environmentally-friendly food. This shift in consumer behavior is good news, but unfortunately, increased demand for organic foods has attracted large agribusiness corporations that intend to profit from the trend.

Although it’s not obvious to consumers, large corporations own many popular organic food brands. For example, Silk soymilk and Horizon dairy products are produced by Dean Foods, the nation’s largest milk producer. viii ix The corporate takeover of organic food is further encouraged by Wal-Mart, as it recently expanded their organic food sales in spring 2006.x Such corporate involvement does not only threaten the existence of small sustainable farmers, but also deteriorates the quality of organic food and makes it harder for small organic farms to compete.

Corporate-owned organic brands can push down the prices of organic products because they’re willing to cut corners in the production process and share a smaller portion of their profits with the farmers. They’ll confine dairy cows most of the year and sacrifice animal welfare,xiwhich allows them to sell their “organic” milk at low prices that small organic farms with higher standards can’t match.

This problem is aggravated by agribusiness’ push to weaken USDA organic standards. In 2005, agribusiness lobbied the Congress to pass a bill that allows for the use of 38 synthetic food substances in the processing and handling of certified organic foods. xiiThe new rule requires consumers to pay more attention to the ingredients of organic food products and to pay more attention to the difference between various organic foods and brands.

What You Can Do
The organic label is a useful tool when you’re shopping in a conventional grocery store, because it helps you find food that is free of pesticides and antibiotics. But don’t go by the label alone! It’s important to look for food that is not only organic, but also local and produced by a small farm with high standards.

Did You Know?

According to the USDA, consumer demand for organic agricultural products has increased steadily in the U.S., rising 20 percent or more annually throughout the 90's.

A 22-year study conducted by the Rodale Institute determined that organic farming operations use 30% less energy than conventional farms.

Between 1997 and 2003, US farmers and ranchers increased the amount of certified organic farmland for crops and livestock by nearly one million acres.

In 2003, 2.2 million acres of the U.S. farmland were used to produce certified organic crops and livestock.


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