Organic food. We all know the phrase, but what does it mean? Zinzan Cunningham looks behind the jargon.
There are a number of organic-certifying organisations in Australia. Simply put, here are generally accepted baseline parameters of foods labelled ‘organic’:
• foods that are produced using methods of farming that do not involve synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilisers.
• foods not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.
Evidence on the health properties between organic food and ‘conventional’ food is currently pretty sketchy and contradictory. So it’s difficult to say, “organic food is better for you.”
In fact, a 2012 Stanford University study suggests: “There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health.” That’s according to Dena Bravata, MD, MS, the senior author of the paper comparing the nutrition of organic and non-organic foods, published in a 2012 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.
A team led by Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy, and Crystal Smith-Spangler, MD, MS, an instructor in the school’s Division of General Medical Disciplines and a physician-investigator at VA Palo Alto Health Care System, did the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date of existing studies comparing organic and conventional foods. They did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives, though consumption of organic foods can reduce the risk of pesticide exposure.
But commonsense suggests it would be a brave fool to run around suggesting otherwise. Especially given the ‘pesticide exposure’ element.
But it’s more than commonsense. Andre Leu argued on behalf of the Organic Federation of Australia that there is good information that shows that organic food is substantially healthier than conventional food.
“Research published in 2001 showed that the current fruit and vegetables in the USA have about half the vitamin content of their counterparts in 1963,” he wrote. “This study was based on comparing published US Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures.
“A scientific study published in the Journal of Applied Nutrition in 1993 clearly showed that organic food is more nutritious than conventional food.
“A peer reviewed scientific article published in the February 2003 edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry stated that organically grown corn, strawberries and marionberries have significantly higher levels of cancer fighting antioxidants than conventionally grown foods. Some of these compounds, such as Flavonoids, are phenolic compounds that have potent antioxidant activities. Many are produced in plants in response to environmental stresses, such as insects or competing plants. They are protective compounds that act as a plant’s natural defense and also have protective properties in human and animal health.
“The research suggested that pesticides and herbicides disrupt the production of these protective compounds. Good soil nutrition appears to increase the levels of these natural compounds that have anti cancer, immune boosting and anti aging properties.”
Taste is another bonus for organic foods. Without the sped-up growth promoted by chemical fertilisers, organic foods can represent intense flavours and natural colours.
This is especially true with wines – winemakers rely on low yields and concentrated, true flavours for excellence. This partly exclaims the massive growth in organic wineries.