Organic Food

An Expert Space for the organic food industry

moderated by Peter Hubshman/Venturepreneur

Are We Better Off Eating Organic Food?

Organic food is currently the fastest growing consumer food segment, expected to surpass 10% of consumer purchases by the early 2020's, the segment was estimated at 4% in 2012 by the USDA weighing in at $28bil.

USDA Organic Food Segment Growth

Fresh fruits and vegetables have been the top selling category of organically grown food since the organic food industry started retailing products over 3 decades ago, and they are still outselling other food categories, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. Produce accounted for 43 percent of U.S. organic food sales in 2012, followed by dairy (15 percent), packaged/prepared foods (11 percent), beverages (11 percent), bread/grains (9 percent), snack foods (5 percent), meat/fish/poultry (3 percent), and condiments (3 percent).

The USDA certification for organic growers (United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic label) is awarded to companies that follow specific practices regarding livestock handling, pest control, crop production, soil and water quality, and food additives(USDA Organic Standards). 

But are we better off eating these things?  My mother thinks so.  I think so.  My intuition tells me that it must be so.  It just has to be better to stay away from highly toxic substances.  It just has to be better to be careful what we put into stuff we grow and to treat our livestock well.  

The Michigan State University Extension recently published an article following a review of current studies and literature on the safety of Organic labeled food.  They found that the evidence to date is inconclusive regarding safety claims of organic growers.  What does this mean?  MSU researchers are suggesting that a lot more research will need to be conducted before we find out scientifically if organic foods are better for us.

MSU researchers also point to the Mayo clinic's recent review of research into Organic food safety. The Mayo Clinic finds that:

  • Pesticide residues are found on both organic and conventional produce, but, on average, appear to be lower in concentration on organic products. Important to consider, however, is that while many believe food is safer when not contaminated by pesticide residues, there is insufficient scientific data to make any conclusions. Legal pesticide residue levels currently in place, regardless of production method, have not been shown to harm human health. As new pesticide formulations are used, and different combinations of pesticides are applied to crops, new research will be needed to identify if there are increased risks or health hazards to humans and animals.
  • Contamination, such as with microorganisms or toxic metals (lead, arsenic, etc.), has been found to occur similarly among organic and conventionally produced foods.
  • Because certified organic production does not allow the use of antibiotics, however, organic products have demonstrated lower incidence of antibiotic resistant microorganisms when compared to conventional products.
  • Food additives are usually present in lesser amounts in organic food versus conventional food, but most food additives have not been proven to have toxic side effects.

Aruba picks some aquaponic lettuce

(A greenmarket customer picks his own lettuce from an outdoor aquaponic grow bed.)

So what should we do?  Sometimes we need to put our intuition out in front of ourselves.  We can and will realize increasingly that everything we do, what we eat, what we drive, how we live, affects us and the environment we live in profoundly.  Scientific conclusions often take that regrettful form: "We were right!  Why didn't we do something about it back then?"

 (See the full MSU article here.)