Are Organic Foods Necessary For A Healthy Diet?

The bottom line is that organic does not mean what many people think it means. It does not mean absolutely no pesticides or no antibiotics or no irradiation or no genetic engineering!

Let's face it. A healthy diet costs more than an unhealthy one. Why are so many poor people fat? They can't afford the meat, fresh fruits and vegetables that constitute the basis of a healthy diet. Macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, and other high calorie, low nutrient food build fat not muscle.

When I was a competitive bodybuilder I even had feelings of guilt as I stuffed my face full of nutrient dense food such as chicken, turkey, fish, fresh vegetables and fruit for the sole purpose of getting obscene muscle size!

As every bodybuilder knows, it is very expensive to gain solid muscle weight, and I was spending a lot of money overeating to be a bodybuilder when millions of people around the world are starving!

On the other hand, we in the West have worked hard and smart to develop the most materially prosperous civilization to ever appear on the planet and the rest of the world is straining to achieve the same level. So I continue to enjoy the fruits of my own hard work even now as I am attempting to gain another 10-15 pounds of guilt-free, rock hard muscle.

If regular nutritious food wasn't expensive enough, now we are told by many that we should eat only "organic" foods. To do so would really increase the cost of a healthy diet. In spite of this, the organic food movement is growing rapidly.

In fact, retail sales of the organic industry rose from $1 billion in 1990 to $7.8 in 2000 to $10.4 billion last year, though total percentage of agricultural production still remains well below the 1% level [Greene CR. U.S. organic farming emerges in the 1990s: Adoption of certified systems. USDA Agricultural Research Service, Resource Economics Division, Information bulletin No. 770, June 2001].

But Are These Claims True?

Well, obviously the first one certainly is. Supermarkets make higher profits from "organic" produce and will promote them when they can. But are organic foods healthier? Organic foods are certainly not more nutritious [Newsome R. Organically grown foods: A scientific status summary by the Institute of Food Technologists' expert panel on food safety and nutrition. Food Technology 44(12):123-130, 1990.].

The nutrient content of plants is determined primarily by heredity. Mineral content may be affected by the mineral content of the soil, but this has no significance in the overall diet. If essential nutrients are missing from the soil, the plant will not grow. If plants grow, that means the essential nutrients are present. Experiments conducted for many years have found no difference in the nutrient content of organically grown crops and those grown under standard agricultural conditions.

But are they safer? Two recent symposia (the American Chemical Society and the First World Congress on Organic Food) have concluded that evidence is lacking to support the claimed superior benefits of organic foods. Furthermore, a report by the Texas Department of Agriculture indicates that conventional produce was eight times more likely to have pesticide residue than organic, but of the few samples in which a residue was found, the amount was negligible (between 1 and 5 percent of government standards).

In addition, because organic farmers rely on cow and pig manure for fertilizer, organic foods are vulnerable to bacterial contamination - two recent outbreaks of e-coli involved organic strawberries and lettuce. Organic poultry present an additional problem. Free-range birds have higher rates of bacterial contamination than conventional poultry due to their higher exposure to wild bird droppings!

The fact is that a study by the American Council on Science and Health revealed that organic produce does not have significantly higher vitamin contents than conventional produce.

An exception may be in the vitamin C in organic vegetables, but the difference is minimal. The Food Standards Agency, an impartial body set up by government to safeguard our welfare, declared, "on the basis of current evidence... organic food is not significantly different in terms of food safety and nutrition from food produced conventionally". {By the way, you coffee drinkers, did you know that a cup of coffee contains natural carcinogens equal to at least a year's worth of carcinogenic synthetic residues in the diet?]

Well, then, what about the "fact" that organic farming is better for the environment? Because organic foods are supposed to be grown without artificial fertilizers in soil whose humus content is increased by the additions of organic matter, it is better for the environment, right?

The weed and pest-control methods to which this refers include crop rotation, hand cultivation, mulching, soil enrichment, and encouraging beneficial predators and microorganisms. If these methods are not sufficient, various listed chemicals can be used. (The list does not include cytotoxic chemicals that are carbon-based.) The proposal did not call for monitoring specific indicators of soil and water quality, but left the selection of monitoring activities to the producer in consultation with the certifying agent.

For raising animals, antibiotics would not be permitted as growth stimulants but would be permitted to counter infections.

The rules permit up to 20% of animal feed to be obtained from non-organic sources. This was done because some nutrients (such as trace minerals) are not always available organically.

Irradiation, which can reduce or eliminate certain pests, kill disease-causing bacteria, and prolong food shelf-life, would be permitted during processing. Genetic engineering would also be permissible.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that "organic" does not mean what many people think it means. It does not mean absolutely no pesticides or no antibiotics or no irradiation or no genetic engineering!

Manfred Kroger, Ph.D., Quackwatch consultant and Professor of Food Science at The Pennsylvania State University, has put the matter more bluntly:

Scientific agriculture has provided Americans with the safest and most abundant food supply in the world. Agricultural chemicals are needed to maintain this supply. The risk from pesticide residue, if any, is minuscule, is not worth worrying about, and does not warrant paying higher prices.


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