It always amuses me that produce doused in toxic chemicals is called “conventional.” The word conventional means “in accordance with what is generally done or believed.” Organic foods, the ones grown naturally without the use of synthetic chemicals, are regarded as “premium,” but they are actually fruits and vegetables the way nature intended them.
As more people learn about the detrimental effects of pesticides and herbicides on our bodies and planet, organic foods are becoming more popular than ever. Thanks to this new found interest, they are also more widely available.
Aside from the fact that they taste better and reduce your exposure to hazardous chemicals, here are 7 facts I bet you didn’t know about organic farming.
1. All agriculture was organic until the 1920s
Before this time, farmers used natural means to control pests and nourish the soil. During the 1920s, research turned towards chemicals, but it wasn’t really until the 50s, after World War II, that farming methods changed dramatically towards the “new normal” where nearly everything became covered in chemicals. At about the same time, a small but vociferous group of advocates who sought an alternative to the new industrial methods started the organic movement. Health food stores started to pop up in the 70s and 80s, and today, it is finally becoming more mainstream, with big box retailers like Costco and Target carrying organic products.
2. Organic foods are more nutritious
Over a two-year period, researchers purchased both conventional and organic apples, potatoes, wheat, pears, and sweet corn. On a per-weight basis, the organic foods all had a significantly higher percentage of minerals than their conventional counterparts—sometimes more than double the amount! The organic foods were also about 25% lower in mercury.
3. Organic certification is costly
The green and white USDA stamp of organic approval is a visual cue that food is free of synthetic chemicals. But for many small family farmers, the cost of getting the official seal is too expensive, so although they may still opt to grow their crops organically, they can’t technically call them “organic.” When you go to the farmers market, ask you farmer how he grows his crops. But in the grocery store, stick to foods with the seal.
4. Everyone can eat an organic diet
One popular criticism of organic farming is that if it was implemented universally, we wouldn’t be able to produce enough food to meet the world’s demand. It might be true that if everyone were to only eat organic meat, it may be difficult for the current agribusinesses to keep up. However, if people were to eat more plants, we most certainly could produce enough fruits and vegetables using organic methods. Interestingly, conventional GMOs in particular are often justified by chemical companies because they supposedly “allow farmers to produce more.” But, after 15 years of using GMO crops, the US Department of Agriculture published a report which found conventional GMO farms actually produced smaller yields than non-GMO farms.
5. Organic fish isn’t a real thing
While the organic seal on fruits, vegetables, and meat helps consumers make savvier purchasing choices, be wary that when it comes to seafood, there are no set regulations or standards for calling something organic. It is more of a marketing term, most likely used to ratchet up the price of your seafood, without much to back it up.
6. Conventional farming isn’t sustainable
The pesticides used on conventional crops are designed to kill small insects, but thanks to their short lifespan and rapid reproduction, most pests evolve to develop resistance to a specific pesticide in the matter of a few generations. In a meta-analysis published in 2013 in Nature Biotechnology, researchers found that more pests were becoming resistant to conventional genetically modified crops. In 2005, of 13 pests studied, only one was resistant to the pesticide in genetically modified crops. Fast forward to 2012, just 7 years later, and only 5 of those same 13 pests were still resistant. This means chemical companies have to continuously come up with new and stronger chemicals.
7. Less than 1% of American crops are organic
Despite the growing popularity of organics, only 0.6% of our produce is grown organically. In Europe, approximately 5.4% of their agricultural land grows organic crops, and that number continues to go up each year. We have a long way to go in getting this country to shift its farming practices, and the best way to do that is to vote with your dollar. Choose organic when ever possible and practical.