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Why choose organic anyway? We live on a planet with a unique and amazing ability to renew itself and to support life. However, certain advances in areas of history, science and biology have created what one might call too much life. The main culprit? Mankind. The human population is growing at an alarming rate. Just 50 years ago, in 1960, the world population was reported at 3 billion. Today we have reached 6 billion and with predictions that the world population will reach 9 billion by 2046. That’s an increase of 100% every fifty years. In universal terms, 50 years is a very, very, very short space of time. We must also recognise that the earth is not growing at all, and that this growth is on the same surface area as in 1960, and as will be in 2046.
It’s funny to think that what was once a general practice of just growing plants or farming animals now requires its own term, strict certification and stamp of recognition. But that’s the problem with trying to do things in mass and meeting the huge demands; there is a pressure to increase speed and efficiency of production, minimal room for error and a big push to do it all as cheap as possible. All this has led to increased use of chemicals and methods that help ensure efficiency and guaranteed stock. While not toxic, these methods and substances are also not the healthiest for our bodies. Think about it – if you don’t know what E320 means, how can you expect your body to know? Even if it can process it it doesn’t mean it does so easily.
The reality is that food should not be readily available as it now is and we shouldn’t have access to fruit and vegetables outside of their seasonality. But we do. We love convenience and we love options. And of course, the big global companies selling us these products also have expectations, plans and profit on their mind meaning there is a big push to keep us in this rhythm. It’s no surprise that many of us still wonder why choose organic? Is there really a benefit or is it just another gimmick? It can seem expensive so is it worth it? It’s perfectly normal to think these kinds of questions and highlights that there is still so much scope to educate consumers around this topic and really help them understand that choosing Organic is worth it.
Why Choose Organic – A Basic Overview:
Organic is about going back and working with nature, as it should be. It includes practices sustainable to our beautiful earth, free of pesticides and antibiotics. It means the farmer produces crops, meat, dairy etc, which is nutrient dense and healthy. Farmers must follow strict rules in how they grow their crops and feed their livestock. In addition, this ensures animals are well cared for and have access to pasture and fed a proper diet, free of synthetic fertilisers and GMOs.
When you see the word ‘organic’ on a food label it guarantees the following:
- Fewer pesticides
- No artificial colours & preservatives
- The highest standards of animal welfare
- No routine use of antibiotics
- GM Free
The Sad Reality of Mass Production:
Perhaps an easier way to understand Organic, is to look at what it is not.
- Food Waste: With mass production, comes mass demand and with that we are now surrounded by enormous farms which in turn place enormous pressure on our existing resources to produce huge amount of food, nearly a third of which is never consumed, that’s nearly 1.3 billion tonnes according to the FAO. This begs the question of why we continue to sustain such an output?
- Nutrient Depletion: Farmers are now using pesticides and chemicals as security to meet the production targets. They are constantly planting the same crop in the same field year after year. We are now living in a world where the foods, fruits, vegetables and grains raised no longer contain enough of certain needed minerals, like magnesium for example. We are depleting the soil, which means it is now almost impossible to be nutrient sufficient (Naked Calories by Mira & Jayson Calton, page 84).
- Food miles: On the one hand, modern farming and distribution methods allow more varieties of food to reach our shores as well as providing us with material to export and generate revenue. For example, Ireland is famous for its butter and lamb and Iceland for its fish. In addition, we are able to source seasonal food year round. Although a positive for the economy, this also means our food travels thousands of miles before reaching our plates. Every minute your food spends in transit, it is exposed to the elements. These changes in temperature, light and air cause losses micro nutrients. In addition, many farmers now harvest their crops early, prior to peak ripeness, to allow for the long distance travel (Naked Calories by Mira & Jayson Calton). In one study (page 84), spinach lost 47% of its folate and carotenoid content when stored at 68 degrees. Most container trucks reach higher temperatures than that. The same study found that spinach lost 53% of its folate and carotenoid content after 7 days, despite being stored at 39 degrees.
Four Reasons to Go Organic:
So back to the question: why choose organic? Let’s explore four key benefits.
Better for your health: Do you really know what’s in your food? Of the food we consume, a stunning 46% of food contains residues of one or more pesticides.This figure has almost doubled since 2003 (PAN page 4). All organic food is fully traceable from farm to fork, so you can be sure of what you’re eating. There are strict standards laid down in European law for any food labelled as organic it must meet certain criteria. Not only that, but it’s even been shown that organic food contains more nutrients. A team at Newcastle University found organic crops are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants than conventionally-grown ones. Another study, released in the British Journal of Nutrition, showed how both organic milk and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced products (source)
Better for the ingredient:
- When it comes to plants, the big question mark sits around pesticides and sprays. “Many people don’t realise over 320 pesticides can be routinely used in non-organic farming and these are often present in non-organic food we eat despite washing and cooking. Organic farming standards, on the other hand, don’t allow any synthetic pesticides and absolutely no herbicides such as Glyphosate. Organic farmers are permitted to use just 15 pesticides, derived from natural ingredients including citronella and clove oil, but only under very restricted circumstances. Research suggests that if all UK farming was organic, pesticide use would drop by 98%!” (Source).
- The other big question mark sits around animals and how they are treated. Being an organic farmer also ensures the animal welfare of the farm animals by setting out clear guidelines that the animals should have access to pasture, a better diet and may not be treated with antibiotics. Farms not Factories have created a comprehensive guide to labelling on meat products to help you get a better understanding of what each label means.
Better for the planet: Agriculture is a contributor to climate change, responsible for about 14% of greenhouse emissions. However, “the widespread adoption of organic farming practices in the UK could offset at least 23% of UK agriculture’s current official GHG emissions.” (Source). Not only that, but soil is also a precious commodity, one that mass production heavily exploits. Organic farming focuses on nourishing and enhancing soil life (more info)
Better for the wildlife: Circa 17,800 tonnes of pesticides were used on British farms to kill weeds, insects and control crop diseases in 2015. The problem is that pesticides don’t just kill the target pest. They can affect other wildlife and the environment by either direct poisoning, contaminating water courses or disrupting ecosystems (source). In fact, Organic farmers are helping protect our wildlife by maintaining habitats. The soil association reports that “On average, plant, insect and bird life is 50% more abundant on organic farms. Organic farms are also home to 30% more species on average.” (source)
Why iRaw chooses Organic:
Asa’s route to raw vegan began with this question of why choose organic?
“My journey started in early 2000. It all began with my realisation of the use of harmful chemicals in cosmetics and perfume. Later, I found a study on harmful chemicals in breast milk!”…..
Many years later and now with launching iRaw, Organic is still at the forefront of Asa’s thinking. Above all, she is passionate about creating products that are organic but also accessible and affordable so that everyone can benefit.
“A lot of people choose to feed their children organic but not themselves. It is a habit I personally don’t understand. Ok, perhaps you have a very tight budget but you need to nourish your body too! It’s a priority for everyone and it promotes longevity!”
Some further resources:
Different countries set different standards as to what labelling a food ‘organic’ really means. To find out more information, as it relates to the UK:
- This week we took part in the ‘Wake up to Organic’ initiative. We sent our Courgette snack to Kingston Food For Thought. Check out other events they have coming up – it’s a great opportunity to visit a local store, network and learn
- The Soil Association has a wealth of articles and information about farming practices
- Some perspective on Food Waste: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9K72SHEPOCE&feature=youtu.be
- A consumer guide to pesticides: https://issuu.com/pan-uk/docs/pesticides_on_a_plate