Why are organic foods no better than regular foods?

    13 Jul 2021

    Organic food, only natural ingredients, no pesticides! Day after day, marketers come up with new tricks and trumpet at every corner about the usefulness and superior taste of new products in the food market. But are there any health and environmental benefits from organic products?

    Let’s get to know what the author of the Food&Science telegram channel Vsevolod Ostakhnovich guess about the difference between organic and regular food in his interview for Knife.

    In 1999, 11 million hectares were cultivated under the principles of organic agriculture. Over 18 years, this figure has grown to 70 million, and by 2026 it will increase by another 8.4%. This means only one thing: the demand for organic products is constantly growing, which means that eco-vegetables, bio-fruits, and organic eggs will appear more often in more homes.

    It seems that there is a reason to rejoice: we will soon eat well. But before we give ourselves up to positive emotions, let’s take a look at Wikipedia:

    “There is no evidence for the health benefits of organic foods, and there is no evidence that there is a difference in nutritional value between organic food and food produced by traditional methods.”

    What is organic food to us? There are four central tenets that hold people to believe in the concept of organic products. Products should be healthier and more delicious, grown without the use of chemicals, and minimized harm to the environment. Of course, I would also like it not to use slave and child labor so that animals and plants live the happiest life before they give it to us, so that species diversity is preserved. Supply chains are minimally short so that there is no significant release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

    Are you willing to pay more for products that are so perfect? Many people say yes. Manufacturers also understand this, so every year, they are expanding their presence on the market.

    Organic labeling

    There is the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM), whose goal is to create a single legal and semantic field for all producers. Since there are too many quality marks worldwide and can be confusing, in 2011, IFOAM introduced a world quality mark – the Global Organic Mark.

    In some countries, organic standards are developed and monitored by the government. The United States, the European Union, Canada, and Japan have their own laws on this matter, and the term “organic” can only be obtained by growers from certified organizations.

    The US has a National Organic Program that protects the USDA Organic mark on US organic products. Depending on the percentage of substances in the final product confirmed by the certifying authority, the label may be marked as 100% organic, organic, made with organic or specific organic ingredients.

    In Europe, the famous “Euroleaf” is used, consisting of 12 stars of the European flag. It is applied to products that meet organic standards. In Canada, the organic logo is applied to products that are certified by agencies accredited by the Food Inspectorate. In Japan, products are labeled according to the local Ministry of Agriculture standards.

    There are regional and private labels. For example, the following are known:

    ·  Demeter is one of the most significant international certifications for biodynamic agriculture,

    ·  Agriculture Biologique is the French national logo for organic products,

    ·  Bio-Siegel is a German mark for products that meet all the requirements of the European Community legislation for organic agriculture.

    At the same time, manufacturers are rather aggressively promoting their products. But the most important thing is that they oppose “good” eco-products to “bad” traditional ones and divide society into those who think about the future, their health and children, and those who carelessly stuff themselves with toxins and the planet with poisons (this is important for the West, but we, I am sure, will also have this in the future). A prime example is the site Moms Across America, which allegedly sheds light and opens the eyes to the dirty methods of large corporations. Unfortunately, excessive alarms and increased panic only leave them closed.

    But this is still an interest group, and what is the opinion of scientists? Science is debunking some of the most common myths about organic food.

    1. Organic food is not more delicious than usual food

    First, vegetables or fruits do not necessarily taste better when grown using organic technology. To get an organic badge, you need to farm according to established methods. But if the farmer’s strawberries are tasteless by themselves, even organic methods will not help you make a wow product out of it.

    Second, the taste is determined by freshness, which primarily depends on the length of the farmer-buyer chain.

    Therefore, an inorganic tomato from the nearest garden, which is in your salad in a minute, is likely to taste better than an organic tomato from Israel, which flew several thousand kilometers and visited two distribution centers before entering the store.

    Third, research suggests that conclusions about the superiority of eco-products are conflicting. “So what, the main thing is that consumers know what is tastier!” But it was not there. If you put two tomatoes in front of a person and say that the bio is on the left and the usual one on the right, then the left, of course, will receive a higher rating. To avoid bias, they conduct blind studies, but their results often frustrate fans of “organic.” It turns out that respondents prefer traditional products or do not see any difference between the options.

    Perceived flavor (taste, aroma, and other sensations) is a very complex phenomenon.

    When we eat, we are influenced by so many factors that even a cloned leg of lamb can taste different every day.

    The English scientist Charles Spence wrote a whole book, “Gastrophysics” on the perception of products.

    UK Consumer Association “Which?” conducted research in 2009-2011 to determine if there is a difference in taste between conventional and organic foods. In particular, a tasting was held for a focus group of 194 people: at first, they were fed with tomatoes, and the majority considered industrial designs sweeter, juicier, and more aromatic. Then broccoli and potatoes were served, and the respondents could not find a significant difference between the samples. But these are the British, and what about the USA?

    It turns out that Americans, for all their love for bio-eco-organic, also appreciated the taste of regular and organic spinach, lollo rosso salad, arugula, mustard leaves, cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions equally.

    It’s the same story with meat: it is complicated for consumers to distinguish between them. Of course, the expected taste from organic bull meat is consistently high, but real taste tests show little difference. Yes, sometimes people blindly choose organic, and sometimes they do not find any differences at all. Meat is a very complex product, and the final taste of the steak will depend on the particular cow, care, slaughter, fat distribution, transportation, storage, fermentation, and preparation methods.

    2. Organic foods are no more wholesome

    It’s a little bit of shame, but research consistently confirms that organic foods are just as healthy as regular foods. Certifying bodies honestly state that they give their badges as processes, not results. Some cite the mouthpiece of “organic” freedom, the USDA, which allegedly reports no difference in quality, safety, and appearance between organic and inorganic foods.

    The nutrient content of plants is primarily determined by heredity and depends on the soil’s minerals.

    If the earth provides everything necessary for growth, then the plant will receive its nutrients and grow. However, organic producers would like us to think differently. And they succeed, at least in the USA: 76% of Americans buy organic products because they are sure that they are healthier.

    Scientists from Stanford for four years analyzed 237 scientific papers on this topic. They came to the conclusion that the benefits of organic products do not outweigh the benefits of non-organic ones. The same applies to health risks.

    But is there no difference at all? Of course, there is

    In another study, scientists from the UK analyzed 343 publications. Their findings also do not allow us to argue that organic products are generally healthier, but two important points emerged:

    1. Organic food contains 20–70% more antioxidants. A plant grown without industrial pesticides and herbicides is forced to more actively defend itself against an aggressive environment. Therefore it produces more substances that help it fight pests. Unfortunately, science does not yet know why we need antioxidants and whether they are helpful.

    2. Ecological products contain 10-100 times fewer pesticide residues. Organic farming prohibits the use of pesticides (at least many people think so).

    Both meta-analyses seem equally impressive and credible, but it’s important to remember that the Stanford study was independent, and the UK study was funded in part by the Sheepdrove Trust, which supports organic farming. This does not mean that this work should be crossed out due to bias, but the very fact of such support must be taken into account.

    The same foundation sponsored another research food, resulting from which scientists have found more polyunsaturated acids in organic meat. However, the authors of the article frankly write that raising livestock according to organic practices “can change the profiles of fatty acids and possibly other parameters, and some of these changes may be preferable to the body.” Still, no clear conclusions are given to support a particular hypothesis. This only means that there is no evidence that organic meat is better.

    3. Organic food is grown using chemicals

    Buyers of organic products believe that organic is grown without pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides. In such production, there are indeed fewer of them, but still, some are allowed. We reopen the American Ministry of Agriculture website and look at paragraph 205.601 in the list of permitted synthetic substances for the production of organic products. A study of pesticide residues on organic products is also published there. Of 571 samples, 6% were contaminated over the norm, the rest – within the standard. This means that pesticides remain in products almost always (or always at all), but there is a framework within which you should not worry.

    By the way, non-organic foods must also stay within these limits to be considered safe. From this point of view, the modern public catering system, regardless of its “organic nature,” must release to the market such products that will not poison the population. Therefore, it is illogical to think that industrial tomatoes are killing us.

    Maybe there are “natural” herbicides that are more useful than synthetic ones? It’s almost a philosophical question. Many people take the word “natural” as a synonym for “safe.” But this is the so-called naturalistic mistake when natural phenomena are declared favorable and unnatural ones – negative only based on their presence in nature. It is dangerous and wrong to think so.

    Lead, nicotine, and even vitamin D3 are toxic. But an antibiotic that manufactured in a laboratory saves a life.

    Although ultimately all poison and all medicine. The main thing is the dosage.

    By the way, organic chemicals often have to be used in larger quantities than synthetic ones. For example, pyrethrin is a natural insecticide found in some types of chamomile. The soldiers of Alexander the Great also used it. But this substance is frankly weak, and in its place once came synthetic deltamethrin, which is more stable and highly toxic to insects, so less of it is required in the fields. Yes, it was made by a human, but to poison pests, not other people. Although in the end, it is probably already outdated because many insects are used to it.

    4. Organic food is not better for the environment

    We usually think that the opposite is true, but this is not so simple. There are no solutions that are equally good for growing apples and keeping chickens. American scientists Michael Clarke and David Tillman examined 742 agricultural systems and more than 90 different products regarding how they leave a mark on the face of the planet. Measured greenhouse gas emissions, land use, energy consumption, and other indicators.

    All divisions above the horizontal line are the zone where organic methods lose. The divisions below are the zone where organic methods win. The dash colors are responsible for the types of industries (crop, livestock, etc.). Source.

    Clarke and Tilman concluded that organic systems always require more land and energy to produce the same output as inorganic systems.

    With the world’s population growing, organic farming is becoming an unaffordable luxury when yields and milk yield are essential.

    More and more new studies come out every year, which once again confirm that organic products are nothing more than marketing. But Western countries know how to use it, so the market for organic products is constantly expanding.

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