Reasons for eating organic food

I am very ignorant on this subject. There seems to be a lot of emotional reason for choosing these kind of foods, at the face of it it makes sense to not eat “dangerous chemicals”. BUT are there any scientific evidence that says organic food is more healthy?

Check out this thread from about a year ago for a more detailed discussion.

In brief: Organic food overall isn’t significantly different nutritionally from its conventionally grown counterparts.

Organic products are often recommended specifically in the case of foods that tend to contain high levels of pesticide residues in conventional agriculture (such as apples, cherries and peaches). However, I’ve never seen an actual study on this, so I don’t know how strongly to weight this recommendation.

Organic foods overall differ from conventionally grown foods more with respect to larger environmental issues—e.g., the use of commercial fertilizers and pesticides, antibiotic feed supplements and artificial hormones for livestock, productivity and land use, etc.—than with respect to the health of individual consumers.

Environmental benefits or drawbacks associated with organic agriculture as a whole don’t necessarily apply to any particular organic product. For instance, a head of certified organic lettuce imported from China is not necessarily better either for the consumer or for the environment than a head of non-organic lettuce from a local farm.

“Organic” isn’t necessarily synonymous with “local”, “free range”, “heirloom”, “fresh”, “tasty”, “fairly traded”, or any other of the sustainability/foodie buzzwords.

In general, I support organic agriculture and buy organic products, but I don’t think there’s a strong case to be made for doing so on the grounds that it’s “more healthy” for the consumer. Most commercially grown food ingredients* are reasonably “healthy” no matter how they’re grown. The amounts of “dangerous chemicals” in them don’t seem to be a significant health issue, at least based on the known evidence so far.

  • I’m specifying “food ingredients” to exclude manufactured food items like snacks and candies and frozen tater tots and Cool Whip and so forth, which can contain a lot of unhealthy stuff and/or have little nutritional value.

I see “organic” a lot on a gardening forum where I lurk and kibitz. “Organic” seems to me to be a QuasiCult [See definitions 5a and 5b under MW’s ‘cult’]

Here’s my issue with the organic is safer crowd. Plants aren’t passive bystanders. They protect themselves from predators both insect and animal with a variety of toxins, none of which require approval by the EPA or FDA.

An organic gardener will deliberately select plants that have a high level of these natural toxins. An inorganic gardener selects plants based on other criteria, but uses commercial pesticides that have been tested to a fare-thee-well. I think I’d prefer a well tested chemical to a complex stew developed by some blind evolutionary process to kill insects .

I’m not aware of any evidence that organic agriculture uses plant varieties that are significantly more dangerous to humans than the varieties used in conventional agriculture. Do you have a cite for this?

This may sound logical in theory, but in practice most pesticides are not actually better for you to eat than plant foods without pesticides.

As the EPA notes,

You’re quite right that “natural” doesn’t automatically equal “safe” or “healthy”, and many plants can be dangerous to humans even if they’re pesticide-free. However, that doesn’t mean that pesticide-free organically grown plants are more dangerous.

Would you like to be that test subject? Evolution itself, and long-standing cultural adoption, are more rigorous tests than anything we can conduct on the scale of a lifetime, or in a lab.

Traditional food plants wouldn’t be traditional food plants if there was something too bad about them. We don’t know all the ways we might screw that up, so we can’t really test our invented substances except by using them.

Dr. Bruce Ames estimates that we ingest 10,000 times as many “natural” toxins found in plants as we do from synthetic pesticides.

I find the taste of many “organic vegetables” far superior, in particular tomatoes, beets and strawberries. When I go to a nice restaurant, its not the vegetables that I look forward to, except one particular establishment that specializes in locally produced organic produce. Their vegetables are more desirable than the meat entree.

But you won’t see me buying organic in the supermarket. Too expensive. Except for strawberries. The flavour of organic strawberries is simply way too superior to ignore.

I often do too, but then again I’ve also had organic produce that tasted like crap. I think it’s not so much the organic certification per se, but the effort the individual farmer puts into selecting and growing tasty varieties of plants.

Farmers who are willing to go to the trouble of farming organically are often passionate about food quality in other ways too, which sometimes leads us to infer that “organic” = “yummy” (an inference that the organic agriculture industry is happy to encourage, of course).

But there are also many farmers who grow good food without organic certification. In the last analysis, the only way to know what makes a particular food item good is to know the details about where it comes from and how it was grown.

The natural pesticides aren’t tested at all, the man-made ones are thoroughly tested before you ever see them on your table. Traditional food plants contain all kinds of toxins. How about acetaldehyde? Would you let me add it to your food?

Much organic food is not pesticide free, the “organic” label does not require that: it just uses older, generally pre-synthetic pesticides (which have not been shown to be “safer,” and occasionally the opposite.)

Pesticides on produce are a big deal, healthwise…if you’re a farmer or agricultural worker. I’ve yet to see a cite of an end consumer harmed by them.

You’re off by a factor of ten; he claims 1,000 times more. Even then, the number is pulled out of thin air. Not a good article at all.

Yeah, sometimes “organic” means “locally-produced artisinal farmstand tastiness”. But much of the time, especially in supermarkets, “organic” just means that some large grower of “non-organic” produce switched pesticides and fertilizers just enough to qualify for the USDA “organic” label.

For example, common ammonium and nitrate fertilizer derived from fossil fuel isn’t allowed for “organic” food production. But nitrate fertilizer that was mined from the Chilean desert or ammonium fertilizer extracted from pig manure is “natural” enough to qualify for the “organic” label, even though it’s chemically identical to the synthetic stuff.

(Excellent summary, by the way.)



Natural pesticides have been tested by millions of years of coevolution between food plants and consumer species (at least in the case of fruits), and by thousands or hundreds of thousands of years of cultural adoption (in the case of other traditional food plants). This isn’t some alien world where we don’t know which local flora may be the equivalent of poison ivy. We know which plants are dangerous to humans in their natural forms.

By contrast, man-made pesticides have been tested before use against, at most, only those scenarios we have imagined and recreated in the lab, and only over a time scale of decades at best.

Add? Of course not. But you and I both happily eat it in its naturally-occurring concentrations, in species which have been tested by many generations before us.

I’m happy to buy and eat organic food, at least for now, before prices on everything are going to skyrocket, or so I’m told. If I had young children, I would pay more attention. (myself, I’ve been consuming chemicals, pesticides, poisons, heavy metals, dirt, filth, preservatives - you name it - all my life, and as I’m on the downward side of life, don’t see what difference it makes eating organic now.)

From the USDA website :As the new regulations are phased in, it is important to keep in mind that the term “organic” does not necessarily mean “healthier.” The USDA makes no claim that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food.
And here’s a link to NBC:

What it all boils down to is an Organic Farmer fills out a bunch of paperwork to certify that his crops or animals haven’t had any chemicals put on his crops or animals for a few weeks so the residue will degrade before he sells it to the sheeple who buy into this.

Apart from the fact that I think organic food tastes better (personal opinion, no evidence to back it up), the fact that organic farming increases biodiversity is a reason in and of itself, as far as I’m concerned.

So how do you explain comfrey? Or tobacco? Or bracken? Did the natural pesticides in these commonly consumed, yet lethally poisonous, plants produce somehow slip through these “testing” processes for “natural” products?

The truth of course is that the average lifespan for most of human history has been well below 40, so many highly dangerous substances. As a result humans have never “co-evolved” with these plants in any meaningful way. A great many plant products that people have widely and regularly consumed have been found to be full of lethal pesticides that have resulted in literally millions of deaths.

Your claim that humans have co-evolved with plants and thus plant pesticides can not be toxic is demonstrably a load of horse hockey. Plants that billions of people have eaten for hundreds of thousands of years have been found to contain extremely potent and toxic pesticides that have lethal health effects on modern humans.

Well it would be, if it were true. But your own reference tells you that this isn’t true. It says that organic farming *can *increase biodiversity on the farms where it is used. It also notes that it often reduces biodiversity on the farms where it is used.

More importantly, because organic farming is so inefficient it requires far *more land *than conventional farming. So by eating organic you force farmers to clear wildlands such as forests and marshes to produce the same amount of produce. IOW organic farming leads to wilderness destruction.

As your own reference notes " Non-cropped areas, such as field margins, edge zones, habitat islands, hedgerows, natural pastures, wetlands, ditches, ponds and other small habitats, are important refuges and source areas for many organisms. Maintenance of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes will depend on the preservation, restoration and management of such habitats". Because it is less efficient organic farming necessarily reduces such areas.

As a result organic farming causes a *decrease *in biodiveristy for the planet as a whole, even when it does manage to produce an increase on the farms where it is used.

That is a good reason, in and of itself, to avoid organic wherever possible.