Should We Really Be Wasting Money on Organics?
By James Tapp
With the planet melting like a scoop of ice cream and with many, many, MANY mouths to feed, food is on everyone's minds. There’s so many angles to take on this, from the importance of the birds and the bees to how little of Jeff Bezos’ earnings could significantly reduce world hunger. Today however, we’re looking at organics.
Organic is possibly one of the top trending words among greenwashers. Organic is commonly associated with going to the farmer’s market on a Sunday, veganism and living a healthier lifestyle. But is it really that much healthier for you than ‘regular’ vegetables? Is it really better for the planet? There’s arguments on both sides, so let’s get into it.
First things first, there is no international standard or even consensus on what organic food actually is. So, while you may have your own opinions on what organic means, there’s a possibility that by your own standards some of the products you purchase aren’t organic at all.
I don’t know about you, but I find that pretty concerning. Regardless of definition, organics aren’t actually always good, as nutritionist Andrea Braakhuis explains. In short, there is very little existing scientific research to verify that organic food actually has any health benefits. In Braakhuis' example, she uses chickens fed on a natural grass diet.
Now this may be organic, but what if cage free farming produces the same results? The same goes for beef and lamb. Yes, they may have a grass based diet that is organic, but maybe it is just because they are eating grass in the first place. There just isn’t enough evidence to say organics are more nutritional.
Ok, but that’s just animal products. What about plants? Pesticide free food is healthier, right? Well you’d think, but the evidence just isn’t there. This is not to say there aren’t benefits, but the research just hasn’t been done to support the claim that organic farming will make a product outright better for you. But what about antioxidants? They have more of those right? Yeah they can, and yes they are good for you. But unless your diet is something out of the ordinary, do you really need more of them? Probably not, because as Andrea says, most New Zealanders have enough already. So, next time someone mentions antioxidants, just think, is it really worth the couple extra bucks?
So far, the price of organics really just isn’t living up to the pedestal it’s on. Surely planet earth benefits though right? We are in a climate emergency after all. Well in talking to Julian Heyes, a professor of post-harvest technology and head of the school of food science at Massey University, it became clear that he felt that this was a consumer perception. His stance is that farmers aren’t bad people on the whole. For produce farmers, there is a need to look after the planet and their land, because if they don’t, they can’t make a living. It’s also a similar situation for livestock farmers. I think you would struggle to find a farmer who goes out and enjoys the slaughter process. Farmers love their animals, and if they could keep them alive, they would. There is also a need to produce good products. No farmer is going to want to use more pesticides than necessary. Nor are they wanting to sell products with residue. Organics have this claim to fame surrounding these issues, yet your regular supermarket cob of corn will also meet those standards as well. Good farming is the base standard. A few farmers just happen to throw around the word ‘organic.’
I think you would struggle to find a farmer who goes out and enjoys the slaughter process.
Ok so now we know there’s not a lot of nutritional difference, and farmers are decent people on the whole (maybe?). So, where is the difference? Well there is a difference between how produce is grown. Everyone seems to have this obsession with pesticides. And somehow we have managed to convince ourselves that organic pesticides must still produce nutritiously dense products. But is it better for us? Not necessarily, there’s actually potential for it to be worse, because an organic pesticide is still a pesticide, and if enough is used, it could still be bad for you. When it comes to production, it’s not any clearer. Organic farming may use less energy, but there is higher land use for the same amount of product and similar emission rates. Regardless of whether a produce is organic or not, we can still see the damage farming has in our streams, in the air and soil quality. Going into the future we need to consider how things could change.
My personal verdict: Organics ain’t shit. You know what is the shit? Learning how to cook and eating healthy. Don’t get me wrong, organics give people a ‘feel good’ feeling, but the science just doesn’t seem to be there. What we do know though is that people need to not only eat, but eat healthy, which means fruit and veges. The ability for people to grow their own food also seems to be thoroughly underestimated. It is by far the most fool proof way to make at least some of your food meet the standards you stand by. So, next time you’re in the supermarket, just make sure you grab some broccoli before worrying too much if it fits some arbitrary expectation.
This story is based off two interviews conducted at 95bFM with Julian Heyes and Andrea Braakuis, surrounding an organics bill introduced to parliament this year, which you can find on 95bFM's website.