Emily Saltiel
SeniorMonday June 16th, 2014emily.saltiel@marquette.eduMarquette UniversityContemporary Issues In NutritionBuying Organic: Does That Mean I Am Eating Healthier?

To buy organic or not is a tricky situation that many struggle with. There has been much research regarding this topic and I believe that consumers should be aware of all the facts before they decide on buying either organic or conventional foods. Organic and conventional foods are compared based on many things such as pesticide use, nutrient density, taste, effects on the environment and human health, and the use of antibiotics and/or hormones. These and many other things are considered when defining something as organic or not. The main idea here is to determine whether organic products are healthier and more nutritious than conventional products and the bottom line is that they are very similar in terms of each category tested.

What Qualifies as Organic?
Before we determine whether organic foods are healthier or better for us than conventional foods, we need to understand the qualifications of an organic food product. Overall, organic farming attempts to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution (4). First of all, organic farming uses natural fertilizers, crop rotation, and mulch to manage weeds (4). Organic growing does not involve synthetic pesticides, it involves insect traps, careful crop selection, predator insects, and beneficial microorganisms (4). Organic foods do not contain food additives, processing aids, or fortifying agents. Organic animals have to have access to the outdoors, pastureland for grazing, direct sunlight, fresh air, and freedom of movement andmust be given organic feed that does not contain growth hormones or antibiotics (1, 6). All of these things contribute to what an organic food is and if a food label contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients and a government-approved expert has inspected the farm to make sure the USDA requirements are met, the product is considered organic (1).

Reasons People Purchase Organic
There are many reasons people purchase organic products but there are some main reasons. The primary reasons people purchase organic food are for personal health, for the products quality, and for concern about degradation of the natural environment (5). People seem to think that they are getting better nutrition from organic foods to enhance their personalhealth when this is not really the case. People also think that an organic product is better quality so they tend to spend the extra money because they think they are getting something better. Lastly, people buy organic because of concern for the environment and organic farming is less damaging to the environment (5). For these reasons, people buy organic foods and now we dive into whether they are justified in doing so or not.

Differences and Similarities Between Organic and Conventional Foods
It has been found that organically grown crops have about one-third the amount of pesticide residues as conventional foods and they were also less likely to contain more than one pesticide. However, the amount of pesticide residue found on conventional foods is still well below the Environmental Protection Agencyorganics_worth_it_570.jpg’s limits and is of no harm to humans. On the other hand, natural toxins produced by the plants themselves to ward off invaders may be just as dangerous in organically grown foods (2). Bacterial contamination is roughly the same between the two products because most contamination occurs because of improper handing after the food has been harvested and left the farm (1). In the aspect of nutrition, it has been reported that organic produce has higher levels of Vitamin C, certain minerals, and antioxidants (4). Nonetheless, these differences are too small to have an impact on the diet and nutrients in organic foods tend to oxidize more quickly so if you leave it sitting in the fridge for too long, the added nutrients that it might have had before will now be lost (1). In addition, a study concluded that there is not a significant difference in the vitamin content of organic and conventional plant or animal products (6). To give a specific example, it was found that organic milk has higher levels of omega-3 fats, which protect against heart disease but these levels are also too small to be significant (3). The omega-3 fatty acids are obtained from the organic cow’s grass-fed diets as
circle.pngcompared to conventional animal’s grain-fed diets. A myth is that organic foods have more flavor but the fact is that fresh foods in general have more flavor and organic foods tend to come from a shorter distance away so they may be more fresh and lead to the product tasting better. Another difference is that organic animals are never given antibiotics and conventionally grown animals are given antibiotics for illness and they are given a withdrawal period, therefore it does not affect what they are producing (4). The problem with this is that bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics very quickly and easily causing them to be ineffective. Conventionally raised cows are given bovine growth hormone to increase milk production. This hormone can cause a build up of
Organic-vs-Conventional-Milk_500px-2.jpginsulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) that, in some research, has been linked to cancer. Organically raised cow’s milk also contains IGF-1 just maybe not as much (1). In sum, there is not a significant risk in terms of exposure to pesticides, contaminants, or hormones in organic or conventional milk. Considering pathogens, it has been found that organic produce is more susceptible to E. Coli contamination than conventional produce (1). On one hand, organic meat may be slightly more likely to be contaminated because no antibiotics are used and on the other hand conventional meat may be more likely to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Both organic and conventional foods have their trade offs and if a conventional food is susceptible to contamination of one agent, it is sure that organic food is just as susceptible to another agent. One positive aspect of organic farming is that it does protect the environment. Pesticides can accumulate in soil, water, and the human body so by not using them we arenot contributing to pollution and the degradation of the environment (2). Overall, there are no determined health benefits from eating organic versus conventional foods. The two main differences that may pose benefits for organically grown foods are reduced pesticide residue and the fact that some organic products may reduce exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Summary and Conclusion
In conclusion, there are no real added health benefits to choosing organic foods over conventional foods, however it is up to the consumer to decide which they would like to buy. The evidence in terms of nutrition, hormones, contaminants, and omega-3 fatty acids all provide non-significant results in the differences between organic and conventional foods. A difference to possibly consider is pesticide residue where conventional foods tend to have more but are still well below harmful limits. Also, antibiotic resistance may be a problem among conventionally grown foods because of pesticide use and the great ability of bacteria to becom
e resistant and evolve so quickly. Even though research for both of these topics has been found to be statistically insignificant, the public has a right to know and decide for themselves on whether to purchase organic or conventionally grown foods based on the evidence presented.

  1. 1. Food and Recipes. Is Organic Food Better For You? WebMD. 2004. Accessed June 6, 2014. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/organic-food-better
  2. 2. Guthman J. Fast food/organic food: reflexive tastes and the making of ‘yuppie chow’. Social & Cultural Geography [serial online]. March 2003;4(1):45. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed June 6, 2014
  3. 3. Haspel, Tamar. Is Organic Better For Your Health? A Look At Milk, Meat, Eggs, Produce, and Fish. The Washington Post. April 7, 2014. Accessed June 6, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/is-organic-better-for-your-health-a-look-at-milk-meat-eggs-produce-and-fish/2014/04/07/036c654e-a313-11e3-8466-d34c451760b9_story.html
  4. 4. Healthy Lifestyle. Nutrition and Healthy Eating. Mayo clinic. Sept. 07, 2012. Accessed June 6, 2014 http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/organic-food/art-20043880
  5. 5. Pearson, D., Henryks, J. and Jones, H. (2011) Organic food: What we know (and do not know) about consumers. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 26 (2). pp. 171-177. ISSN 1742-1713 Available at http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/24628/
  6. 6. Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau M, Bravata D, et al. Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives? Annals Of Internal Medicine [serial online]. September 4, 2012;157(5):348-366. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed June 6, 2014