In 2019, organic food sales were worth $109 billion. That’s a good sized industry. Unfortunately, it’s also one wrapped up in a lot of myth and misinformation. Not everyone is honest about how organic food works, how it’s made, and what the potential benefits are.
10. Organic Food is 100% Organic
If there’s one thing about organic food that you should be able to rely on it’s that the food is literally organic, according to whatever you think that word means. We’ll get into what actually happens to organic crops shortly. But for now, the label of any organic problem is where the problems start.
When you eat an organic carrot, you probably think it was grown on a pesticide-free farm, it’s non-GMO, and no weird fertilizers were used to grow it. Yes, and no. Any organic ingredient can actually be 95% organic and still say organic on the label. So that means if maybe there was some pesticide or fertilizer somewhere in the field, that’s OK by labeling standards as long as it’s still 95% organic.
You can get 100% organic ingredients but the label has to say “100% organic” and be certified. Of course, we’re going to get into that later as well and how maybe that’s not even true.
Things get a little worse for your organic diet when you buy products that are made of organic ingredients. A carrot is hard to fake, but a box of organic crackers? That can say organic and actually be only 70% organic, according to federal regulations.
9. Organic is Pesticide Free
Arguably the biggest myth about organic farming is that it means it’s free from harmful chemicals and pesticides. This is a pervasive myth and one that has never been true. Organic farms can and do use pesticides, they just have to meet organic standards. That means they have to be derived from organic sources, like plants. And if that sounds like maybe it’s not so bad, consider that organic pesticides can actually be deadlier than synthetic ones.
For what it’s worth, studies show that you’re likely to find less pesticide residue on organic crops than non-organic. About one third of the amount of pesticides show up on organic crops according to at least one study. So in that way perhaps they’re not so bad.
On the other hand, organic pesticides often require larger doses than synthetics and while you may get less residue on your apple, more of it ends up in the soil causing a greater environmental impact.
8. Organic is More Nutritious Than Non-Organic
This may be the most contentious issue between the fans of organic versus non-organic. Is organic better for you? The answer seems to be no with an asterisk.
At the end of the day, an organic apple and a non-organic apple are both apples. They’re the same thing so one would have to do some miraculous things to make one of these apples better than the other. This is where the asterisk comes in. If that non-organic apple has more pesticides on it, or absorbed more, or whatever, then maybe it’s more harmful to you. Maybe. But in terms of nutrients, no. They’re the same, organic farming does not make any food more nutritious.
You may have concerns over things like antibiotics used in meats, and that’s potentially valid. But there’s that asterisk again. Antibiotic use can lead to things like antibiotic resistant bacteria, lowered ability to fight infections, all that bad stuff. But it doesn’t change how nutritious the meat is. Maybe a better way to say it is that organic, antibiotic-free meats are potentially less harmful in the long term but nutritionally no different from traditionally raised meats.
7. Organic Farming Is Better for Farmers
It’s only really been in the last few years that people have begun to look at how their decisions affect the world as a whole, including the people who work to make our lives easier. That means the laborers on farms who ensure we can choose to buy either organic or non-organic produce. So how does organic affect their lives?
The popular image of organic is a kind of holistic, friendly, almost hippie vibe. Right or wrong, that is in many ways the imagery that organic first came to the market with, and has since blossomed into the “health food” kick that makes it seem like organic is the way to go to be healthy and happy. So it must be a little disappointing to learn that organic farming is a little rougher for laborers than traditional farming.
Organic farms require up to 35% more labor to maintain thanks to organic practices. That extra work sees laborers putting in more hours, still while exposed to potentially dangerous pesticides. Studies have shown that this tends to lead to greater exploitation of farm workers. They need to work harder and faster, but they’re not really getting paid more or treated better as a result.
6. Organic Food Has Been Inspected
This is a big problem in the organic food industry and one most of us wouldn’t have considered. As a consumer, you know that the apple you’re buying is organic because the sticker on it says so. Someone put that sticker there. But how did that person know it’s organic?
Organic farms are required to meet guidelines. There are inspectors who visit these farms to ensure they’re meeting standards. And if we ended the entry there you could be confident and happy that organic farms produce organic food. But in many ways this industry is like the restaurant inspection industry which is meant to ensure your favorite restaurant has a clean kitchen and follows safety guidelines. Nine times out of ten they do. But then there’s that other time.
The fact is, there are not enough food inspectors out there. It’s very possible that when you buy an organic product that the person who certified it only looked over the farm’s paperwork to ensure it was organic and didn’t even walk into the field to look at the crops.
Organic inspection is often done by third parties on behalf of the government. Farmers are the ones who pay these companies to do the inspection because they want certification. It means more money. But if they’re cutting corners, they don’t want a “real” inspection. They actually want a lazier inspector. And if you’re the shady farmer paying for the inspection, who would you hire? A legit and thorough company, or the lazy one that will just sign off on your crop no matter what?
In fact, a number of studies have shown products that hit the markets with organic labels are not organic at all.
5. Imported Organics Meet US Standards
So if organic produce at home may not meet federal standards, what about organic produce from abroad? Surely that has to be inspected before it makes its way into the country? Well, not always.
Up to 70% of organic soybeans and 40% of organic corn crops are imported. In 2017, the Washington Post inspected a massive shipment of 36 million pounds of organic soybeans from the Ukraine. They weren’t organic at all. It’s been estimated that organic fraud accounts for hundreds of millions of dollars per year, and it’s very hard to catch if the country of origin says it’s organic. Testing needs to be done to determine otherwise, and that takes time and money.
4. Organic is Better for the Environment
The media have spun up a good deal of animosity towards GMOs over the years, so much so that the people who would benefit from them the most often want them banned outright. The lack of scientific understanding has people thinking GMO crops are basically science gone mad, Frankenstein-versions of food that will kill us all or make us mutants. It’s based on nothing more than scare mongering and scientific illiteracy.
The fact is, GMO crops don’t just save lives by solving hunger issues, they save the environment in ways that organic farms cannot. Consider a GMO crop designed specifically for three important things – greater crop yield, disease and pest resistance, and drought resistance. This crop could feed more people using less land, less water and fewer pesticides. All of those things are better for the environment.
Organic farming would require more space, and every year more natural environments, things like forest land, are being stripped away to make room for farmland. More water is needed to keep that land irrigated and crops watered, and more pesticides and herbicides are needed to kill weeds and pests, even if they are organic chemicals.
The GMO scare mongering is arguably one of the worst things mankind has done to itself, ensuring what has been proven to be a safe and environmentally friendly way to feed literally millions of people is being ignored in favor of baseless fears,
3. You Can Feed As Many People with Organic as Non-Organic
We need to go back to GMO crops on this one to absolutely destroy the argument that organic can feed as many people. It can’t. Even “normal” farming can’t. GMO crops are the answer to solving world hunger.
There was research into a disease-resistant GMO sweet potato that could save crop yields and literally save millions of people from starvation. The Hawaiian papaya industry almost ended thanks to a disease that laid waste to the crops and almost ended the industry until a GMO version of the papaya saved it.
There are GMO versions of apples that don’t oxidize and turn brown when cut, and lettuce that resists wilting. Avocados that can be cut and stored in the fridge for days before they go bad. These can reduce food waste and keep people fed.
GMO eggplants in Bangladesh are insect resistant. This has boosted crop yields and also helped local farmers earn more money to sustain their way of life. They use fewer pesticides, so the food is safer, and the environment is cleaner.
Golden rice, a GMO rice made to contain beta carotene which would infuse those who ate it with vitamin A could have saved millions of lives where malnutrition is a constant threat. But the politics of GMO crippled it.
Research shows again and again that GMO crops can save lives. Not just on a small scale, but a massive one that would affect millions of people. One that organic, even if every perceived benefit of organic was true, simply could not match.
2. Anything Can Be Organic
This is a bit of a weird one, and it deals with deceptive practices in the industry. Food manufacturers have a habit of making up benefits where none exist. How many times have you seen a potato chip bag where it advertises being gluten or cholesterol free on the label? That’s great and all, but potatoes never had cholesterol or gluten in them, so it’s a lot like saying it’s scorpion-free. That shouldn’t be there in the first place.
In the organic industry, there are some unscrupulous types over the years who have done things like advertising “organic sea salt.” Apparently a few companies still do this. The problem with this is one of simple science. You can’t have organic products that are literally inorganic, and that’s what salt is. It’s made from minerals. It was never organic and can never be organic. So there is no such thing as organic salt from the sea or anywhere else.
The labeling of organic salt seems to be done as a way to indicate purity of the product, but that’s not exactly fair. Organic has a definite meaning. Pure sea salt is fine, organic sea salt is nonsense. Instead, it’s trying to prey on people who don’t fully understand what they’re buying by presenting terms they are familiar with, even if they are misapplied.
1. Organic Farming is Just Hype
Not every myth about organic farming comes from the proponents of organic. There are detractors who don’t fully understand the benefits and it’s worth reiterating organic farming isn’t bad. Organic food isn’t bad. It’s just different and should be explored honestly, not with propaganda from either side of the fence. With that in mind, there are clear benefits to organic farming that prove this isn’t just a fad or hype.
One way organic farming can benefit the environment when done properly is with integrated cultures. Non-organic farming often engages in what is called monoculture. That;’s where a farmer plants one crop and only grows one crop. If you know anything about farming, you know bad things happen to your soil if all you do is grow corn in it season after season. Different crops will absorb different nutrients, so if you plant the same crop again and again you deplete the soil until nothing will grow, until you fertilize it again which brings with it a host of other potential problems.
Integrated cultures are how organic farming often works. This sees a rotation of crops; which in turn has a variety of benefits. Soil fertility, chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides, and water usage all increase with monoculture farming. So the methods used by organic farmers are more sustainable and better for the environment overall.
Now, as we’ve seen, GMO crops can increase environmental benefits, so if someone was willing to combine GMO crops with organic methods, then perhaps an extremely efficient and environmentally friendly farm could be developed.