Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
A trip to the grocery store brings to the surface far more questions than simply the size of your grocery budget. Grocery shopping in today’s green society means confronting issues with the environment and the nutritional value of your food, as well as considering sustainable economics, morality, foreign trade, and a host of other social issues. In addition to dozens of brand choices, now, as consumers, we must also decide between conventional or organic, processed versus natural. Given the higher cost of organic food, consumers often question, "Is organic food healthier?" Or is it just marketing hype?
The USDA Seal
In light of the myriad of choices, it is easy to make snap decisions based on perceived facts. For example, many consumers believe that buying natural or organic guarantees better, safer, more nutritious meat and produce. After all, the USDA has very strict guidelines for agricultural products that wish to carry the official USDA organic seal. However, that USDA sticker only guarantees the processes by which the food was grown or raised. According to USDA publications, the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 provided only for the “USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to set national standards for the production, handling, and processing of organically grown agricultural products.” The USDA does not ensure the safety or nutritional superiority of the foods that carry the USDA organic seal.
The Debate Rages On
The debate rages on in terms of the health benefits, nutritional value, and superior or inferior safety issues between conventionally produced food and organic. The Mayo Clinic, CNN, and the USDA all report little to no scientific evidence that would show organic food is better, more nutritious, or safer than conventionally grown food. However, they also report little to no scientific information that indicates it is not. What is clear is that organic food has a marked reduction in chemical pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones. What is also clear is that through crop rotation, planting cover crops, the use of compost-based fertilizers, and other biodynamic farming techniques, organically grown foods are generally more environmentally friendly than conventionally produced agricultural products.
In short, organic foods and conventionally produced foods have, generally speaking, equal nutritional value. Both share reasonably equal risk in terms of exposure to disease and pathogens. To answer the question is organic food healthier, you must first quantify the question by asking healthier for whom? Organic food is better for the environment, encourages mindful farming techniques, promotes more humane treatment of livestock, and reduces the risks associated with pesticides, antibiotic-infused feeds, or synthetic growth hormones. Additionally, organic farmers who produce agricultural products from heritage breeds or heirloom seeds also help preserve the rich agricultural history of the American farmer. All other factors such as nutritional value and food safety being equal, organic food is healthier in that it fosters a more mindful lifestyle.