In recent years, people are growing increasingly aware of what they eat or which kind of products they use. Awareness on the need to maintain a healthy lifestyle is spreading quickly throughout the world. With this new-found awareness, debates and controversies over which foods are best and the latest superfood are almost a daily affair. One such debate is that of organic food versus non-organic or conventional foods. Is organic food healthier or safer than conventional food? Research shows that conventionally grown foods are more likely to have synthetic chemical residue and that consuming pesticide-laced foods could potentially cause serious health issues.
Organic foods carry less synthetic chemical residue than conventional foods. Non-organic or conventional foods refer to food grown through conventional farming methods. Conventional farming practices include the use of synthetic fertilizers, irradiation, genetic modification, and constant application of synthetic pesticides throughout a plant’s life. Svendsen, Ragas, and Dorne (2008) cite research on fruits and vegetables in the US which showed that conventional foods had pesticide residue 43% of the time while only 9.1% of organic foods tested had pesticide residue (p.121). Indeed, organic foods do contain some pesticide residue. This is because while organic farmers strive to grow their food naturally, pesticides are an essential part of the process to thwart disease-causing pests. Moreover, historical pollution can contribute to pesticide residue on organic foods (Svendsen et al, 2008, p.121). Nevertheless, it is important to note that organic farming necessitates the minimal use of pesticides. While minimal use is difficult to quantify, there are standards in place referred to as Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) which help track the excessive application of pesticides. Svendsen et al (2008) cite a study by the UK Pesticide Residues Committee which found zero cases of MRL violation while 1.8% of conventional foods tested had exceeded the MRLs (p.122). This serves as confirmation that non-organic foods are indeed more toxic, or at least more likely to be toxic than organic foods.
Pesticides have the potential to cause adverse health issues in humans if consumed. For this reason, they undergo rigorous testing before being allowed into the market to determine if they are suitable for agricultural use, and if so, in what amounts. The World Health Organization (2016) reiterates that pesticides can potentially induce serious health effects such as cancer and affecting the reproduction and nervous systems. While it is irrefutable that synthetic chemicals could deteriorate one’s health upon consumption, it is difficult to pinpoint cases where prolonged consumption of pesticide residue led to adverse health effects. However, research on the matter is extensive. A study by Cremonese et al. (2014) showed a concurrent rise in mortality due to birth defects and pesticide consumption between 1988 and 1999 in Brazil (p.480). Similarly, in the United States, respiratory and circulatory malformations are more common in high wheat-producing counties (Cremonese et al., 2014, p.482). The research suggests that high exposure to pesticides, in this case by both inhalation and consumption, can lead to adverse health effects.
The question of whether one is better off consuming organic food as opposed to conventional food perhaps isn’t as complicated as it is sometimes made out to be. Data on the subject is clear and unambiguous. The research shows that conventional foods are more likely to have traces of pesticide residue than organic foods. It is also apparent that pesticide consumption in large amounts say by consuming foods that are in violation of the MRLs, can lead to health complications. Therefore, organic foods are inherently safer to eat than conventional foods.
Cremonese, C., Freire, C., Camargo, A., Lima, J., Koifman, S., & Meyer, A. (2014). Pesticide consumption, central nervous system, and cardiovascular congenital malformations in the South and Southeast region of Brazil. International Journal Of Occupational Medicine And Environmental Health, 27(3), 475-483. doi: 10.2478/s13382-014-0269-5
World Health Organization (2016). Pesticide residues in food?. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/features/qa/87/en/Svedsen, C., Ragas, J., & Dorne, M. (2008). Contaminants in Organic and Conventional Food: the Missing Link Between Contaminant Levels and Health Effects. In I. Givens, S. Baxter, A. Minihane & E. Shaw, HEALTH BENEFITS OF ORGANIC FOOD: Effects of the Environment. Wallingford, UK: CABI. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/sbcc-ebooks/detail.action?docID=361216
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