Stop the press, put down the kale juice boost and take a deep breath, because some earth-shattering findings have emerged that might make you think twice about the organic lifestyle to which many of us have become accustomed since it became de-rigueur a few years back.
There is something undeniably appealing about the notion organic food, the idea of eating healthily while also, we so naively presumed, doing our bit to keep the wonderful fields and forests of our homelands free from poly-tunnels and other unsightly blemishes on the landscape that have become a trademark of the mass production of food.
Surely, we muse, as we sip on our kale and avocado juice blend, the natural approach has to be the most beneficial for us and our environment. It is intuitive. Well, actually, we might want to start re-thinking our preoccupation with all things organic, as it turns out that our perceptions might not actually be grounded in fact.
Of course, the more cynical among us have always been sceptical of the organic food movement, dismissing it as nothing more than clever marketing hype. Well today, those wily individuals will be probably be feeling rather smug, as it turns out that the food craze is not all it was claimed to be.
Firstly, let’s examine the claim that organic food production is kinder to the environment. Certainly, this is true on a very limited scale of production; organic farming needs less energy, produces less greenhouse gas and causes less nitrogen leeching compared to a normal farming field.
However, as you might have guessed, there is a catch. Organic food production is far less prolific than conventional methods, which means that much more space is ultimately needed to produce food on a scale that meets the demand of us hungry, organic demanding customers. Dr Verena Seufert, of the University of British Columbia explains the concept in a study for Science Advances.
“Organic is often proposed a holy grail solution to current environmental and food scarcity problems, but we found that the costs and benefits will vary heavily depending on the context. While an organic farm may be better for things like biodiversity, farmers will need more land to grow the same amount of food. And land conversion for agriculture is the leading contributor to habitat loss and climate change.”
Suddenly all that organic food you’ve been buying isn’t looking so good, right?
Well the problems don’t stop there. According to ASAP Science, the health benefits of choosing organic over regular food are negligible.
“Organic food has a higher incidence of product recalls. On average 1% of food products are recalled – but 7% of organic products. They;re also more likely to lead to food poisoning – with one study suggesting that up to 10% had traces of food poisoning bacteria E coli. A 2012 Stanford study also analysed 237 previous studies of organic food and found that most were no more nutritious than conventionally grown foods. In short, there isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health.”
While it is true that conventional foods have higher pesticide contamination, a concrete benefit of choosing organic, the Telegraph reports that the pesticide residues found in conventional foods may cause up to 20 deaths per year in the United States, the newspaper also claims that the economic impact of a movement to fully organic food production would be severe.
It appears then, that the organic food revolution, by necessity, can not grow too large; vast swathes of the world’s population rely on food grown using synthetic fertilisers, which are far cheaper and far easier to produce on a significant scale (organic farms require 84 per cent more land to produce an equivalent amount of food to their conventional counterparts).
The message seems to be that the health benefits to the individual of eating organic food are open to debate as to their impact, and the environment could well be left in a far worse state if the organic movement were to continue to expand and grow at a significant rate. It’s an expensive phenomenon in more ways than one.