Are Organics Better for You?

Up until recently I was hell bent on buying Organics. Yes – I had heard that organic produce wasn’t particularly more nutritious than its conventional counterpart, but I was simply selfish and didn’t want to ingest toxins. Note that I see the irony with living in the city and wishing to eat ‘natural and clean’ vegetables. My best bet to reduce toxic exposure would be to up and move to the country. But clearly that isn’t going to happen.

Given the amount of ‘greenwashing’ that can and does occur in a billion dollar organic industry – how do I know what I buy is really as ‘pure’ as I am lead to believe. Are organic pesticides safe for the environment and me? And further to the point – what is an organic pesticide?

Query One: Are Organic Pesticides environmentally friendly?

No.

Sorry.

What you need to realise is that a pesticide is a poison – whether you like it or not. Yes- I would prefer my pesticide to be from the earth rather than a laboratory coat – but either way it kills pests.

A recent study at the University of Guelph revealed that some organic pesticides had a heavier environmental impact than their conventional counterpart. Environmental Science Professor Rebecca Hallett compared the effectiveness and environmental impact of organic pesticides to those of conventional pesticides.

“The consumer demand for organic products is increasing partly because of a concern for the environment,” said Hallett. “But it’s too simplistic to say that because it’s organic it’s better for the environment. Organic growers are permitted to use pesticides that are of natural origin and in some cases these organic pesticides can have higher environmental impacts than synthetic pesticides often because they have to be used in large doses.”

If we take a look at the toxicity level of synthetic vs. organic pesticides the results are quite eye opening. All poisons that are presented in pesticides are rated on an Environmental Impact Quotient. These pesticides are examined on their level of toxicity or rather what they will kill/hurt.

Below is a table of common pesticides according to the EIQ:

Bt (organic) 13.5
Acephate (synthetic) 17.9
Soap (organic) 19.5
Carbaryl (synthetic) 22.6
Malathion (synthetic) 23.2
Rotenone (organic) 33.0
Sabadilla (organic) 35.6

As is apparent – some of the organic pesticides are more toxic than the synthetic ones.

Unfortunately in this era of ‘toxins’ there will never be a 100% safe pesticide. All pesticides, regardless of source have their dangers. Given the amount of food that needs to be created to fuel a growing population, suggesting that we revert to cleaner insecticides isn’t feasible overnight.

So, while I am all for supporting an industry that is vital to awakening our health and environmental conscience, I fear that people get so carried away with the notion of organics that the true value of food and where its sourced may be lost in the search for ‘toxin free’.

Perhaps the true determiner for nutrient content in your food is where it came from. How long has that tomato been out of the ground before you ate it? A lot of the produce you buy in chain stores has been grown miles away (asparagus from Chile was my recent find). In fact, according to the Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies, a typical Australian food basket has travelled roughly 70,000km – this is like travelling around Australia’s coastline three times! Your produce then sits on the shelf for a week or so, which is a no brainer when it comes to nutrient deterioration.

When produce isn’t exposed to light, its nutrient value declines. Now if you think of your supermarket veggie, which was picked a week ago transported to your supermarket in a dark truck cabin, wacked into a display in amongst other veggies, then stored in the dark recess of your bottom fridge drawer for a few days, it is more than likely your poor little veggies don’t stand a chance when it comes to maximum nutrition.

SO after all this – where to get veggies and fruits?

The markets – those beautiful local gatherings – where the stall owners have woken up in the wee hours of their weekend morning in order to sell to you fresh picked veggies from their own farm.  This produce has usually been picked within the last two or three days and is as close to fresh as you can get.

Community food markets, moreover, promote a thorough understanding of food production and consumption. How did that steamed broccoli and side of roasted potatoes get on your plate? Buying your food locally strengthens local economy, protects precious farmland and increases the ability for farmers to continue their means of work – often a business that has been handed down from generation to generation. Choosing to buy local means your food has travelled less and YOU have personally made a small step in decreasing fossil fuel emissions

Above and beyond this, I have also found that I have managed to cultivate BEAUTIFUL relationships with the growers of MY FOOD. Instilling within me a great bond and sense of community. In a world of Facebook and twitter devoid of meaningful connection, this is one of the closest toxic free relationships I can find!

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