Benefits Of Organic Food
Benefits Of Organic Food
Melissa Kidd (Soil Association Information Officer) gives expert video advice on: Why is organic food more expensive? and more...
What is an organic box scheme?
An organic box scheme is a box of seasonal, locally produced vegetables that's delivered to your door. The numbers of these organic box schemes have increased dramatically this year and now we've got about 500. Each organic box system will slightly differ, but the idea is that you get, delivered to your door, a box of seasonal vegetables from your local farmer.
Why does non-organic fruit and veg look more appealing?
There is a shocking amount of non-organic fruit and vegetables that is thrown away. About 40% of non-organic vegetables and fruit are thrown away because they don't meet the exact specifications of the supermarkets. The supermarkets, in turn, would say it's consumers' expectations; that they want their green beans to be exactly 9 millimetres, so everything else that doesn't meet that specification is thrown away, but because they aren't the same volumes of organic produce, that doesn't happen. That's why you get quite strangely shaped produce. The other reason is because in a lot of organic produce, the varieties are chosen for their robustness and disease resistance, because we don't routinely use chemicals. This means that the varieties might be interestingly shaped, but it means that probably have more flavour and they're more robust, so they're not susceptible to diseases. Organic farmers don't have the huge amount of chemicals available to them to kill these diseases and pests; they've got to use particular varieties of fruit and veg that are stronger. Organic farmers especially don't use any chemicals to improve the cosmetic appearance of a vegetable.
What evidence is there to prove organic food is more healthy?
The evidence is mounting; I mean it is very difficult to do studies, long term studies, on the effect of the organic diet on humans. Because there are so many factors, so many variables that could alter the result. Back in 2000 a review of all the available evidence was done and this showed, on average, that organic food had high levels of vitamins, high levels of trace minerals and increased levels of antioxidants, which are cancer fighting compounds. Since then we have also showed some interesting stats such as a men who ate an organic diet had high sperm counts, and all sorts of interesting things. This is all done on a back drop, since 1946, the level of trace elements in our soil has gone down and down and down. So we need to eat more to maintain our level of vitamins and minerals. In organic standards because we feed the soil there are more available trace minerals for the plants to take up, so it makes sense that there would be more vitamins and minerals in these veggies. It also seen that organic milk and dairy products have higher levels of essential fatty acids and these are things that our bodies can't produce themselves we have to get them in our diet. They are very important for brain development but have all sorts of other uses. Organic dairy products are shown to have more essential fatty acids than non organic. And the reason this is; is because organic animals have a much more natural diet. Our standards say they should have a 60 % foliage based diet which means they should have more grass, hay and silage, rather than being stuffed full of high energy, high protein cereals which makes then put on weight quickly but actually it means that the nutritional balance is altered. So organic milk, dairy products, fruits and vegetables often are nutritionally superior to a non organic diet.
Does organic food taste any better?
Taste is always a subjective thing, but it is the reason that most people give for buying organic food. People often say about organic food, "Oh, it tastes how it should." There are reasons why organic could taste better. Organic produce is grown more slowly. It's not subjected to nitric fertilizer, which means that it grows very quickly so you'll have flavours having a chance to develop naturally. Also, there's more dry matter in organic produce; there's less water. You've actually got more carrot for your carrot, so to speak. It would make sense that organic food does have more flavour and taste better, because there's less water in it. Lots of top chefs also use organic food. Jamie Oliver, for one, describes organic as "food with sparkle".
Are there artificial flavourings or colourings in organic food?
There are no artificial flavours and colourings allowed in organic food.
Why is organic food more expensive?
The main reason that organic food is more expensive is because it costs more to produce. Animal welfare standards for organic food are very high, so you need more land and more labour to ensure that you're meeting those standards. Things like raw materials are more expensive. Organic seeds are more expensive - there are less around. The costs of certification for organic food are also a factor; it is very costly to send someone out into the farm and spend all day checking the records. Organic food does cost more to produce. Having said that, there are no hidden costs in organic, so we're not causing the £120 million that it costs to take pesticides out of water and other costs such as the loss of rural communities. Organic farms actually employ more people than non-organic. There are lots of hidden costs involved in non-organic food. Organic food doesn't have to be more expensive. It depends on the way that you buy it. If you buy organic food directly from a farmer, from a box scheme or at a farmer's market, lots of studies have shown that it is actually the same price or even cheaper than non-organic food through cutting out the middleman.
Where can I buy organic food?
Organic food is best bought in your local area. We have an organic directory on our website so you can look in your county for your local organic box scheme and for your farmers' market. We would always encourage people to buy organic food locally first, because you're helping the environment and you're helping your local community. Also, you're getting fresher organic food as well and it often is cheaper. If there isn't an organic box-scheme or a farm shop in your area, you can buy organic food today in supermarkets.
Which is better: organic food or locally produced non-organic food?
This is a very complex question, and really depends on what's important to you when you're buying food. So if, for example, animal welfare's important to you, then you can rest assured that the animal welfare levels will be really high in organic produce and organic standards, so you might want to buy organic. People who tend to buy locally, if they're concerned about food miles - and food miles are something that are clocked up once the food is being produced. So, for example, we have these crazy systems where some food is produced in one area and then it has to be shipped all the way up to the other end of the country to be distributed to be sold all the way down again. And so buying locally can stop that happening. But what's also important to notice is that organic production is actually inherently local, because we're relying on nature for pest control in our fertility building. Or it's already on the farm, so there's no need to buy in fertilizers and pesticides that also probably have been transported long distances, even before the food is being produced. So it's just something to think about. Organic is generally inherently local as well. And it's much better for the environment. If, however, though, that's not to rule out local production as well, because if you're happy that the farmer can answer your questions about how the food is being produced and what things he's used on the land and you're happy with that dialogue, then by all means buy organic. But it's not as black and white as it should be. Ideally, organic is the ideal system of production, and local is the ideal system of distribution.
What are GMOs?
A GMO is when a gene has been artificially inserted into another organism. At its most extreme, a GMO is the genetic material of an Arctic Flounder Fish being inserted into a tomato to prolong it's shelf life.
What is GM food?
GM food is food which contains genetically modified organisms and that's short for GMOs. GMOs are when some genetic material has been artificially inserted into the genetic material of another organism. Essentially it's a very random, unpredictable process. So, you might have the genetic material of an arctic flounder fish being inserted into a tomato. They are completely different species. This wouldn't happen in nature. When a gene is inserted into another host it can express all these strange characteristics about which we really have no idea. Therefore it's a very risky process.
What is the Food For Life programme?
The Food For Life programme is a programme that aims to improve our food culture in this country. So one of the things it works on is improving school meals. So the targets are to serve 75% unprocessed food, 50% locally produced food and 30% organic. So you'll try to serve, you know, local, fresh, organic, nutritious food to school children and to teach them about how food is grown and how it's prepared and involving their parents and involving the whole community in producing good, healthy food.