I don’t know about you, but I almost feel guilty buying non-organic vegetables. As if the ethically-sound, environmentally-conscious shopper next to me is looking down on the non-organic carrots in my cart.
We have been told that organic is healthier for us and for the planet, and the message was obviously being heard loud and clear: The organic food industry in the US was estimated to be worth $29 billion in 2010, and has grown about 10 percent per year since then. On average, consumer report analyses say organic is about 47 percent more expensive than non-organic food.
Other than organic being expensive, is there anything else problematic about it?
Have we been brainwashed into thinking it’s something it’s not? Possibly, maybe, arguably, this may be the case.
Here are a few things to consider before you blindly believe organic is automatically better for your health and the planet:
1. A little substance called carrageenan
What is carrageenan?
It’s a substance extracted from some seaweeds that contains a mix of polysaccharides and is used to thicken foods, especially organic foods, such as almond milk and coconut milk. It is also found in some organic infant formulas and soy products. Sometimes it’s used as a substitute for gelatin in many vegan foods.
Is it ideal for us to consume?
Though a debatable subject, it has been linked to chronic inflammation, diabetes and cancer. In fact, in 2016, the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) even voted to remove carrageenan from the list of substances allowed in organic food out of fear/evidence that it’s harmful to our health.
Some evidence of health concerns can be found in Dr. Joanne K. Tobacman’s research on the substance. Her studies suggest that carrageenan is linked to gastrointestinal inflammation, and impaired glucose tolerance and insulin function. Read more here.
A study published in 2012 also shows a link between carrageenan and diabetes. The study can be found here.
2. More Waste!
Often times organic food, especially produce, doesn’t last as long in your fridge before going bad. This means you either end up with more waste, or have to go shopping more often. Or you may get really good at making soup with old, wrinkly vegetables.
3. Is it really healthier?
A few things that might be misleading:
• While we have often assumed organic means no chemicals are used at all, this isn’t always the case.
•In Europe, the UK Food Standards Agency, the French Food Safety Agency and the Swedish National Food Administration, have all released research that claims organic food is neither safer nor more nutritious than non-organic food.
• Similarly, a 2009 review article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that there’s no nutritional difference between organic and non-organic food. A 2012 systematic review found similar results.
4. What about ethics and the environment?
(When it comes to ethics and the environment, it seems pretty evident that organic animal farming is the way to go. Animals are clearly treated more humanely and live in better conditions on organic farms, BUT, when it comes to vegetables, this isn’t the case.
The common belief is that pesticides used on non-organic produce are bad for the environment, but a 2010 study found that some organic pesticides actually have worse environmental impacts than conventional ones.
And it goes beyond just pesticides: Organic milk, cereals and pork often generate higher greenhouse gas emissions per product than non-organic ones (this comes from a study at Oxford University). Not only that, but organic products often take up more land (an average of 85% more land) and produce less products in the process.
And finally, check out this article that discusses how organic agriculture today actually creates more pollution than conventional farming.
What do you think? Do you think it’s worth breaking your wallet and bank account on organic food? Why or why not?