Is “Organic” Really Good For You?
There’s a lot of talk about “organic” products, and it can all get quite confusing. What does organicmean? Is organic better for you? Is an organic product worth the price tag?
The general conversation about organic products often dismisses it as a marketing buzzword, but it’s not that simple.
Sure, marketers often use gimmicks to try to sell you on the idea of organics as part of a healthy lifestyle, and some of the claims that have been made are bogus. However, organic practices are far more than just a badge and a buzzword.
Government Standards – What Does Organic Mean?
According to the US Department of Agriculture:
USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible.
In other words, farmers and manufacturers who want to be considered “USDA Organic” submit to an annual inspection, and the USDA certifies that they comply with a specific set of rules.
Once the USDA is satisfied that the farmer or producer uses natural practices and refrains from using any prohibited chemicals, those products are allowed to bear the USDA Organic seal.
It looks like this:
Meanwhile, a product can still legally claim to be “made with organic” ingredients if at least 70% of the ingredients in that product are organically produced. These products can’t have the USDA Organic seal on them, but they still have to be certified.
Regulations vary by industry, too. For example, meat suppliers must prove that their livestock live in conditions that accommodate the animal’s natural behaviors, and in the case of a few products like enzymes in yogurt, manufacturers can use a very closely monitored amount of non-agricultural ingredients.
If you want to learn more about organic regulations, the USDA has a webpage dedicated to the National Organics Program (NOP) where you can find more specific information.
Does Organic Matter?
There have been numerous studies that show that organic foods don’t have a higher nutritional value than non-organic products…but those studies completely miss the point of organic farming practices.
Using fewer harmful chemicals and more responsible and ethical farming practices – the things that organic certification requires – has nothing to do with nutritional value and everything to do with healthfulness, ethics, and responsibility.
First of all, the farmers and workers who produce organic products suffer from fewer health problems because they’re not exposed to so many harmful chemicals like pesticides, weed suppressants, and synthetic fertilizers.
You’re exposed to fewer chemicals by using organic products, too. Organic ingredients and foods have been shown to be at least 30% less likely to contain trace pesticides and harmful chemicals. In one study, 7% of organic ingredients contained trace pesticides, while 38% of conventional foods contained trace chemicals.
Your skin absorbs what you put on it, so you can absorb those residual herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers. The long-term health effects are difficult to quantify and study, but it’s probably smartest to just stop putting poison on your skin.
Microbes that are found on non-organic food are more likely to be antibiotic-resistant, which means that conventional (chemical-based) farming practices are more likely to create superbugs. When diseases don’t respond to antibiotics, that’s a recipe for disaster.
The chemicals that farmers spray on their fields also have an impact on our ecosystem.
Honey bees are endangered largely because of the chemicals that are sprayed on commercial crops to deter pests and fungus, and since honey bees are the primary pollinators for many farmed crops, their die-off may cause major food shortages and other huge problems.
Chemical runoff from farms contaminates water supplies and affects the wildlife that inhabits lakes and streams and the plants and animals that consume that water.
There is evidence that herbicides are creating invasive weeds that are far more difficult to control and kill.
Organic is about the bigger picture.
Of course organic products have a slightly higher price tag – in order to successfully bring an organic crop to harvest, humans have to do a lot of the labor that would otherwise be done by chemicals.
Rather than spraying a poisonous insecticide on plants to kill worms and insects, farmers have to find other ways to protect crops from pest damage.
Instead of drenching the ground with herbicides like Roundup, organic farmers pull weeds the old fashioned way.
It’s a far more labor intensive process, and when you purchase an organic product, you’re paying for that labor.
You’re also contributing to a farming culture that works with the environment. It’s a culture that takes the longer view, considering not just how to maximize profits and crop yield now, but also how to ensure that farms will continue producing in future generations.
And, yes, organic products are more healthful.
They’re more healthful because you aren’t exposed to so many trace chemicals, and because you’re choosing to support practices that keep the ecosystem in which you live healthy.
So, are organic products worth it? Does organic really matter?
We think it does. Just as we create skincare products that contribute to overall health, we also support production and farming practices that build healthier communities and a healthier world.