Does Organic Farming Really Benefit Your Food And Health?
Image Credit: Organic food is in huge demand | Unsplash

Agricultural activities performed using fertilizers of organic origin like manure, green manure, and bone meal and emphasizing crop rotation and companion planting are collectively called "organic farming." Touted as a sure-fire way to reduce soil and food toxicity, experts and researchers recommend switching to organic farming as early as possible. Proponents claim that organic farming can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, restrict or eliminate the need for synthetic pesticides, prevent soil erosion, improve food quality and safety, promote biodiversity, and be more socially just to farm workers.

The claim that organic farming produces tastier food is simply unsupported by scientific consensus at this time. However, this claim is based on the fact that due to higher antioxidant levels, the food's organoleptic qualities like taste, smell, and texture are elevated. Studies found that people consuming food grown conventionally don't find as much of a difference in taste as those consuming organic food. Studies have also shown that organic food consumers were more than likely to rate organic food's taste as being better than conventionally produced food. This could be a classic case of confirmation bias. Only time and more research will show if this is true or not.

While some nutrients might be in slightly greater proportion and some anti-nutrients might be in a lower proportion compared to conventional farm produce, the claim that organically produced food is somehow safer and healthier than its conventional counterpart is again scientifically unsupported. However, it is known that organic food is richer in nutrients like vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. Instances of diabetes and obesity have been found to be higher in people who consume conventionally produced food when compared to those who consume organically produced food. But it was also found that people consuming food from conventional sources had significantly worse lifestyles compared to those consuming organic foods, thus, in a way, negating its nutritional benefits.

However, it is undeniable that organic food is safer for consumption from the perspective of antibiotic resistance and pesticide poisoning. When such pesticides are permitted, the chances of synthetic pesticides seeping into the soil and thus entering produce grown on that soil are high. However, one also has to understand that while most pesticides are prohibited in organic farming, some like boric acid, copper sulfate, lime sulfur, and pyrethrin are allowed. Organic livestock farming results in meat that is harvested from animals that aren’t given antibiotics for growth reasons, as organic livestock farming allows only medicinal antibiotic use.

While organic farming prohibits genetic engineering or modification of seeds for cultivation, stating that such things have significant health risks, organic farmers are allowed to undertake a process called mutagenesis, wherein seeds are bathed in chemicals and radiation for disease resistance. Outright rejection of genetic engineering and its benefits can be detrimental to food security in certain situations, like diseases and drought. A balanced approach by the consumers is vital in such aspects so that they may not be duped by the "organic" label.

Organic farming can definitely make a farm worker's life easier by significantly reducing or eliminating pesticide use in agriculture. Occupational exposure of farm workers to pesticides is linked to respiratory disorders like chronic cough, wheezing, dyspnea, chronic bronchitis, breathlessness, and asthma. This can easily affect a farm worker's ability to earn for themselves and their families, thus increasing the financial burden on families. Blindness, nausea, skin allergies, dizziness, coma, and headaches are other physiological problems that may be caused by pesticide exposure. In the long term, routine pesticide exposure could cause infertility, cancer, and neurological problems. Since organic farming prohibits synthetic pesticide usage, such outcomes for farm workers can be easily avoided.

As consumers have discovered the benefits of organic foods, their demand has sharply risen as well. Because organic farming needs more land to produce yields similar to conventional farming, organic products are more expensive when compared to non-organic products. It is also important to make sure that the land on which organic farming is to be started is organic as well and is free of pesticide seepage. With most benefits still not scientifically verified or proven, it would be wise to pause and think before making that organic product purchase, as it may actually be just an expensive purchase and nothing else. The "Organic" badge is quite lucrative for businesses and corporations, so they are trying to monopolize that market by having lobbyists inside the certifying authorities who will then lobby the government officials staffing these bodies. As the days go by, it's getting harder and harder to tell lies from the truth. Hence, the onus is on the consumer to verify any claims made for or against any health benefits that a product may or may not have.