4 Reasons Why Organic Food Is Important for Our Health and Environment

Organic or Non-organic? - That is the question. The decisions you make can impact an entire industry. Get all of the facts so you can choose confidently.

Are recommendations to eat organic food justified?

There is no doubt that organic food is more expensive, but what is the real difference and is the price worth it?

But, most importantly is there any health benefit to consuming organic food?

This article focuses on organic and non-organic crop and vegetable production, see animal agriculture- here.

 

Organic Food vs. Non-organic: What’s the Real Difference?

 

Pesticide Use

Both organic and conventional farming use pesticides on crops and vegetables. Pesticides are necessary to minimise consumption by pests such as insects, fungi and bacteria. They do this by acting as a repellent or herbicide/pesticide, which therefore means, they kill the relevant pest on consumption (1).

The key difference between organic and conventional agriculture is the type of pesticides used. Farms that comply with regulations that allow their products to be sold labelled as organic use natural pesticides which tend to deter pests as opposed to killing them.

However, the disadvantage of this method is that natural pesticides are not as effective as chemical ones meaning the crop yield will be lower in comparison (2,3).

The primary pesticide used by commercial farmers in the developed world is known as ‘roundup’. This is made of a compound called glyphosate. The ubiquity of its use being due to it being cheap and effective. This is a comprehensive herbicide and pesticide that covers all the critters that may reduce your crop yield including weeds, fungi and bacteria.

In fact it is so effective it can impact on the growth of the plants you are attempting to cultivate. For this reason, GMO crops have been developed that are specifically resistant the glyphosate allowing liberal use of this pesticide to nuke pests but not affect the primary crop yield (4).

 

So What Does This Mean for Soil Health?

There are two concerns with glyphosate when comparing it to organic pesticides.

Glyphosate is like a nuclear bomb to micro-organisms – as killing microbes is what it is designed to do. This spells disaster for soil health, which is the reason non-organic cultivation is reliant on chemical fertilizers; as a result, the soil has been completely depleted of its microbiome that would normally create an environment suitable for the growth of plants without the need for added nitrogen, phosphorus and other elements (4,5).

This is a big deal.

Not just for the health of the soil on that farm but for the survival of the human species. This is not a hyperbole; healthy topsoil determines our ability to grow food, without it no amounts of industrial fertilizer will help (6).

Hence, the importance of soil health cannot be overstated.

 

The Impact on the Environment

No discussion on the soil would be complete without considering the environment; as soil is an intrinsic part of the environment. Consequently, anything that affects soil composition can in turn impact the environment at large.

Microbes in soil remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, this is then used by plants to grow. But, the glyphosate kills these microbes and this has environmental implications.

A reduction in the ability of soil to uptake carbon impairs the Earth’s capacity to reduce all the CO2 in the atmosphere, making soil health a factor in the balance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (7).

The effect of glyphosate is not limited to soil that is farmed. Run-off means that it’s transported into non-farmed soil, lakes, rivers and eventually the sea. The effect of this has yet not been quantified on the environment. It may never be.

We do know that microbial activity in all environments and in all life forms is the bedrock of an ecosystem. It is not a stretch of the imagination to think that the introduction of an antibiotic, even in low concentrations, may alter the balance in an unfavourable direction (8).

 

How Does This Effect Your Body?

The discovery and study of the gut microbiome (the population of bacteria within your intestines) is a relatively new field in science, and we don’t yet fully understand the implications of how different microbiome composition can affect health. However, we do know that changes to the microbiota can impact your immunity, this has been demonstrated with conventional antibiotics (9,10).

Considering this, it is important to note that glyphosate residues are found in foods using conventional farming methods. It may not be a stretch to postulate that regular consumption of an antibiotic residue may not benefit the health of your immune system. Accordingly, glyphosate has been implicated in various conditions including cancer (11–13).

 

Should You Only Eat Organic Food?

The purpose of this blog is not to create fear but to empower you to make better food choices.

Though it is highly likely that eating glyphosate residue is probably not optimal, this has not yet been definitively proven; Rather, it is more likely to be a risk factor in dysfunction as opposed to the sole cause itself.

The effect on the environment however, is undeniable and this goes far further than just mineral depleted soils on agricultural land and stretches to the sustainability of our food system as well as health of the planet.

Therefore, whether you chose to consume organic food or not, we should all be pushing towards a more sustainable food system that is better for the planet.

If any of this resonates with you, try shopping at your local farm shop, growing your own vegetables or attending farmers markets.  Ultimately, the consumer controls the market and every decision you make with your money sends a signal to producers.

If we all only spent money on food from sustainable farming methods, that is all that would be supplied.

 

References:

1.          Pimentel D, Hepperly P, Hanson J, Douds D, Seidel R. Environmental, energetic, and economic comparisons of organic and conventional farming systems. BioScience. 2005.

2.          Reganold JP, Wachter JM. Organic agriculture in the twenty-first century. Nature plants. 2016.

3.          Seufert V, Ramankutty N, Foley JA. Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture. Nature. 2012.

4.          Baer KN, Marcel BJ. Glyphosate. In: Encyclopedia of Toxicology: Third Edition. 2014.

5.          Sasal MC, Demonte L, Cislaghi A, Gabioud EA, Oszust JD, Wilson MG, et al. Glyphosate loss by runoff and its relationship with phosphorus fertilization. J Agric Food Chem. 2015;

6.          Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. UK soil degradation. Postnote. 2006;

7.          Jansson JK, Hofmockel KS. The soil microbiome — from metagenomics to metaphenomics. Current Opinion in Microbiology. 2018.

8.          Munira S, Farenhorst A, Flaten D, Grant C. Phosphate fertilizer impacts on glyphosate sorption by soil. Chemosphere. 2016;

9.          Francino MP. Antibiotics and the human gut microbiome: Dysbioses and accumulation of resistances. Frontiers in Microbiology. 2016.

10.       Belkaid Y, Hand TW. Role of the microbiota in immunity and inflammation. Cell. 2014.

11.       Mink PJ, Mandel JS, Sceurman BK, Lundin JI. Epidemiologic studies of glyphosate and cancer: A review. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2012;

12.       Mink PJ, Mandel JS, Lundin JI, Sceurman BK. Epidemiologic studies of glyphosate and non-cancer health outcomes: A review. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2011;

13.       Myers JP, Antoniou MN, Blumberg B, Carroll L, Colborn T, Everett LG, et al. Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides and risks associated with exposures: A consensus statement. Environmental Health: A Global Access Science Source. 2016.

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