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You are what you eat: How important is choosing organically grown food?

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By Nutritionist Bonnie Chivers

How your food is grown or raised can have a major impact on your health as well as the environment.

Organic farming is the production of food without the use of synthetic chemicals or genetically modified components.

Organic foods often have more beneficial nutrients, such as antioxidants, compared with their conventionally-grown counterparts. People with allergies or sensitivities to foods, chemicals, or preservatives may find their symptoms reduce or are eliminated when they eat only organic foods.

The main points:

Organic produce contains fewer pesticides. Chemicals such as synthetic fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides are widely used in conventional agriculture and residues remain on (and in) the food we eat. 

However, it is important to know that there are pesticides approved for organic agriculture – these are supposed to be low in toxicity compared to pesticides used in conventional farming. So just because food is organically produced/grown, it doesn’t mean it is pesticide free. 

In Australia the level of pesticides in both conventional and organic fresh produce are considered safe and are nowhere near high enough to be detrimental to our health. So, people who cannot access or afford certified organic produce should not be concerned.

Organic food is often fresher because it does not contain synthetic preservatives to make it last longer. Organic produce is sometimes produced on smaller farms nearer to where it is sold, which has benefits for the environment as it limits the emissions associated with transporting it from farm to shop/plate.

Organic farming tends to be better for the environment. Organic farming practices may reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and use less energy. Farming without synthetic pesticides is also better for nearby birds and animals as well as people who live close to farms.

Animals raised using organic methods are treated humanely and live more naturally. For example, chickens are free range and not kept in cages, and cows are not kept in feedlots. Animals in feedlots are consuming grain that could be utilised for human consumption, which is an unsustainable use of grain products. 

Organically raised animals are also not fed or given any growth-regulating drugs, steroids, hormones, antibiotics or animal-by-products; however, they may be treated with vaccines to prevent disease.

Feeding livestock animal-by-products increases the risk of mad cow disease (BSE) and the use of antibiotics can create antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria – a major developing public health threat. 

Organically-raised animals tend to be given more space to move around and access to the outdoors, which helps to keep them healthy.

Organic meat and milk can be richer in certain health promoting nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown they may be up to 50 percent higher in organic meat and milk than in conventionally raised versions.

Organic food is GMO-free. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or genetically engineered (GE) foods are plants whose DNA has been altered in ways that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding, most commonly in order to be resistant to pesticides or produce an insecticide.

The biggest winner is our environment. While organic farming typically has lesser yields, it has a smaller carbon footprint compared to conventional agriculture which is a large emitter of greenhouse gases. 

So, long-term there are health and social benefits to people and future generations if we choose organic produce.

By Nutritionist Bonnie Chivers

How your food is grown or raised can have a major impact on your health as well as the environment.

Organic farming is the production of food without the use of synthetic chemicals or genetically modified components.

Organic foods often have more beneficial nutrients, such as antioxidants, compared with their conventionally-grown counterparts. People with allergies or sensitivities to foods, chemicals, or preservatives may find their symptoms reduce or are eliminated when they eat only organic foods.

The main points:

Organic produce contains fewer pesticides. Chemicals such as synthetic fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides are widely used in conventional agriculture and residues remain on (and in) the food we eat. 

However, it is important to know that there are pesticides approved for organic agriculture – these are supposed to be low in toxicity compared to pesticides used in conventional farming. So just because food is organically produced/grown, it doesn’t mean it is pesticide free. 

In Australia the level of pesticides in both conventional and organic fresh produce are considered safe and are nowhere near high enough to be detrimental to our health. So, people who cannot access or afford certified organic produce should not be concerned.

Organic food is often fresher because it does not contain synthetic preservatives to make it last longer. Organic produce is sometimes produced on smaller farms nearer to where it is sold, which has benefits for the environment as it limits the emissions associated with transporting it from farm to shop/plate.

Organic farming tends to be better for the environment. Organic farming practices may reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and use less energy. Farming without synthetic pesticides is also better for nearby birds and animals as well as people who live close to farms.

Animals raised using organic methods are treated humanely and live more naturally. For example, chickens are free range and not kept in cages, and cows are not kept in feedlots. Animals in feedlots are consuming grain that could be utilised for human consumption, which is an unsustainable use of grain products. 

Organically raised animals are also not fed or given any growth-regulating drugs, steroids, hormones, antibiotics or animal-by-products; however, they may be treated with vaccines to prevent disease.

Feeding livestock animal-by-products increases the risk of mad cow disease (BSE) and the use of antibiotics can create antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria – a major developing public health threat. 

Organically-raised animals tend to be given more space to move around and access to the outdoors, which helps to keep them healthy.

Organic meat and milk can be richer in certain health promoting nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown they may be up to 50 percent higher in organic meat and milk than in conventionally raised versions.

Organic food is GMO-free. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or genetically engineered (GE) foods are plants whose DNA has been altered in ways that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding, most commonly in order to be resistant to pesticides or produce an insecticide.

The biggest winner is our environment. While organic farming typically has lesser yields, it has a smaller carbon footprint compared to conventional agriculture which is a large emitter of greenhouse gases. 

So, long-term there are health and social benefits to people and future generations if we choose organic produce.

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