The organic movement has been going since the 1940s, but recently organic food has moved into the spotlight. With concerns about the environment growing, and farming increasingly finding itself pitted against environmental campaigners, the organic movement seems to offer a happy medium between agriculture and ecology. But there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding what organic produce actually is, why it’s good for the environment, and whether it’s healthier than non-organic produce. Here’s our brief attempt to clear up those questions.
What is organic produce?
Organic products are produced without the use of man-made herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers, and other chemical products which wouldn’t naturally be found in the growth environment. So, for example, organic potatoes are never fed industrial fertilisers, never sprayed with pesticides, and any weeds attacking them are pulled up by hand. Organic beef and milk comes from cattle who graze chemical-free grass and aren’t fed any additives.
Why is it important?
The organic movement is growing in strength for a number of reasons. Some people think that organic produce is more nutritious than non-organic (although the scientific jury is out on that one - more on that in a moment). Others feel that organic farming is more environmentally responsible. Which, in fairness, it is. When it’s done properly, organic farming is sensitive to the surrounding ecosystem and can even help wildlife to thrive. For example, chemical-reliant agribusiness is credited with huge loss of habitat and the extinction of many invertebrate species in the UK alone. Organic farming, with its lack of pesticides and other invasive practices, poses far less of a threat to the local environment.
Is it more expensive?
Kind of. It depends where you buy it. If it’s bought locally, or even directly from the farmer, organic produce tends to be cheaper than non-organic. In supermarkets, however, it can be marginally more expensive. This is due to a number of factors, including scale and labour. Organic farms tend to be smaller scale and, because they’re not taking any chemical short cuts, the farm workers have a more labour-intensive job. In order to produce the huge amounts of food demanded by supermarkets, organic farmers therefore have to pour a whole lot more resources into their farms than their non-organic counterparts. Hence the price hike. However, as organic produce grows in popularity, you might be pleasantly surprised by how affordable it actually is.
Is it healthier than non-organic produce?
That depends on what you mean by ‘healthier’. In general, organic fruit and veg has the same nutritional content of non-organic fruit and veg. There may be a marginal increase in vitamins and minerals in organic produce, but scientists say that the difference is too small to be significant. However, organic produce has (as you’d expect!) far lower levels of heavy metals and pesticide residues due to the lack of man-made chemicals used. So, an organic apple isn’t going to give you more vitamin C than a regular apple - but it is going to give you a lot less pesticide.